Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Finding Our Passion Through Our Strengths

One of the themes I’ve been writing about on my blog is the importance of focusing on our strengths, of nurturing those innate abilities/talents people bring to our teams or companies to benefit both our businesses as well as our employees. This got me to thinking about the relationship between what our strengths are and what we define as our passions; of how those strengths not only allow us to succeed but end up defining that internal drive we all have to pursue a specific goal or objective.

To help demonstrate this connection between our strengths and passion, here are three stories of individual pursuits in the field of sports, business and the arts.

Jon Montgomery – Gold Medallist, 2010 Vancouver Olympics

As with most people, Jon Montgomery had big dreams growing up, of what he’d like to do with his life. And one of those dreams was being able to represent Canada at the Olympic Games, and especially winning a medal for his country. So, he figured his best bet to making that dream a reality would be to take up playing hockey and working at landing a spot on the national team. However, he would soon learn that his ability to play the game didn’t match the enthusiasm he had for it. And yet, Montgomery still had hopes that one day he could represent his country at the Winter Olympic Games.

One day, his parents took him to watch a skeleton competition at the Calgary Olympic Park and Montgomery fell in love with this sport and decided this was what he wanted to do. So, instead of trying to refine his skills playing hockey, Montgomery took up learning about skeleton, using his new-found passion for this sport to push him to succeed. And after five years of training and competing on the international front, Montgomery won the gold medal in skeleton at the Vancouver Games, Canada’s very first medal in this event.

Steve Jobs – Chairman and CEO, Apple Inc.

Before Steve Jobs could be adopted, his biological mom made his parents promise her that they would make sure he would go to college to ensure he could have a good life. Staying true to their promise, Jobs’ parents paid for him to attend Reed College. However, after about six months, Jobs dropped out of college as he saw no point in continuing to spend his parents’ life savings when it wasn’t helping him to figure out what he wanted to do.

Although this decision left him without a place to stay and having to rummage for soda bottles to collect money for food, it also gave him the freedom to take courses he wouldn’t have attended otherwise. One such course was learning the art of calligraphy, something he was drawn to after seeing the beautiful calligraphy writingused in posters all over campus. After taking this course, Jobs fell in love with the world of calligraphy and typography, of the art behind creating font styles. While at the time he couldn’t see himself putting this new-found interest to any practical use, his knowledge of this field would prove to be instrumental to the success of Apple’s Macintosh computers, which were the first computers to feature the multiple typefaces we’ve now come to expect in any personal computer.

Pablo Picasso – Spanish painter/sculptor

Ever since he was a young boy, Pablo Picasso demonstrated an obvious talent for drawing and painting. As an art teacher, his father understood Picasso’s potential and worked to make sure his son received formal training in the classical arts. The education he received growing up fostered in Picasso the desire to become a classical painter like Rembrandt or Velásquez. And yet, despite his obvious artistic abilities, he wasn’t able to overcome the technical limitations he had in painting in the classical style.

Knowing that there was nothing his teachers could do to help him to overcome his difficulties with the classical arts, he ended up moving to Barcelona where he was exposed to the avant-garde form of art expression. Although as a young artist he had little interest in modern art, his time in Barcelona gave him the opportunity to explore his real talents, allowing him to create the artwork that he is renowned for throughout the world.

In each of these stories, we see the common thread of people initially pursuing paths not defined by their strengths, but by other considerations. This invariably lead to either a fair amount of struggles or uncertainties over what they would do next. However, once they focused instead on their strengths and the subsequent discovery of what they’re passionate about, they became the examples of success most of us aspire to reach as well.

For many of us, the struggle continues in finding what it is we’re passionate about. As these individuals learned, the best way to truly find that passion is by first embracing your strengths and using it to help lead you on your path to success.

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4 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , | March 1, 2010 by |

4 Comments
  1. On March 1st, 2010 at 9:16 AM Mary Jo Asmus said:

    Tanveer, thank you for these stories! I've wondered about the link between strengths and passion too. I think the problem is identifying these things. I've had plenty of clients indicate they are passionate about a particular thing that they think they are strong in, but yet they are failing. This might mean a lack of self-awareness or a whole host of complex things that are preventing them from being successful at their "strength" – context, organization, the people around them.

    Discovering one or the other is hard enough. Discovering both and putting them to work at the interface can be even harder! It sometimes takes a lot of trials to assure that you are in the right place, doing the right things – ala Steve Jobs.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. On March 1st, 2010 at 3:18 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Mary Jo. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece.

    I agree that it's a challenge to truly understand what your strengths are, or what's behind this idea you feel so passionate about. But that's why I found these stories so fascinating and important to share as they demonstrate that this process is far from being linear. For each of these individuals, they found themselves not looking at a fork in a road, but a completely new and unexpected tangent from the course they were taking thus far.

    Their individual stories prove that this change in course was hardly an easy one. And yet, as we see in the end outcome, it was certainly a worthy one.

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this, Mary Jo. A pleasure to have you participate in the discussion. 🙂

  3. On March 1st, 2010 at 9:22 AM Richard A Marti Jr said:

    After spending last year completely overhauling my life and perception of it, I can attest to the fact that concentrating on our strengths has a lot of merit. We can always go back and work on our weaknesses if we choose. It seems that most of our struggles are born from our lack of use of our talents.

    Life seems so much easier when I acknowledge and employ the gifts I have. I wonder Tanveer, if you have noticed more people engaging their passions in the business world lately ? It seems to me a bit of awakening happening.

  4. On March 1st, 2010 at 3:38 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience with this. I think you bring up a great point about how we always have the choice to go back and work on our weaknesses once we've contributed something through the use of our strengths.

    In regards to your question, I think there's a growing awareness now of the value of engaging/interacting with people on a more emotional level in terms of business. However, I don't think that translates into a greater appreciation or use of this approach in using people's strengths/passions to aid a company's renewal/push for growth. I do believe, though, that as more people take the time to reflect on themselves, on what their true abilities are and how that aligns with their passions, this will become more prevalent as businesses start seeing the value it brings to their company's growth and prosperity.

    Thanks again for the great comment and question, Richard. 🙂

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