cf #49: what's your unique ability?

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Hey there 👋

A unique ability is someone’s one-of-a-kind set of skills and talent that colleagues and clients notice, rely on, and value.

Do you know what yours is?

Fixing weaknesses vs. focusing on unique abilities

A few years ago, I was having one of those performance review-like conversations where you first get praised for what you’ve been doing well and then are given some areas of improvement you should work on to get a promotion or raise.

Except this time, my manager said I should forget what I wasn’t great at, outsource it as much as possible, and spend most of my time developing my ‘unique abilities’:

The essence of what you love to do and do best […] your own set of natural talents and the passion that fuels you to contribute in the ways that most motivate you. When articulated, it describes the “you” that makes you who you are.1

The ‘unique ability’ approach suggests that the time you’d normally spend trying to manage or overcome weaknesses is better invested in doing more of the things you:

  1. Already have superior skills in → tasks and activities that come naturally to you and lead to outstanding results with comparatively small effort

  2. Are passionate about and get energised by → things that give you an energy boost and get folks around you energised by your drive and enthusiasm, too

  3. Enjoy becoming better at → things you’re already great or even exceptional at, but are forever excited to practice and learn more about

It’s a pretty simple idea. It’s also the entire opposite of what a lot of us have been taught in school and told throughout our career journeys.

💡 Finding your unique ability: a practical example 💡

Most people have a general hunch about their unique ability, but spoiler alert: as humans, we are not very objective or reliable when it comes to assessing our skills and areas of excellence. To account for personal bias, the ‘unique ability’ process requires you to enlist the help of a few trusted folks.

1. Reflect on (what you think is) your unique ability

Find a space where you can stay focused for 15-20 minutes. Think about your last 6-12 months at work and answer these questions:

  • What comes really easily to me at work?

  • Which tasks or activities energise me?

  • What would I love to do more of?

  • What would I be very excited about learning more about?

Write down your answers; you’ll need to revisit them after you’re done with the next step.

2. Ask 5-10 people for their opinion

Get in touch with a few coworkers, peers, and clients you trust (there’s strength in collecting a variety of opinions) and ask them to share what they think your unique ability is.

The last time I did this exercise was almost exactly two years ago, on my last day at Hotjar. I emailed ~10 people from the marketing, product, and operations teams and asked for their help:

3. Identify common themes

Collect the answers you got, compare them with the ones you gave, and look for patterns. This is where you might find a few eye-opening surprises. For example, I’d focused my answers on content-related things, but my colleagues pretty much ignored content marketing and showed me a much larger picture:

I’d often taken this stuff as a given without realising others thought it made me unique. As I said—we’re not always the best judges of our strengths 😉

Regardless of your content marketing role, knowing your ‘unique ability’ helps your career progression in many ways: it helps you figure out which projects you should work on, which tasks you should delegate, which people you should hire to complement your skills, which jobs you should apply for.

And the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of the classic “What are your strengths?” interview question, you’re going to look very smart when you reply “Actually, instead of just giving you my personal opinion, let me tell you what other people have said.” I’ve used this exact line twice in the last two years. Worked out well both times 😉


The idea comes from this book, although I’ll admit I haven’t read the whole thing—it seemed a bit too self-help-y. Still, the main concept is one I can get behind, and the practice of asking 5-10 people for their feedback about what makes you unique is one I 100% vouch for.