I’d like to make a distinction between the skills we list in our resumes and cover letters and our actual true gifts.

Core gifts are expressions of what makes us unique; they’re the most valuable things we have to offer the world because nobody else can offer them quite like we can.  They’re born out of our genetics, our experiences, our thoughts and emotions, and our ways of being in the world.  We may have practiced and developed them, but we usually do so without thinking about it because it’s just what we do, or because it brings us joy, and not because we saw a course listed in a catalog and thought it would be a useful skill to acquire.

I was thinking the other day about how easy it is to overlook these gifts, precisely because we’re so good at them.  They come easily to us, usually without a whole lot of thought or effort, so we often assume that everyone else must have them too.  They’re so innate to us and who we are that we don’t usually notice them; yet they’re part of every thought we have and action we take and can create great value in the world.

Most of us have had a chance to practice talking about our other skills, the ones we did acquire in classes or certification programs.  But we often don’t recognize or talk about our true gifts, either because we don’t see them or don’t see the value in them.  When we don’t recognize them, though, we miss out on an opportunity to explain to others the nature of the greatest value we will bring to them.  More importantly, we lose out on the sense of satisfaction that comes from recognizing and embracing our fundamental strengths.  It becomes all too easy to focus on what skills we lack, and everybody else’s grass can start to look far greener than ours.

When I first started teaching workshops, I longed for a hard skill that I could teach other people.  How to Build a Perfect Website, Resume Writing 101, or even Making Your Own Sauerkraut all seemed like more compelling topics than the ones I was coming up with.  I longed to have a concrete, 10-step process I could walk people through so I could demonstrate my expertise, dazzle them with my extensive knowledge, and guarantee their success if they just followed my plan.  But I didn’t have a 10-step process for anything, the idea of instructing people on how to write a resume for two hours made me want to pull out my fingernails, and I couldn’t with integrity guarantee anybody’s success in anything.

I became depressed for a little while and convinced that I was doomed to failure as a coach because nobody would come to my workshops or be interested in what I had to offer.  Ah yes, the stories a frightened mind will come up with, grasp with superhuman strength, and refuse to put down.

Fortunately I knew enough to know that this was just my fear talking and that my fear is often wrong.  I had to try something before knowing if it would work, so I developed a workshop based on what I did know and what made me want to scream with joy rather than despair.  I called it Slowing Down While Keeping Up.  I advertised it on just a few listserves in San Francisco.  After a few days, a few people had signed up.  After a week, it was full.  Not long after that, there was a waiting list more than a few people long.

So I saw that at least some people want what I have to offer, but I still couldn’t shake the sense that I should know something more, have something more, do something more.  Maybe I needed another certification, perhaps some initials to put in my bio.  In the world of coaching, there are endless methodologies you can learn, skills you can be certified in, and expertises you can claim.  I began to lust after them like a dog watching its owner enjoy a juicy T-bone steak.

Then one day it hit me as I was brushing my teeth (my biggest breakthroughs often come in the bathroom): I was looking at this all wrong.  All these skills I was upset about not having weren’t nearly as valuable to my work as what I did have.  In other words, in that moment I saw the nature of my true gift.

I could acquire thousands of skills and expertises and offer them in cleverly titled workshops out the wazoo, but I still wouldn’t be offering the world the most valuable gift that I have to offer.  Because my gift is creativity, and that’s what allows me to offer things not everyone else can.  It’s what allows me to respond to each client as a unique person, without simply applying a methodology or 10-step plan that’s not based on their individual personality and needs.  Creativity is what gives me insights into what each person’s particular roadblocks are and what they need to develop to get past them.  It’s what allows me to see people—really see them in all their mystery and complexity and brilliance.   Creativity inspires me to learn new things from the subtleties of all my experiences, good and bad, and to write about them in the hopes of sharing what I’ve learned with others.  It’s what helps me integrate ideas from lots of methodologies, philosophies, and 10-step plans with my own experience and come up with a unique point of view and theory of change for every singular situation and person I encounter.

It’s not that the hard skills aren’t necessary or useful; they are.  But they’re not our true gift.  Acquiring more of them won’t increase the value of what we offer the world unless they draw on our true gifts.  And only if we understand our true gifts will we know what hard skills will help us most.

So forget for a moment your skills and domains of expertise.  What’s your true gift?  What talent, ability, or orientation to life have you been discounting because it’s hard to explain or it doesn’t seem like other people will value it?  What makes you unique?  Can you visualize something in exquisite detail before it ever exists?  Can you bring people to tears just by telling a simple story?  Can you inspire others to do great things?  Can you create something beautiful that didn’t exist before?

There are as many potential true gifts as there are people in the world.  If you’re not sure what yours are, try asking people who know you and love you what they think makes you special.  Treat it as an open question and keep asking so that more can be revealed.  Because we may never know the exact nature of our true gifts, but the more we learn about their different facets, the more we can embrace our own brilliance and share it freely with the rest of the world.