Thriving is all about finding your ‘sweet spot’

“Effectiveness lies at the intersection between personal strengths, personal passion and value to others.” — Dr. Scott Snook

I recently learned from BLI thought leader Gretchen Pisano the concept of the “sweet spot,” an idea developed by Dr. Scott Snook of Harvard Business School. The concept states that where your passions, strengths and what others value intersect, there lies your sweet spot, your place of thriving.

While the framework was new to me, the idea of striving to work within my passions and strengths was not. In 2012, after working outside of my passions and strengths for several years, I hit a breaking point. When I realized this low point in my career wasn’t due to my inadequacies or failure but to my misalignment of strengths and values, I was able to make the scary but ultimately rewarding choice to quit my job and discover my sweet spot.

Although I did not refer to it as my “sweet spot,” it really was about using tools (Strengths Finder and VIA Character Strengths) to identify my strengths and values and seek to work within them. Now as part of my career, I have the pleasure of talking to others about this concept and helping them discover their “sweet spot” as well. In fact, I recently introduced the concept to CPAs in Colorado as I facilitated a session at their Women’s Summit on “Finding and Applying Your Strengths.”

What I find most interesting about the “sweet spot” framework isn’t the perfect intersection, but the often deceivingly “sweet” intersection of only two of the three circles:

The Burned Out: This is the overlap of passion and what others value. It might seem tempting and for a while it might be OK, but it’s not sustainable. If you are not working in your natural strengths and abilities, even if you’re passionate, you will get burned out.

The Starving Artist: This is the overlap of passion and strength. You’re passionate and good at it, so what’s the problem? You’re hungry! If others don’t value and reward you for what you do, you can’t sustain it for very long.

The Inconsistent: This is the overlap of your strengths and what others value. Missing passion in your work might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Ever wonder why some celebrities have those total meltdowns? They are working in their strengths and getting paid handsomely for it, so what are they missing? Passion and their personal values. This might be more sustainable than the other positions if you are able to satisfy your passion in other ways. For example, I met a woman last week who loves theater and acting, but knowing that it won’t pay the bills, so she fills that passion through community theater in her free time. Or take Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. Curtis never liked football, but knowing his strength and what others valued, he submitted himself to the rigorous game and used it as a platform and fuel for his real passion — giving back. But these are calculated exceptions, people knowingly choosing their placement in the framework.

So where do you live in the circles? Are you there intentionally? What are you doing to move toward your “sweet spot?” If you’re an employer, what are you doing to ensure your employees are in their “sweet spot?”

Why should you care? Because the most engaged and ultimately successful employees are the ones living and working within their passions and strengths.


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