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‘Killer Skills’: When Success Traps You

  • Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck National Certified Career Counselors and Life Calling CoachesSM
  • 2008 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
‘Killer Skills’: When Success Traps You

Beth is a labor relations attorney who does well in her job. She is respected by her clients and other attorneys. Each day, however, she dreads going to work and being in situations that involve rancorous, high-stakes bargaining. Persuading and negotiating are “killer skills” for her. Her clients and colleagues would be surprised to find that Beth battles depression, anxiety, and chronic health issues that are directly related to the stress she experiences in her work.

Killer skills are those skills a person does well (and may even be renowned for using) but that they really dislike. House painters who detest painting prep work and teachers who don’t enjoy presenting information up front are examples of people in jobs that require spending a good deal of their time using killer skills. People often feel trapped by their killer skills: “But I’m good at this…I’m not sure how else I’d make a living” or “People tell me I do this so well; hasn’t God gifted me to do this?”

Recognizing Your “Killer Skills”

What are your “killer skills”? Whenever you have to use killer skills, you feel the energy draining out of you. To identify your own personal set of killer skills, think about when you feel weary at work. What are you doing (or supposed to be doing)? What do you procrastinate doing? What tasks would you like to never have to do again because you dislike doing them so much? You get the idea!

Isn’t using “killer skills” inevitable? Work is work, and there are always some things you will have to do in a job that aren’t your favorite things to do. There can be seasons in a job or career in which there may be quite a few things you have to do that you don’t really enjoy doing.  When you start in a new job or career, for example, there can be a period of “paying your dues” in which you have the lowest seniority and are asked to do things others don’t want to do.  If you start your own business, you may have to do everything for a few months or even years until you can afford to hire others.  Or, you may be in a job or ministry in which you have to wear several hats due to layoffs or budget cuts. 

While you probably can’t avoid using killer skills altogether, aim for using your killer skills no more than 20% of the time in a given day or week. A mature person realizes that there will be times when he has to do things he would rather not do. If, however, you begin to see the work affecting you negatively, you may need to consider doing more than just adjusting your attitude.

How can using “killer skills” affect you? Using killer skills too much creates stress, and eventually burnout. The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress.” While there are many factors at work that can contribute to burnout, poor job fit (a mismatch between your God-given design and your work tasks) is a key cause.

Right now, you may only be experiencing relatively minor stress-related symptoms such as headaches, stomach distress, mild insomnia, or irritability. If you don’t do something to address the amount of time you spend using your killer skills, however, your symptoms are likely to get worse.

How can you reduce the time and energy you invest in using killer skills?

1. Assess whether you are doing more than is expected of you (perfectionists, take note!) and can make adjustments in what you are doing in your job and/or how you are doing it;

2. Renegotiate your work tasks with your boss or partner. Come prepared with ideas for how the tasks you dislike doing could be accomplished using another strategy, system or person to do them.

3. Redistribute tasks among a work team. Initiate a discussion with your work group about the current task distribution and possible alternative arrangements given individual strengths, skills, preferences, etc. It is quite possible you are not the only person who would benefit from the discussion and possible reorganization.

4. Make a job or career change. No job is worth your health. You will thrive best in a job that minimizes the use of killer skills that drain you, and maximizes using skills that invigorate you. Career counseling services such as those offered through ChristianCareerCenter.com can help you make a smooth career transition.

The Big Picture

You have a divine design. God created you with a “bent” toward using and developing particular types of skills and abilities. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Your life—and your skills—have value and significance to God, and He is at work within you to help you discover the work He has created you to do.

Adapted from Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.


Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck are the authors of Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life. They are National Certified Career Counselors and recognized experts in helping people identify their giftedness and find their purpose in life. Their websites, www.ChristianCareerCenter.com and www.ChurchJobsOnline.com, feature hundreds of  job listings from churches, ministries, and Christian employers; a resume bank; career articles; and a free consultation session for individuals interested in career counseling/coaching and testing to discover work that fits their God-given design.