I've always thought someone's strengths were something they were good at--even if they hated doing it. That's why I get stuck cleaning the bathroom every week. It's definitely not a love affair with the bathroom--remember that's with the kitchen floor. I just do a more thorough job than anyone else in the family.
This view may not be a big deal when it comes to divying up household chores, but when selecting a career this view is a great way to really mess things up!
Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work and presenter on Oprah and a PBS special on strengths, has a different take on the definition of a personal strength:
"A strength is an activity that makes you feel strong."
Not necessarily something that you're good at. To help us realize what our strengths are Marcus has some suggestions: Keep a notebook with you at all times and write down things that make you feel strong. Don't do this at the end of the day. In order to maintain the details and a vivid description, write it down right away. When you do this the underlying likes and dislikes become more evident than just a generic quick description at the end of the day. For example, "talking on the phone with Mary" is not anywhere near as insighful as "calling Mary to discuss the school policies and brainstorming on ideas of how we can get them to consider the needs of the students more." For more details on this, check out Marcus's work (via book or videos).
In your stength notebook, create two columns: "I loved it" and "I loathed it". Things that made you feel empowered go in the loved it list and ones that left you disempowered go on the loathed it side. There are some rules to follow (again I'm just overviewing here, but Marcus's work with Oprah and PBS--and I imagine his book--provide more thorough suggestions). One "rule" is to only write down events that you did--not something that someone did to you. For example, being complimented by your mom might feel nice, but you didn't do it. However, helping out your family and giving your time may make you feel wonderful inside. Only the latter of these two scenarios would go on the list.
Here are the four SIGNs to help you determine if something is worthy of the loved it list. Look for all four before adding to the loved it side.
S - Success. If you think you’re good (being effective and in control) at it, then you’re a success at it.
I – Instinct. This includes things you look forward to doing; you can’t help but to do them.
G – Growth. Time stands still and you’re completely focused on the activity; if you’re distracted easily then it goes in the loathed column.
N – Needs. It fulfills a need. You feel fulfilled by it.
When I did this for a week, what I thought were my strengths originally were not always empowering for me and things I used to classify as not important enough to spend time on left me feeling wonderful inside. This has shifted how I make decisions on where to put my time and energy every day.
Once you've identified your strengths, Mr. Buckingham suggests starting every day with the question:
"How can I volunteer my strengths today?"
Focusing and devoting more time to my real strengths has brought more joy and meaning to every day of my life. I truly believe that this exercise has helped me to give more and contribute more of what I was meant to in this world.
Thank you, Mr. Buckingham!
Today is the first day of the rest of your life!