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?

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