Why is it that we find it more natural to focus on what we suck at rather than what we are awesome at? I used to think this was cultural and that some cultures are simply more prone to talking about their weaknesses. In Japan, for example, people almost go into a state of denial when someone points out a strength!  However, as I meet people from all over the world I tend to see a consistent trend – people are concerned with fixing their weaknesses rather than maximizing their strengths. This really comes as no surprise as the focus on weakness in most cultures is hard to ignore. Almost every job interview asks about our weaknesses in light of our strengths!

Avoiding a Culture of ‘Average’

Personal branding is all about finding what we are uniquely strong at and making it stronger. This is what enables us to be known for something so that people are compelled to connect with us. When we gravitate toward our weaknesses we tend to become average in a bunch of things, not superb in some thing. And guess what? People do not get excited about average in any culture! As a general rule, unless a weakness gets in the way of your personal brand strengths, then forget about it! 

Here are 5 culturally appropriate ways to uncover your strengths and avoid an average personal brand.

1. StrengthsFinder 2.0

Are you an “achiever”, “relater”, “maximizer”? First introduced in 2001, the StrengthsFinder assessment was designed with the simple purpose of helping you to discover your top five strengths and how each of these plays out in your life. By doing the assessment you have more clarity in understanding how to do what you naturally do best every day, and how to identify the opportunities that will enable you to use your strengths. Access to the assessment does require a code that comes with the purchase of the book and it is available in over 20 languages.


SOAR retains the ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ from the traditional SWOT model, but adds a critical process of ‘appreciative intent’ by including ‘aspirations’ and ‘results’. Appreciative Intent (AI) really goes hand-in-hand with personal branding as its function is to build plans around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t. This empowers us to focus on the positives that we can imagine and actually achieve in the future. When it comes to personal branding SOAR is ideal for removing ‘weaknesses’ from the equation and shifting our mindset toward our strengths.

3. Headline News

How do you want the world to see you? What do you want to be known for? If someone picks up the newspaper and there is a front page article about you, what would the headline read? Identify a list of people who know you well including friends, family, colleagues, etc. Ask them to write a front page headline about you.  Remind them to be genuine and real here. You don’t want them to fantasize. Their headline should be something they feel is absolutely achievable and realistic for you. What you get back will be an amazing collection of headlines. Look for themes across these headlines and pay attention to all the verbs used as they will say a lot about how they see your strengths.

4. Seven Stories

Seven Stories is a comprehensive introspective activity where you first make a list of 25 enjoyable accomplishments in your life from childhood to present time. Things you not only enjoyed, but also did well. From this list you narrow it down to the seven that are the most important to you and write a short paragraph about each accomplishment. With these seven stories you will find some common threads and uncover strengths that perhaps you never realized.

5. My Retirement Party

This is a great “forward visioning” activity that combines aspects of ‘Headline News’ and ‘Seven Stories’. Imagine you are sitting on the porch of your home and old friends, family members, and colleagues are showing up. People are coming to celebrate your retirement. As everyone gathers they are gradually breaking into smaller groups, talking, laughing, and having a great time. They are talking about you and how you have impacted their lives. You get up from the porch and walk around. As you pass by each group you can overhear what they are saying. Write down what you hear. How have you made an impact? What did you do to help them?


Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer” and is one of only 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world. He is introducing a leading global personal branding methodology to companies and careerists in Japan and adapting it for the Japanese culture. In a culture where fitting-in is the norm, his mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. His background spans over 21 years in intercultural consulting, international outreach, and global communication coaching.