Strengths are Not Hobbies


image“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” — Marilyn vos Savant

Activities that are all appetite, no ability are hobbies.

You might feel drawn to these activities.

You might even grow from them and feel good afterward.  But if you are not successful or effective, they are hobbies, not strengths.

Explore Your Abilities Until You Find Your True Strengths

If you recognize the difference, you can move on to explore finding your strengths. You can still make time for your hobbies, but the key is to keep exploring your abilities until you find your true strengths.

That’s how you go from good to great.

In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about all-appetite, no-ability activities.

All-Appetite, No-Ability Activities

Are there activities you enjoy and keep practicing, but you don’t get any better? Those are your no-ability activities.

Via Go Put Your Strengths to Work:

“Yes, what about those activities that you have a yearning to do, but no matter how frequently you practice, and how much fun you have while doing them, and how great you feel when you’re done with them, you never seem to get any better?

What happens when you feel lots of I, G, and N, but you just can’t seem to generate any S? What about those all-appetite, no-ability activities?”

For more information on SIGN, see SIGN – The 4 Signs of a Strength.

We Call Them Hobbies

You might feel drawn to an activity, you might experience growth, and you feel right after you’ve done it, but if you’re not effective or successful in your activity, it’s a hobby.

Hobbies are good, but they aren’t strengths.

If your livelihood depends on your performance, play to your strengths.

Via Via Go Put Your Strengths to Work:

“Well, in common parlance, we have a word for them. We call them hobbies.  And they stay hobbies because no one is paying you to do them.

In hobby world you can indulge your desire to throw oil onto a canvas or hack away with your seven iron or fill your shower with song, and no one really cares that your performance is significantly subpar – or, in the case of the seven iron, significantly over par – because your livelihood doesn’t depend on your performance.”

If We Don’t Have Ability, We Don’t Have an Appetite

If you don’t have ability in an activity, you most likely won’t have a strong appetite for it. Having an ability in an activity, tends to build an appetite.

You also might have an appetite for an activity for other reasons, besides ability.

Via Go Put Your Strengths to Work:

“But back in the real world, the world of work and wages and customers and expectations, we quickly dismiss this as a luxury.  Very few of us maintain a strong appetite for an activity in which we clearly have no ability. 

We often see people expressing a strong appetite for a job or role that carries with it lots of money and prestige, but that’s different – here they are yearning for the money and the prestige, not the actual activities of the role.”

It’s Not an Adaptive Trait to Continually Yearn to Do Something You’re Bad At

If you’re not good at something, you won’t have the same drive for it.  That’s a good thing.  It’s part of survival. It let’s you move on to spend time in things you can master.

You tend to yearn to do things you can be successful at.

Via Go Put Your Strengths to Work:

“It’s a rare day that you’ll see someone pining to do a specific activity at which she is consistently mediocre.  It must be something in our DNA.

Way back in our prehistory, the person who still yearned to be a tracker even though he had trouble recognizing or even spotting the most obvious spoor would have been the first to be kicked out of the tribe when resources ran low

He wouldn’t have survived, and neither would his genes.   In the language of evolution, it’s not an adaptive trait to continually yearn to do something you are manifestly bad at, and so, although one occasionally runs up against it, it’s unlikely to survive in many of us today.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • No ability, all appetite is a hobby.
  • If you enjoy an activity, you grow from it, and you feel good afterward, but you aren’t effective or successful at it, it’s a hobby, not a strength.
  • Strengths are where you feel successful, you feel an instinct for it, you grow from it, and you feel a need to keep at it.
  • Explore activities to find your strengths.
  • You won’t have a passion to keep giving your best if you’re not improving.
  • You’ll have a passion to do more of what you’re good at.  That’s how you go from good to great.

If your livelihood depends on your performance, do more of what you are good at, and explore your abilities until you find what that is.

You Might Also Like


  1. Meh, great post, but kind of frustrated me as well. Most activities in my life seem to be no ability and all appetite at this point. It is hard to find something that you are passionate about, that you know you excel at, that you know will last a while and that you will continue to improve at. Wish me luck!

    – Jack Rugile
    Simple Sapien

  2. @Jack – here’s a technique that may work well for you. I call it an “improvement sprint.” Each month, pick a focus. For that month, find a mentor and focus on that one thing. Take notes on how you do.

    This lets you cycle through a focus each month and explore potential strengths. It also gives you enough focused time that you can see real results. Concentrated effort makes a big difference.

    Good luck!

Comments are closed.