Strengths vs. Skills: The Important Difference
Monday January 18, 2016

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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #81

In an effort to get to know a candidate for a job, the question commonly asked regardless of the career field is “What are your strengths?” As well, when working with a life-coach to help determine our best direction, the same question will arise. But what does the word strengths actually pertain to? And how can determining its definition help us clarify with certainty the direction we should take in our lives to improve the quality and overall happiness?

Both questions will be answered here today.

Last week, and for the entire month of January (see here and here), The How of Happiness has been the focus here on the blog and the podcast. And a discovery I made while walking my dogs particularly brought to my attention today’s topic. The Positive Psychology Podcast.

The words “strength” and “skill” often are incorrectly believed to be synonymous, when in fact they are quite different. As I alluded to in last week’s post/episode about 18 specific ways to cultivate more happiness in your life, strengths are those innate abilities, curiosities, passions within you that don’t need to be put on your to-do list. To put it more specifically, strengths will be with you a lifetime and have been with you in some way shape or form since you were a child. Let’s look at the simple differences between Strengths and Skills:


  • last a lifetime                                  
  • a talent, comes innately                             
  • EX: you have an eye for detail, a keen observer


  • can be taught, but forgotten if not practiced consistently
  • striving to hone an ability that the culture applauds 
  •  EX: you learn how to speak French and with practice become fluent

Using myself as the example, after fourteen years of teaching, there are many skills that have been well-honed: classroom management being one; however, my strength of social intelligence which is defined as being aware of the motives and feelings of others, most likely helped me become more proficient more quickly.

Having read. Martin E.P. Seligman’s book Authentic Happinessand taken the 24-question multiple-choice quiz included within to identify my strengths, I discovered in specific concrete terminology, what I innately knew were my strengths, but didn’t have the confidence necessarily to express.

What I mean by “didn’t have the confidence to express” comes from what I will call the error of our own perspective. I see this often with my students, and I have finally realized it in myself. Let me explain. Because we know how to do something well or easily, we assume others must as well. Rather than assume we are superior at that skill (until someone points out that we are or it is brought to our attention by some other means: a competition, exhibit, etc.), we assume that if I can (for example) see the complementary textures in the interior design surely everyone else can as well. The truth is we are often unconscious to what are strengths are, and it is only when we take the time to get to know ourselves, listen to ourselves, follow our curiosities and the opportunities that our strengths make available to us that we realize exactly what our strengths are.

So what are the benefits of understanding our strengths you may be wondering? The ability to live the simply luxurious life you’ve been working to create.

As I continue to reiterate here on the blog, the podcast and in my book, my simply luxurious life will not look exactly like yours; thereby rendering the truth that your life, when you choose to live consciously, get to know yourself, take on challenges and are willing to grow even though at times it may be uncomfortable will be unique to you. While my strengths are Transcendence, Courage and Wisdom and Knowledge, yours may be Justice, Temperance and Humanity & Love. Each of the aforementioned strengths are the six pillars of 24 sub-strengths that you will explore when you take the quiz to help solidify what your strengths are. I highly encourage you to do so.

Once you discover your strengths, what then? Dr. Seligman points out in his book Authentic Happiness that there are three types of work we can be doing in our lives: a job, a career or a calling. Discussed in depth on page 168, a job is merely for the paycheck; a career involves a deeper personal investment as you advance up the latter and seek promotions and prestige; however it is also something you are completely fine retiring from once you felt you have done your best and left it all at the office (so-to-speak). A calling though, is different. A calling is derived more directly from your strengths.

As defined by Seligman, a calling is a passionate commitment to work for its own sake. 

And here’s the catch, being a teacher for one person can be a calling while for another person it is a career. Or being a landscaper can be a job for someone, but for another it can be a calling. The difference is you. Your strengths will determine what your calling is. Do yourself a grand favor and take the time to figure it out. Your happiness is at stake.

The important difference that alluded to in the title of today’s post/episode is that when we invest in our strengths the only return we are seeking is the pleasure of being immersed in what we are doing. If we are practicing a skill, we are doing it for a purpose: money, advancement, to gain something outside of ourselves that we do not have control over.

Love, true love, is ultimately what we have for our calling. Otherwise it is lust. We want something else so it can bring us something outside of our reach. Love, the doing, the involvement, is all that is being sought. Be sure to stop by in February when the theme of the month will shift to “Creating a Social Well-Being of Strength and Compassion”.

Now you may be thinking, well, I need to stay in my job or career because it pays the bills. I absolutely understand, and you absolutely should. But, now you have given yourself permission to start spending more time (in your free time) focusing on your strengths because when you know they are your strengths, you know that you will not lose interest in them in the future. Which means, the future is a blank page, and your willingness to trust yourself, the self you have come to know and trust, could lead to amazing opportunities. Perhaps you will or are pursuing your calling full-time, what an amazing gift to experience, but maybe it will always be a hobby until you retire and then you can dive head-first without seeing when you have to return to your career. Either way, you’ve discovered something about yourself that will open many doors.

Here are a few outside sources that discuss the topic of the 24 Strengths:

~Action for Happiness

~What is the Classification for Character Strengths and Virtues?

~Personal Development: Traits vs. Skills


~6 Ways to Find Your Authentic Life Path

~5 Ways to Live an Examined Life

~17 Reasons to Love Your Work

Petit Plaisir

—Skillet Chicken with Tomatoes, Pancetta and Mozzarella

Servings: 4


~I used chicken tenders, as that what I had in the refrigerator, but bone-in would have added even more flavor.~


  • 3 1/2 lbs bone-in chicken pieces (one whole chicken cut into 8 pieces)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 oz pancetta, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-oz) can whole plum tomatoes) San Marzano if possible
  • 1 large basil spring, julienned (for dish and for serving)
  • 8 oz bocconcini, halved (or mozzarella ball cut into 3/4-inch pieces)


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper
  2. In a large oven-proof skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate.
  3. Add chicken to skillet. Sear, turning only occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil.
  4. Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet; fry 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook, breaking up tomatoes with a spatula, until sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.
  5. Return chicken to skillet. Transfer skillet to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.
  6. Scatter bocconcini or mozzarella pieces over skillet. Adjust oven temperature to broil. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully to see that it does not burn). Garnish with pancetta and chopped basil before serving.


Image: source

5 thoughts on “Strengths vs. Skills: The Important Difference

  1. My strengths and weaknesses:

    Organizational skills
    Planning skills
    Leadership skills
    Flexible and adaptable
    Open minded
    Supportive and Encouraging Others
    love of learning new things
    appreciation of beauty
    enjoys being alone
    enjoys reading
    hands on
    likes being unique
    enjoys community
    prefers a slower pace

    focus/easily distracted
    decision making
    problem solving
    analyzing and managing information
    personal initiative
    not brave or able to take risks
    being social
    not competitive
    doesnt enjoy working in teams

  2. Gosh, I wish I’d had access to this information when I was teaching middle school. I taught (amongst other things) a class called “Study Skills,” and also, “Careers.” This woud have been great information to work on with students. Thanks, I really enjoyed this podcast. No longer working, but will enjoy assessing my strentgths and skills!

  3. Shannon, I enjoy listening to all your podcasts. The music is soothing and instantly puts me in a good mood, the simply luxurious kind :). I recently downloaded and saved them all and played them back to back when I went on a 7-hour road trip in South Africa. It was bliss and even my boyfriend enjoyed it (especially the ones on Ernest Hemingway & Big Magic book review). Keep going, you’re changing lives for the better. xxx

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