Use What You’ve Got to be Happy at Work

Shirley Temple was the star of the day when I was born.  My mother adored her.  Of course she envisioned her new daughter with lots of lovely curls.  Unfortunately I was born with straight brown hair.  It should have been no surprise to her though because neither she nor my father had curls.

As I got to be school age I too wanted Shirley Temple curls. I can still remember a girl in my first grade class named Cynthia Woodbury with beautiful curls that looked like sausages.  Oh did I want curls like hers.

My mother did try to curl my hair.  People told her to set my hair with rags.  That didn’t work.  Someone else told her to put lanolin on my hair and then put a cap on for an hour.  Still no curls!

Finally she found something that she was sure would work-a permanent.  Wanda the hairdresser put curlers that were connected to an electric hairdryer like machine on me.  Smoke came out of the curlers when they were attached to my hair.  I wanted those curls so badly I wasn’t even scared.

It did work! Now I had small tight curls all over my head.  When it rained my hair stood straight out.  I looked like a cartoon character that had put her finger in an electric outlet.  One boy in my first grade class said when he saw me, “Alvah, what happened to your hair?”  My mother who was with me said, “She ate lots of carrots.” Another theory she had read in magazines was that carrots make your hair curly.  That had not worked either!

As I got older my aunt would give me a Tony home permanent several times a year.  By this time it didn’t make such tight curls but there was still an issue on rainy days.  I continued getting the permanent periodically until I was in my 50s.  Finally I’d had enough.

I realized after all those years that straight hair can be pretty too.  The lesson learned was to work with what I had and to see it as being good.  It’s all about your mindset.

Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group, a real estate firm in New York wrote a book called Use What You’ve Got and other Business Lessons I learned from My Mom She tells a funny story about how she used her pigtails and friendly personality to attract customers to her counter in a restaurant. (Maybe you can guess what the girl at the other counter had.)

Maximize Your Strengths

Just as trying to acquire a physical attribute that I didn’t have was a waste of time trying to overcome a skill or talent weaknesses can be frustrating too.  Time is better spent maximizing a strength than trying to build up a weakness.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that even someone who is talented in a particular area must put in 10,000 hours of practice to get really expert.   He cites Bill Gates as an example of someone with the talent and strong desire to understand how to program computers.  Gates enjoyed programing and that made working on computers fun for him. He easily put in the hours necessary to gain expert status.

It takes a lot of energy to try to strengthen weaknesses.  It will be exhausting and in the end while you will see improvement you won’t be able to compete with the person who has a natural talent in that area and enjoys perfecting that talent.

So what are you naturally good at?  How can you use what you have to make it count in the work that you do?  Your work becomes much more meaningful when you are able to use the skills and talents you enjoy and that you are good at.

Not sure what your strengths are?  I give several assessments in my Value Program to help you to identify those strengths.  Once you know those strengths you can begin to use them in the work you do.  Sometimes people undervalue what they are good at because they do it so easily they believe everyone can do it too.  I’ll help you to see your unique value and where you can use that value in your current job or in a new job.  Call me at 781-598-0388 or email me at


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