using your strengths
This week, we were lucky enough to host Chris Weber and his new wife, Kate, whom we have never met before. We missed the wedding because we had just left for Europe four short days before.
After filling Kate in on some of our favorite DoubleTake/Center for Documentary Studies memories, we got around to Chris’ upcoming venture as a self-employed writer. He left behind his days as a marketing expert on water systems to focus on his favorite passion – news of the body. It has been quite a while since I have read one of his email newsletters. I was quick to ask if I had missed out, which I have not.
We shared ideas about project management software and I filled him in on what I had observed about other friends who are writers. Finally I pulled Strengthsfinder 2.0 off of my shelf to share with Chris. I found this book to be one of the most useful books I have read this year.
This spring when I was floundering with what was next, I had no idea what were my strengths. I knew that I had a wide variety of skills, but that wasn’t really enough to help me understand what I should be doing. How should I spend my time? I had two separate friends tell me about this guy they had seen the author speak, who also worked for The Gallup Organization. My friends said that I should get this book to receive the code for the online test, Clifton StrengthsFinder.
When I first picked up the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was actually sold out and I bought the original version, StrenghtFinder. Once I got to the web site, I realized that I wanted the most recent version and decided to return the book that I had bought. But until then, I read through all 34 of the personality descriptions, being extremely careful not to damage the book or break the spine. As I made my way through each descriptor, I mentally filed each away in a “yeah” or “nay” category. By the time I was finished, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what my strengths were. A belief, ideation, includer, so on…
But when I received my results, I was none of those. In fact, I way completely shocked by my number one strength – strategic. The other three or four made sense. But I had no idea that I was such a strategic person. All of a sudden it made sense. I loved loved loved doing the Julia Cameron books. In fact, I wrote about how I was giving them up.The results made me realize that I was being strategic about how to lead a creative life, but I did not really need to focus on that anymore. Instead, I started being strategic about my businesses. And as a result, the tide is turning and “my children” and I are moving forward.
Playing off another one of my skills, input, I began spending time at the library, picking up countless business books. I specifically need to learn all that I could to improve my sales ability. From the books I read, sales involve making people comfortable and meeting their needs. These are both things that come natural to me. Despite my uniformed impression, sale is not a hard or challenging task. Before the thought of sales normally made me nervous, uncomfortable and completely self-conscious.
Plus, I would spend all day in front of the computer. So I started reading these library books as part of my work day. Not just at night right before falling asleep. One day, I asked Henry if he ever read as part of his work. He just looked at me said, “I read all day.” As a graphic designer, I have never read as part of my job. That’s when I realized that it is really hard to change work patterns developed over six years of the same job. Work does not always involve having your fingers on the keyboard and mouse.
Realizing my strengths were paramount to my growth and confidence in this exciting venture of entrepreneurship. The focus of the Strengthsfinder books are for large organizations. They do not include career suggestions. I really wish that they would. Plus I wish that they would provide a specific version for entrepreneurs. Working alone or with one other person can be challenging. So learning to employ your strengths can really help you preserve your sanity. Or even help you bypass some of those mildly depressive dips. But the benefits of living your dream are so much more rewarding than the security of a regular paycheck.
(Although, I must admit that nothing makes up for an employed spouse! Thanks for your support, Henry!)
These are my strengths…
The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.
I would like to add that my third-grade teacher nicknamed me “What If.”
Excellence, not average, is your measure. Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling. Strengths, whether yours or someone else’s, fascinate you. Like a diver after pearls, you search them out, watching for the telltale signs of a strength. A glimpse of untutored excellence, rapid learning, a skill mastered without recourse to steps—all these are clues that a strength may be in play. And having found a strength, you feel compelled to nurture it, refine it, and stretch it toward excellence. You polish the pearl until it shines. This natural sorting of strengths means that others see you as discriminating. You choose to spend time with people who appreciate your particular strengths. Likewise, you are attracted to others who seem to have found and cultivated their own strengths. You tend to avoid those who want to fix you and make you well rounded. You don’t want to spend your life bemoaning what you lack. Rather, you want to capitalize on the gifts with which you are blessed. It’s more fun. It’s more productive. And, counterintuitively, it is more demanding.
You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.
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. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. 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. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.
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 that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them. 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.
What are your strengths? Do any of them surprise you?