Fifth in a series that addresses misconceptions about leading from our strengths
God created you and those around you with unique strengths and has placed you together to be more together than you can be alone. But misconceptions can get in the way of learning to lead from your strengths. This series reveals common misconceptions about strengths and the truths behind the myths.
Self-Made Success: My Strengths Are My Doing, Not God’s
The concept of the “self-made man” – one who achieves success by his own efforts – is deeply rooted in the American Dream. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) coined the rags-to-riches ideal in describing his own journey out of poverty to affluence through hard work, solid morals, and education. The self-made man achieves success without outside assistance.
Or does he?
Against this cultural backdrop, Christ-followers face tension and confusion when grappling with the issue of success. Check out these two widely-accepted myths about self-made success and the truths behind them.
Myth #1: I Generate My Strengths
It is tempting to believe our natural abilities are the result of our own ingenuity. Yet 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, “All these (strengths) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (NIV).
Paul is clear. Your strengths are God’s doing, not yours. They are miraculously bestowed, not acquired by human effort. You are equipped with God-given strengths not as a consequence of your own merit, but by His determination. He distributes them freely and without cost.
This by no means diminishes the sweat and struggle you may invest in using your God-given strengths. God values hard work. To put forth effort with the intent of pleasing Him is God-honoring. Rather the question is motive. To live as if your strengths are self-made is to attempt to steal credit from God – no matter whether the underlying intent is to boost your perceived personal standing with others, to combat fear, or to feel better about yourself. Doing so can breed false pride.
Yet seeing God as the originator of your strengths inspires this humbling truth: God has created you uniquely. Your God-given strengths are not intended for private honor but to build up others. What will you do with yours?
Myth #2: I Choose My Strengths
God has conferred on you the strengths He sees to be best for you – “just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). You cannot choose your God-given strengths any more than you can choose your eye color or your height.
That truth may be a bit uncomfortable to swallow if you have invested hard work, determination, and sacrifice to develop abilities that may not come naturally to you. Whether you were unaware of your strengths and plunged forward to develop skills – or you deliberately sought to cultivate a strength that’s not among your foremost – past efforts may have been frustrating and discouraging. In this case, the truth behind the myth can be liberating. The key is to identify your natural strengths and learn to use them. (Learn more about identifying and leading from your strengths.)
On the other hand, God’s determination might even anger you if you see strengths that seem more appealing or noteworthy than yours – and which you long to have (but do not). When you view strengths as a commodity you can pick and choose, like a product off a shelf or a food item on a buffet, you may find yourself vulnerable to jealousy. Regret and envy can stand in the way of using your strengths. You want to pluck up others’ and avoid your own.
“No man should be depressed, or should despise his own gifts, however humble they may be,” said American theologian Albert Barnes. “In their own place, they may be as important as the higher endowments of others. He should, therefore, strive to improve his ‘one talent,’ and to make himself useful in the rank where he is placed.”
When you view your strengths as God’s intentional assignment rather than of your own choice you’ll have a sense of purpose – one that can drive you to find and use your strengths to the fullest, ultimately offering a powerful contribution to His Kingdom.
That is when your effort, hard work, values, and education allow you to become much more than a self-made man or woman.
You become God-made.