Taking the time to find out what you’re good at is the first step in our ten-step series How to Start a Business After 40. It may be easier than it appears for some of us; harder for others. We’ll delve into each of the other nine steps in separate posts.

Men running hurdles

Do you know what you’re good at?

For many of us, by the time we turn 40 or older, we’ve already been doing what we’re good at. In fact, we could do it in our sleep. If we were lucky enough or self-aware enough to have entered and advanced our careers by playing upon our strengths, then we’re pretty confident that we know what they are. If you fit this description, please hold.

If, on the other hand, and figuratively speaking, we have been doing what we’re good at “in our sleep,” then we may not be aware that we’re good at it because we don’t have the objective perspective to see ourselves doing it well. This kind of oversight is not trivial or uncommon.

For those of us who have not been so lucky or so self-aware to have played to our strengths before now, that may be because we pursued fields we thought we were interested in but that ultimately never quite fulfilled us or to which we really weren’t suited by temperament. Maybe we’d already invested years and thousands of dollars in a course of study we were reluctant to abandon. Or maybe it just took time and experience to recognize a bad fit.

For others of us, perhaps we have played to our strengths, but we’re bored. Been there, done that and now, after 40, there’s an opening, an opportunity to reevaluate or to embark upon a second or third chapter in our lives, and we want to do something different – something that is personally fulfilling versus just professionally remunerative – what then?

Maybe we’ve never stopped to consider what we’re good at because we never had the time or the mental bandwidth to do so. Life just swept us along with demands and obligations that came early and that we’ve been busy fulfilling during our 20s and 30s. Or maybe we’ve always taken the path of least resistance and simply did whatever was the easiest or most expedient thing to do in order to make a living or pay our way.

Do you know how you know?

Whatever our backgrounds and wherever we stand today, when we relate this first step to our personal experiences what we may not fully appreciate is the recommendation to “take the time”. Taking that time formally or informally or recognizing how and when it was already taken, consciously or unconsciously, is essential when it comes to the express purpose of starting a business or entrepreneurial venture. It’s a process of taking stock of your assets, your knowledge and your strengths that can result in much more than simply knowing what you’re good at. It can lead you to a successful business proposition.

Variations on this process and its results have been described by more than a few of Elaine’s podcast guests. The benefits and advantages of such a process are also strongly suggested in several authoritative books recommended by many people who have enjoyed success in business, including Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

Hill poses questions for self-examination all throughout his book, but towards the end, in Chapter 15, he presents a comprehensive list of around 75 questions the reader should ask himself, stating, “At least one day is necessary for the analysis and the answering of the entire list.” Although the book was published in 1937, this strikes me as a novel concept. When was the last time you spent a day with yourself, analyzing yourself and how well you know yourself? In my case, the answer to that question would be, never!

In Gerber’s book, which offers eminently practical and actionable advice and direction on many entrepreneurial topics, he becomes almost mystical in discussing what being an entrepreneur can do for us personally and the opportunity it offers to connect to and manifest our earliest childhood desires and intentions; the dreams we had that, hopefully, have had some influence upon and connection to what we’re good at now and how we express this skills professionally. The role of Technician that he discusses so thoroughly embodies these elements of personal expertise and highly developed skill sets.

An example of one discovery process

Johannah Barton, founder and principal of Confetti Design, a web design firm in Australia, describes in her podcast interview a very modern and original approach to this idea of identifying what we’re good at. She characterizes it as kind of a modern business plan. Before she founded Confetti Design, she took herself through what she calls a discovery process that had three components. I’m only going to mention the first one here. I’ll save the other two for future posts that delve into other steps to starting a business after 40.

In the first step, Johannah sat down and wrote out everything she had ever done in her working life – all the things she loved about them and all the things she didn’t love – and what she learned from those experiences. She then sent off to a small group of friends and family a list of her strengths and the question, “When you think of me and of asking me to do something – just me – what would it be that you would ask me to do?” She then collated the external feedback with her internal insights to create a sort of visual landscape of who she was and what she had to offer that was unique.

As I said, there is more to Johannah’s process and we’ll discuss the other components in a future post. In the meantime, I recommend you listen to her interview to hear what she did in her own words. The point I want to make now is that Johannah found this discovery process so valuable to her own personal success and focus, that she turned it into a business offering for her clients. This process is also something that she repeats or revisits on a regular basis at different times in her business cycles, because not only does it give her confidence, it gives her proper actions to take when she turns to marketing: where to go to reach her audience, what tone and language to use, and how to position herself and her business.

For Johannah, the self discovery process was a critical first step in determining her unique value proposition, as it will be for you in determining yours.

Man shaping clay on potter's wheel
Quino Al

A billion other discovery processes

Johannah’s is just one process. Obviously, there are many other ways to achieve self knowledge; probably as many as there are selves to discover. Many entrepreneurs simply repurpose what they’ve done during their professional careers into a business of their own, in which case the business becomes an effortless and natural extension of what they already know they’re good at. Others may discover an entirely new application for what they’re good at; one that breathes fresh and enthusiastic purpose into their lives. Others may have to take stock more consciously. Their self discovery and self evaluation may need to be focused and intentional, as Johannah’s is and as some business gurus recommend that it be.

Still other people’s processes may be or have been haphazard or incidental to their efforts to earn a living and put food on the table. In this case, their strengths and abilities may be something they become aware of gradually, over time. These assets may have been ripe for discovery, but overlooked or not yet fully appreciated, waiting for the right time or awareness to reveal themselves. But chances are they won’t reveal themselves, or we won’t recognize them when they do, unless we go looking for them.

Whichever scenario applies to you and how you take stock of your strengths, your assets, and your skills – formally or informally – taking the time to find out what your good at is a necessary first step to starting a successful business.

Related podcast content

(hyperlinks don’t go to timestamps)

Resources for self-awareness

StrengthsFinder 2.0
The Myers & Briggs Foundation
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Photos sourced from unsplash.com

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