When I first graduated from college in the 1980s, my primary focus was finding a job. My approach was a shotgun approach. I applied for every job I could find that looked like it might provide a livable income. Qualifications were secondary.
One of the hallmarks of a young employee is summarized in a simple statement: you don’t know what you don’t know.
During an interview process, I’m sure I stumbled over one of the basic interview 101 questions: what are your strengths and weaknesses. I probably gave answers like “hard worker,” “committed,” “fast learner,” etc. Weaknesses? “I root for the Cubs?”
One of the advantages of age is you begin to understand who you really are as a person. Time and trials have revealed your true strengths and weaknesses. As I stated in yesterday’s post, I recognize that I have a rather eclectic range of interests. In most cases, I see how this serves me well. When it comes to blogging, however, I struggle to find the niche.
Recently, our church staff team completed the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment. Each individual answers a series of questions by indicating if the statement strongly describes you, whether it’s neutral, or strongly does not describe you. The statements are given in pairs: “I enjoy reading a good book” or “I am energized by a hard run.” Sometimes they are a little more difficult to judge: “I seek to be liked by everyone” or “I seek the respect of only those I admire.”
My strengths all lined up under the broad category of Strategic Thinking with the exception of my fifth strength, which falls under the category of Relationship Building.
Here are my top five strengths as identified by StrengthFinders:
You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”
You look back. You look back because that is where the answers lie. You look back to understand the present. From your vantage point the present is unstable, a confusing clamor of competing voices. It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains its stability. The earlier time was a simpler time. It was a time of blueprints. As you look back, you begin to see these blueprints emerge. You realize what the initial intentions were. These blueprints or intentions have since become so embellished that they are almost unrecognizable, but now this Context theme reveals them again. This understanding brings you confidence. No longer disoriented, you make better decisions because you sense the underlying structure. You become a better partner because you understand how your colleagues came to be who they are. And counterintuitively you become wiser about the future because you saw its seeds being sown in the past. Faced with new people and new situations, it will take you a little time to orient yourself, but you must give yourself this time. You must discipline yourself to ask the questions and allow the blueprints to emerge because no matter what the situation, if you haven’t seen the blueprints, you will have less confidence in your decisions.
You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. 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.
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.
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.
Build On Your Strengths
As I review these strengths, I can clearly identify with these descriptions. I am comfortable saying, “this is who I am.” One of the keys to an effective work experience is to ensure you are truly working in your area of strengths. There’s an old saying I have always believed in when it relates to work and career: “find a job doing something you truly enjoy, and you will never work a day in your life.”
Have you discovered your strengths and weaknesses? Take a few minutes to reflect on what gives you joy in your work and what causes you a lot of stress. Within these areas of joy and stress, you will find your strengths and weaknesses.