How to take inventory of your talents

by Lisa Rothstein on 03/01/2010

inventory your talentsEvery so often it helps to stop and take stock, whether going through your garage, your closet, or your investment portfolio. It reminds us of valuable things that we’ve forgotten about. It lets us see the value in what we’ve got, instead of taking it for granted and constantly looking outside ourselves for more. It also gets us thinking about how we might invest more or differently in what we have.

It’s the same with our talents, whether you’re at a crossroads of a big change like a new career, or just wanting to check in with how satisfied you are where you are in your life and work. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in a profession that lets you use them every day, it may be a while since you’ve thought about your talents. Even then, it’s useful to stop and think if you might not like to try using your skills in a new or expanded way. And if you’ve been a “responsible” student, mom or breadwinner (or all a combo) for so long that the things you love and are good at are a hazy memory, here are some keys to that old garage door.

What you loved as a child.
Think back to your earliest memories of school, at home, with friends. What were your dreams? What were you favorite activities? I gravitated toward music, drawing and writing almost as far back as I can remember. I also spent hours enacting elaborate dramas starring paper-bag puppets or scores of horse-and-cowboy figurines. So it’s no surprise I became a screenwriter — though I haven’t penned a Western…yet. You may have known in your bones that you were a natural performer when you played that stalk of celery in the food pyramid.

Do a timeline. Now move forward in time, to different periods in your life. Does a theme emerge? Do certain aptitudes and hobbies keep cropping up? Are your proudest or most favorite accomplishments all related to a certain topic or activity?

Survey your domains. Now look across different areas of your life – personal, work, family, social, community involvement. At the office, are you the go-to person when certain skills are called for, and are you glad to be?  If you volunteer, where are you most apt to raise your hand to help? Are you always the wordsmith or artist, called upon to write speeches or create greeting cards or stage sets?

What’s easy and fun for you–and hard for others? Here is where your talents hide in plain sight. What do you do “just for fun” or without thinking that never fails to impress others? Many times we dismiss things that are too easy as not having any real value, when what it really means is, you are an unwitting genius in that area. If you are unsure about this, ask your friends and acquaintances; they’ll fill you in.

What makes time disappear? What can you do for hours not only without complaining, but without even noticing that hours are passing? I love to eat, but when I’m painting or writing song lyrics, I can forget to feed myself –and anyone else in my household — all day. Only the panting and whimpers jolt me back into reality. (And that’s just from my husband.)

For a great book that covers this topic in depth, try Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was. Career-seekers and career-changers since the 1970s have relied on What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles, now in its gazillionth edition. I also like The Pathfinder by Nicolas Lore for people looking for a new career path by taking stock of their passions and talents.

Activity: Using a document or your journal, inventory your talents, starting with childhood, going forward in time and across all life domains. Circle anything that seems especially prominent, or that makes time disappear for you, or that you could do with your eyes closed.

Have you noticed a running theme in your talents in your life? Are you using them as much as you’d like? Please share your thoughts below.


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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The Da Vinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hazel Smith May 17, 2010 at 6:20 am

I think I’ll find lots of help here.

I suffer from the problem of “I don’t know what to do when I grow up” even though I’m pushing 50.

Years ago I started keeping personal scrapbooks on the advice of Sarah Ban Breathnach. The basis being clip anything that speaks to you. 12 years later I have scrapbooks that reveal who I really am.

After thumbing my scrapbooks and analyzing them, I realized WOW! I’m really interested in traveling and writing. In a serendipitous moment I typed the words Traveling and Writing into Workopolis and I found a job ( badly paid) instantly in my hometown and I worked writing travel copy for an on-line travel encyclopedia.

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