Friday, April 27, 2012

Lessons from a Jar of Pickles - Redefining Wastefulness

You can read the introduction to this series here where I explain how three jars of terrible-tasting pickles came to be in my pantry.

There are several reasons why it was hard for me to throw away those three jars of awful pickles. One of them was:

I spent time and money on these, and to throw them away is wasteful. It would be like throwing money and effort in the trash.

I often correlate value with tangibility. If I spend money on something, I ought to have something tangible to show for it. Value = stuff. Value = practicality.

Spending money and time on jars of pickles and then not eating them is a waste of a tangible resource. Especially since I continued to buy pickles from the store - it is a waste to spend money on something that you already have sitting on a shelf at home. So there is actually a double-waste - the money spent on the pickling supplies and the money spent on the extra jars of pickles that I shouldn't have had to buy because I already had (awful) pickles at home.

Every time I saw those jars there was a sense of guilt associated with them. I ought to eat those. Not eating them is a waste.

But they taste awful.

Yeah, they taste awful because you failed at making them. You should have gone to the store for more dill but you didn't. I sure hope you learned your lesson.

Guilt, failure, and "you made your bed and now you have to lie in it" condemnation every time I looked at those darn pickles.

Now, this conversation wasn't that obvious in my head. I didn't fully realize this was happening because it was painful and I have a knack (I think we all do) for pushing away that pain. I'm quite talented in the art of ignoring familiar pain. I say "familiar" because I think we all have hurts and wounds that eventually become fixtures in our lives - for me those things have been procrastination and failure and laziness and probably some other stuff I can't think of right now. It's the stuff I bump up against all the time and I have this lie in my head that I am deficient - the pain exists because I am deficient. And it is just too much to openly confront that stuff all of the time so I learn to tolerate it, to ignore it, to medicate it with food and episodes of Chopped or Storage Wars or whatever.

And shuffling those pickles around on the shelf seemed to be much easier than throwing them away and admitting that I am wasteful and I am a failure and I am deficient.

Lies, lies, and more lies!

Thank you Jesus for truth and for healing and for the reality of the gospel! The truth is that as a human, I am deficient. However, in Jesus I am a new creation. I don't have to live in condemnation and I can give my deficiency and failures to Jesus and allow him to use them for good. I don't have to accept my fate as a failure - I can step into the inheritance that Jesus freely shares with me. Oh the GRACE and the FREEDOM that come with that inheritance!!!

Over the past few years I have allowed God to show me the depth of this reality and I have finally allowed myself to see me for how God sees me. And it is this renewing of my perspective that enabled me to throw away those confounded pickles!

So that night as I journaled about my day and thought about the pickles, the Holy Spirit dropped a new thought in my head. You know what he showed me?

The time and money I spent wasn't a waste - it was an investment in my creativity. It was an investment in an experience, and the experience itself was the value. The experience made it money well spent.

Talk about turning a thought upside down!

I realized that my creativity, my desire to make things from scratch, my desire to try new things - these are all gifts. They are a testament to the fact that I am a reflection of THE Creator. But if I believe the lie that every creative impulse and every attempt at something new must result in something that is useful and practical and tangible and successful, then my creativity will wither and die. I will never cease to compare the amount of my "successes" to the number of my "failures." I will see each failure as a sign that I'm not really as creative as I ought to be and my confidence to experiment and try new ideas will shrink away to nothingness. I will constantly compare my failures to the visible success of others, not recognizing that their success is a result of their (invisible-to-me) failures. I will believe the lie that I am not as creative as they are, I will believe that I'm not good enough, I will eventually believe that I should stop trying.

Instead, I need to see that failure is a part of creativity. Failure is a useful experience because I have the opportunity to learn from it. I must reject the lie that failure is an ending; instead, I must recognize it as part of the process.

This has redefined how I look at spending money on things like art supplies and spending time on projects. My daughter Kaitlyn is very creative and she loves anything that has to do with art. In the past, I avoided purchasing supplies and doing projects with her because the practical, tangible outcome didn't leave me anything to show for the time and money. What can you do with snowflakes made out of coffee filters? How is a pipe cleaner crown useful? If felt wasteful to make projects like this and then see them end up in the trash. Money wasted, I would think.

But when I look at the benefit of fostering her creativity, when I begin to see the value of experiences, suddenly it is not a waste. And I no longer agonize about throwing projects away. Part of the joy is the process and the adventure of trying new things; gone is the pressure to make every creation significant and useful and worthy of hanging onto forever.

Making terrible pickles doesn't mean I am deficient, and throwing them away doesn't mean that I am wasteful. It means that I care enough about myself to invest time and money into making sure that my creativity doesn't go to waste.

Wastefulness redefined.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons from a Jar of Pickles - Introduction

After working my way through my series on strengths, it feels right to move on to another series. So now, dear readers, I will begin a series that was inspired by a jar of pickles.

Every summer there is a produce stand on a corner that is on my way to/from work. It's called Sweet Corn Charlie's and they sell a variety of great produce, including (as their name would suggest) lots and lots of sweet corn. I do live in Indiana, after all, and summer in Indiana isn't complete without freshly picked sweet corn.

Two summers ago, in July or August of 2010, I stopped by the stand and was picking up my usual items - some corn, a few tomatoes, a cantaloupe, and some green beans - when I noticed some sprigs of dill next to a bin marked "pickling cucumbers."

One of the things I enjoy in life is experimenting in the kitchen. I love learning to make things from scratch and do things the "old-fashioned" way. I've made pudding from scratch, canned my own tomatoes, I love making my own chicken broth from scratch, and, although this isn't an edible item, I also make my own laundry detergent. There is something empowering about knowing that I can do these things without the aid of a box or a can.

So when I saw the dill and the cucumbers I was inspired to try canning my own pickles. I took all the dill that was left and gathered up some cucumbers and went on my merry way. (But not before I paid. In case you were wondering.)

That Saturday morning I assembled all the ingredients - those I had purchased at the produce stand and some I had picked up at the store. I went about making the pickles only to discover that I didn't have enough of the dill. I considered the situation for a minute and instead of running to the store to pick up some more, I decided to make do with what I had.

So I made the pickles and let them sit for the prescribed amount of time (two weeks, I think.) Then I anxiously opened a jar of them and took my first bite of pickle.

It tasted terrible.

All I tasted was garlic and soggy cucumber. Blech.

I put the opened jar of pickles in the refrigerator and left the rest of them (three jars) in the pantry.

For 18 months I kept those jars in the pantry. About once a month I'd have to shuffle them around to make room for jars of spaghetti sauce or cans of soup or boxes of granola bars. And every time I shuffled them I thought I should get rid of these.

In December 2011 while I was home for Christmas break I had a cleaning spurt and decided to clean out the pantry. I took everything out of the pantry and purged relentlessly. When I arrived at the jars of pickles I sighed a very deep sigh. Oh, those pickles! Why had a I kept them for so long? Why couldn't I just bring myself to throw them away? Why had I allowed them to take up space on my shelf for 18 months?

I took them out, popped the sealed lids off, dumped out the awful, garlicky juice, then coaxed the soggy pickles into the trash can. Finally - freedom!!

Later than night, as I was journaling about my day, I thought about those pickles and the many questions about why they had caused me so much grief. Surprisingly, my pondering led to four or five "aha!" moments that were pretty significant.

Since I wrapped up the strengths series I've been thinking about what I should blog about next, and the other night while I was looking for something in the pantry I was reminded of those awful pickles. And that's when I knew I should write about them.

Next up in the series - redefining wastefulness.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Strengths, Part Five - Conclusion

Here are the first four posts in this series:

Part One - Introduction
Part Two - The Freedom to Redefine Failure
Part Three - Freedom at Work
Part Four - New Strategies for Life Management

I've loved writing these posts because it's given me a chance to re-process a few things. (My intellection strength at work, of course.) I know that [probably] none of my readers will have the same exact strengths as I do so you perhaps won't relate to the specific things I've learned. But I hope that you've gotten some food for thought about your strengths and the strengths of others.

One thing to note is that there are many other assessments out there that can be just as life-changing. And the StrengthsFinder assessment may not be as life-changing for you as it was for me. It was a very specific answer to prayer for me - I had asked God to help me reclaim some things in my life and help me find the "real" me. I felt like I had spent so much time trying to please others that I had lost who I truly was. So I had a conversation with God and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me to some answers and about a week later was when I got the book.

If you are seeking answers then I have confidence that the StrengthsFinder assessment is a great tool for you to consider but I recognize that it might not be the right tool for you. That's a conversation for you to have with God and to ask the Holy Spirit to show you what is right for you.

My husband recently took the assessment and he felt mostly "meh" about it. There were no significant "aha!" moments. He found it to be interesting but it didn't necessarily have big implications for where he is right now. So I guess this is my disclaimer that "results may vary." But if you have $15-25 to spare I highly recommend that you at least give it a shot and buy the book/assessment.

Another note about the strengths - and I suppose I could write a whole other post on this but I'm just ready to wrap this series up - is how it has affected my parenting. Just yesterday as I was rushing out the door with Kaitlyn it hit me that I often give in to the worst parts of my adaptability strength in the morning. It is easy for me to start out in la-la-la-whatever mode - I get up, drink my coffee, check Facebook, etc., all the while knowing that I really ought to be getting ready. And then we hit the 30-minutes-until-we-have-to-get-out-the-door mark and I kick it into high gear. RUSHRUSHRUSH! GOGOGO! This isn't a problem for me with my adaptability strength. In fact, I seem to thrive on it.

But it's a different story for Kaitlyn. She takes her time with every task. I know that this is partly a five-year-old thing (and also one of those common things that parents and kids naturally struggle with) but that doesn't excuse me from recognizing where I'm allowing my strengths to overwhelm and frustrate my daughter. I felt really convicted about this yesterday and realized that I need to do a better job of harnessing my strengths in a positive way instead of letting them run wild.

This is true not just for parenting, but for all of life. I've touched on this through this series but I suppose it bears stating again - knowing my strengths is not an excuse for me to act however is most convenient and easy for me. I'm reminded of Philippians 2:3-4:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I am challenged to see my strengths as a ministry opportunity - how I can use them to bless others? I'm also challenged to think about the strengths of others and use that as a ministry opportunity - how can I give them opportunities to showcase their strengths? How can I help them grow in their strengths?

So, there you have it. (I feel like I should have something very inspiring or profound to say, but I've got nothing.) Now I need to figure out what my next series will be...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Strengths, Part Four - New Strategies for Life Management

In the first three posts in this series I have given an overview of the StrengthsFinder assessment and a summary of my strengths, I've talked about how this affected my overall view of myself, and how it affected my life at work. Now I want to talk about my new strategies for using my strengths to their fullest while also compensating for my weaknesses, especially as it relates to overall home- and life-management.

Just because I don't have any "executing" strengths in my top five does not excuse me from ever having to execute anything. The stuff of life must be done, strengths or not. I have laundry to do, bills to pay, dishes to wash, groceries to get.

In the past, back when I was really good at comparing myself to others, I often felt "less than" everyone else. I felt like everyone else had it together and could keep up with life while I was always just a few steps away from drowning in unfinished tasks.

I procrastinated terribly and was constantly overwhelmed by life. I would go through cycles where I worked up enough motivation to try and tackle all the unfinished business but I never fully caught up and I was left feeling exhausted by all the activity. I was a pendulum swinging between two extremes - the first was "I'm so overwhelmed I don't care" and the second was "if I just work hard enough maybe there is hope for me to be normal."

When I discovered my strengths, life didn't automatically change. The StrengthsFinder assessment didn't come with a cleaning fairy for those who discovered a lack of executing strengths. (What a disappointment.)

But there was a huge shift in my thinking and I could finally get off the pendulum. There is a monumental difference between "I ought to be good at this and I'm not" and "I know this isn't my strength but if I can learn this skill my life will be better." The first thought frames me as a failure. The second thought offers me an opportunity and recognizes that I don't have to compare myself to others. Making this switch was the first step in renewing my thinking and changing my habits.

The second step was understanding where my roadblocks occurred. I used to walk into a messy house and think, This place is a mess, I'm so behind, I'm a failure, I'm overwhelmed, and obviously the best course of action is to ignore all of this and instead focus on eating an entire bag of Doritos while watching Pawn Stars. You might think this is a plan for success but I will tell you it is not. (You're welcome. Feel free to throw a dollar in the tip jar in exchange for this ground-breaking piece of knowledge.)

But now I found myself walking into the house and thinking, This is a mess and I feel overwhelmed, but I believe that God desires for me to feel empowered. Why do I feel overwhelmed by this and what choices do I have that will empower me instead?

This led directly to the next step of changing the way that I think and act - I tried to look at my choices in terms of my strengths instead of in terms of my weaknesses. Instead of thinking about the 50 things on my to-do list that I ought to do and didn't want to do, I tried to envision what I would feel like once the house was picked up. I tried to think about what things I needed to address in order to feel at peace with my house and then focus only on those areas instead of thinking I had to address everything. I recognized my need to be creative and innovative and embraced the idea of doing things a little differently every time instead of thinking that I needed to be consistent. (Somehow I used to think that my gateway to being a "normal" person included finding one system and sticking to it all the time.)

I also began to think about systems that actually work instead of systems that are perfect. Example - having a perfect filing system for all of my bills vs. having a basket where I throw everything and then twice a month when I realize that bills needs to be paid, I rifle through the basket and find what I need. Is it perfectly organized? Nope. Is it organized enough? Yes.

Bye-bye perfectionism!

Many of these steps were easy for me to take because they embraced my strengths. But two really important steps weren't quite so easy - facing the stuff I was scared of and doing the things I didn't want to do.

The first category - stuff I was scared of - is kind of complicated. It involved some deeply rooted emotional stuff, along with some really irrational and dumb stuff, and some areas of sin and rebellious stuff.  I'm not sure if this really belongs in a discussion about strengths; perhaps it belongs more in a discussion about therapy and my relationship with God. But it was for sure a big part of my healing and being able to move forward. I won't go into any more detail than that right now, I just want to recognize this as integral to my growth.

The second category - things I didn't want to do - is pretty straightforward. I've had to learn that sometimes there is no amount of leveraging my strengths, no amount of innovation or creativity or envisioning the future that will propel me to a place where I want to do particular tasks. I just have to be a grown up and do them. (I think this novel concept is called self-discipline.) 

The funny thing is that the more freedom I get in my expectations and the more I let go of perfectionism, the more I have the mental fortitude necessary to do the things I don't want to do. It used to be that everything was in the category of "things I don't want to do," but now there are truly only a few things on that list. Freedom in the other areas gives me the momentum I need to be self-disciplined in the areas that count.

Oh yeah, and speaking of areas that count, I've re-prioritized what counts. There are some things that I just refuse to lose sleep over anymore. It's easier to address the list of "what counts" when it contains ten things instead of 100 things.

I'm sure there are a few other strengths-related strategies for life management that I could share, but I think I've hit on the ones with the most impact. I have one more post I want to write in this strengths series, one that wraps it up and gives me a chance to share a few final thoughts.

What would happen if you stopped expecting yourself to be good at your weaknesses? Are there some things that are currently on your list of "things that count" that you need to let go of?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Strengths, Part Three - Freedom at Work

I woke up this morning and discovered that the blog post I finished writing last night had been deleted. Grrrr. I set the post to publish for this morning, went to relax in the living room, and had a thought that I wanted to record for my next blog post so I used the newly-downloaded Blogger app on my phone to record the thought. Apparently I also opened a version of my completed post and saved it as a blank post.


Now I will attempt to rewrite the post and hope that it will come out better than the first version so I can feel like something redemptive came from the accidental deletion.

In part one of this series I gave some background about the StrengthsFinder assessment and summarized my strengths. In part two I talked about how knowing my strengths allowed me to redefine failure and success, and completely shifted the paradigm for how I view myself. Now I want to share how this affected how I work.

My entire office took the StrengthsFinder assessment at the same time, and it was really enlightening to see our results laid out side-by-side. There is a chart that divides the 34 strengths into four main categories - executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Of the five people who worked in the office at the time (we now have six) everyone else had 2-4 strengths in the executing category. I had zero.


All of my strengths are in the relationship building and strategic thinking categories. This gave me some wonderful "Hallelujah!" and "Aha!" moments about the way that I work.

For a long time I had been comparing myself to people who were executors. I would go to staff meetings and hear everyone rattle off their list of completed tasks and inside I had this panic - what had I accomplished that week? I would see everyone in the office being productive and checking off projects left and right, while I felt like I was chasing my tail and had nothing to show for it.

I would go through periods of feeling motivated and productive - for several weeks in a row I might feel like I'd finally "made it" because I was crossing projects and tasks off the list - but inevitably I would hit a wall where I was sluggish, unproductive, and dreaded the simplest of tasks. In those moments I struggled with comparing myself and wondering what in the world was wrong with me? Why couldn't I keep pace? Did others struggle with this sustained sluggishness? I know that they had days where they felt unmotivated, but did they go through whole weeks or months of it?

When we discovered our strengths and I saw that three of my four coworkers have the Achiever strength - which means that (big surprise) they are highly driven to achieve things and accomplish a list of tasks - it brought me a whole new level of freedom!

I could finally stop comparing myself to them. In moments of feeling unmotivated and sluggish I began to ask new questions. Instead of wondering What is wrong with me? I asked these kinds of questions:

Is my lack of motivation a result of using all of my momentum in the past few weeks and now I need to allow myself time to recharge? 

Do I feel overwhelmed because I've committed to executing too many of my ideas?

Where am I holding unrealistic expectations of myself? What tasks can I let go of and what tasks are really the priority today?

It's amazing what happened when I stopped assuming that something was wrong with me; when I started seeing the circumstances as the problem instead of seeing my deficiency  as the problem. I now feel empowered instead of guilty.

One thing to note, and I hope to hit this in more detail in my next post, is that my lack of an executing strength doesn't let me off the hook from having to do stuff. We all have to face tedious tasks and just because I am not naturally motivated to tackle a to-do list doesn't mean that I can coast through life in my little idea bubble. Knowledge really is power, and knowing my strengths (and my non-strengths) has given me new power to address my weaknesses, especially at work.

Another area where knowing the strengths of everyone in my office has helped me to have a new perspective is when I'm collaborating with my coworkers. For example, I used to get annoyed when I would throw out a great idea and Matt would start asking questions, questions and more questions. He'd ask about goals and strategies and purpose and blah, blah, blah. Goals and strategies are nice, but wouldn't it be so much more fun to float off on a cloud of ideas??

But when I saw that his top strengths are Strategic and Focus, I could appreciate his questions. He wasn't trying to squash my ideas, he was trying to make them better. He was trying to help me filter out the bad ones and find the ones that were feasible. He was trying to focus our energy as an office on the things that would truly make a difference and provide the most value.

It's amazing what can happen when there is a work culture that celebrates strengths instead of trying to avoid weakness. When I am concerned about my weaknesses I 1) try to hide them and/or 2) exploit the weaknesses of others and/or 3) over-compensate by flaunting my successes and strengths.

However, when I can rest in the security that I have strengths that make me a valued part of the team, and when I value the strengths of others, I don't have to try and create smoke and mirrors to puff up my job performance. I don't have to compete with others and I don't have to compare with them. I can tell them that they do a great job, and I can mean it. And I can genuinely feel joy and pride (the good kind) when my boss or others on our staff compliment me on a job well-done.

Do you ever think about the strengths of your coworkers and how they affect the roles you play in the office? If you are a supervisor, do you take time to focus on (and celebrate) the strengths of those under you? How can we contribute to a culture at work (or at home, church, school, etc.) that celebrates and honors each person's strengths?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Strengths, Part Two - the Freedom to Redefine Failure

In part one I gave some background about the StrengthsFinder assessment and summarized my strengths. Now I want to share how this transformed my life.

Ideation, Futuristic, and Intellection: seeing those three strengths at the top of my list suddenly brought so many things into focus. I now understood why I spent so much of my time thinking (intellection) about possibilities and envisioning what could be (futuristic) and coming up with a million ideas related to all the possibilities (ideation.)

I would see one good idea - for example, a friend using her creativity to open an Etsy store - and it would spark lots of ideas and possibilities. I envisioned what I might sell if I had an Etsy store. I came up with some really good ideas. I executed one of them - I put significant time and effort and a little bit of money into starting one. I had lots of great visions for this particular idea.

But then, like so many of my ideas, it fizzled out.

And I felt like a failure.

And I cried some tears.

And I felt like all my excitement about the idea was now foolishness in the eyes of everyone who had heard me talk so enthusiastically about it.

I felt this way about at least four other major projects that I'd undertaken in the past six years - like a big, fat failure.

Sometimes I would lay in bed at night and think about my failures. (I don't recommend this. It's a lot like looking up your health symptoms on Web MD - it only leads to trouble.) The reality of failure would wash over me and I had the thought that I just wasn't good at follow-through and I never would be. Ever. Period.

I thought this was a major character flaw that would keep me from being successful. If I could only fix this character flaw, then maybe I would have a chance.

And so I would begin anew, finding another idea that was better than the last, determining to have the willpower to follow through this time. This time would be different. It had to be.

But it wouldn't be different.

And there would be tears.

And more late night musings and prayers and questions.

And then one day I discovered the amazing truth that my perceived character flaw was actually my strength.


Oh hallelujah!

I cannot tell you the joy I had when I found out that my strength was having ideas, not carrying them out. Up until that point I had assumed that every good idea that came into my brain was given to me so I could see the idea realized. It was as if each of my ideas was a ball, and with every new ball that came at me I thought it was my job to keep it in the air. Keep juggling, Erin.

I assumed that everyone had ideas, all the time. And I assumed that everyone did a better job of juggling them than I did.

But when I discovered my strengths and I saw that my gift for thinking about ideas and possibilities was not the norm for everyone, I suddenly had the freedom to drop all of those balls. I had the freedom to filter them - to throw some away, and to put some aside for later, and to pass some of them on to other people. I could end the exhausting three-ring circus act of trying to keep them all in the air.

I've learned to redefine success, which in turn has allowed me to redefine failure. I can be okay knowing that I have limited momentum for each of my ideas - I no longer expect to have the momentum to carry them all the way through. Failure to execute no longer constitutes failure for Erin. Success now looks like having lots of ideas and allowing myself time to think and the confidence to share my thoughts and ideas and visions of the future with others.

This changed the paradigm of my life, and in the next two posts I'll talk about what that looks like at work and at home.

I am so thankful that Jesus takes my failures and tears and the broken areas of my life and he makes beautiful things out of them. Here is one of my favorite songs - it's a celebration of what Jesus has done in my life, and also a prayer for the areas that still feel messy and dusty and old and hopeless. "You make me new - you are making me new." Hallelujah!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Strengths, Part One - Introduction

In my last post I mentioned the StrengthsFinder test and shared my top five strengths. I have to say that knowing my strengths changed my life! I know that sounds a bit overblown but it's true. Understanding my strengths allowed me to see where I was trying to be like others (and failing miserably) and freed me to just be me.

Because they have been so instrumental in changing the way I view myself, the way I think, the way I approach my to-do list, and the way I work with others I want to take several posts to talk about my strengths.

Part of me feels like this is really self-serving. Like, "Hey guys, let's talk all about MEEEEEEE!!!" I started thinking about this in church on Sunday, and then I wondered if it was a nudge from God since, you know, I was in church. Was he telling me that coming back to blogging is making me self-absorbed?

But the truth is, if I'm going to blog about thoughts and process and transformation and growth, I'm really only an expert when it comes to ME. It would be way weirder if I decided to become an expert (and share my expertise on this here blog) on how other people need to change; I'm sure that's an option but I have feeling it would make me unpopular with friends and family.

Anyway... I guess I felt the need to express that and get it out of the way. Now back to the subject of this post...

I first heard of the StrengthsFinder in college. In fact, most of my graduating class took the test during the second semester of our senior year. I graduated a semester early so I missed out on that opportunity and I always wondered what I would have discovered had I taken the test.

Fast forward eleven years to a staff meeting where everyone on our staff was given a copy of "StrengthsFinder 2.0." I was so excited to finally have a chance to take the test! (In hindsight, I'm not sure why I never researched what it would cost to get the book/test on my own. The book is $25 retail, $15 on Amazon, so I could have easily discovered my strengths if I'd only thought to search it out.)

I've taken many different assessments and there is something about this one that is really unique. Perhaps it is because there are 34 different strengths; perhaps it is simply that I didn't take this assessment until I'd gained some life experience and started coming to terms with who I really am.

If you are unfamiliar with the StrengthsFinder book/test, here is a little excerpt about the strengths concept:

"Our goal was to start a global conversation about what's right with people. We were tired of living in a world that revolved around fixing our weaknesses. Society's relentless focus on people's shortcomings had turned into a global obsession. What's more, we had discovered that people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies."

Here are my top five strengths along with some excerpts from the book that explain them:

"You are fascinated by ideas. ... An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you."

"You are the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon. The future fascinates you. ... You are a dreamer who sees visions of what could be and who cherishes those visions. When the present proves too frustrating and the people around you too pragmatic, you conjure up your visions of the future and they energize you."

"You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the "muscles" of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. ... You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. ... This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life."

"You live in the moment. You don't see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices you make right now. ... This theme of Adaptability enables you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. ... You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once."

"Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. ... This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system."

The book offers some examples of what these strengths look like in everyday life and gives some advice for the types of jobs and roles to avoid/pursue. The above descriptions for Adaptability and Connectedness leave me wondering if those are really in my strengths, but the additional information confirms that they represent how I operate.

For example, for Adaptability one of the ideas for action is "avoid roles that demand structure and predictability. These roles will quickly frustrate you, make you feel inadequate, and stifle your independence." That is spot on for me, although I am learning to develop the ability to live within structure and predictability.

I feel like this post was not very insightful overall but I wanted to lay the foundation for sharing all the ways my strengths have affected my life. In the next couple of posts I want to share several "aha!" moments I had as I processed my strengths and saw how they applied to my thinking and my approach to doing, both at work and at home. (Here is part two, here is part three.)

Do you spend a lot of time focusing on your weaknesses instead of your strengths? What would happen if you shifted your focus and began to develop your key strengths instead?