Strengths and Being Ourselves

September 30, 2015

The strengths help us get specific about who we are and how we can bring out our real selves with others.

Oscar Wilde said it best, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

So, why can that seem so daunting?

Perceptions.  Realities.  Expectations.  Fear.  Too many options.  Too few options.  Pressure.  Distraction.  Negative self-talk.  To name a few.

If we are human, we know what it is like to try to live up to the expectations of others.

Many among us were brought up believing that we would be accepted if only we acted a certain way, or if we followed a set of rules, listened to this or that music, earned a specific amount of money, or reacted to life in a prescribed way.

Reality is, if we feel that we cannot be ourselves, how is it that we reason that we can be someone else?

In some ways that seems infinitely harder, no?  In other ways it feels like a safer bet, because if we are rejected for being someone else—well, it’s not really us who is being rejected…

In that way, being ourselves requires vulnerability.  That is the baseline.  So, it might be essential to remember that we all have specific qualities that add value to the world and that we are all in the same position.

Before the strengths we may have had hunches about what this meant, but no real language for expressing it.  We may have thought, “I am good at meeting people.” Or, “I like helping others.”  Or, “I am confidant only in certain situations.”

While such an awareness is a start, it certainly is not a roadmap.  Liking to help others is a bit vague, right?  There is, of course, a solution for that.

The strengths provide us with a vocabulary that illuminates the difficult-to-describe qualities of ourselves.  It’s a language that does something important right away: It puts a specific name around an abstract concept of our personality.  Then, it articulates general traits about us that include actions and/or places to look for action.

After all, it isn’t enough to be told that we are “always curious” about something.  That isn’t very useful.  Instead, if we are made aware of our strengths of input, learner, and/or ideation, for example, we can begin to frame our thinking around concrete concepts in a language shared by others.

Once we can do that we can begin to share our self-discovery with others.  We might do this actively (Saying, “Guess what I learned about myself?!”) or passively (living by example)—either way, when we are open to being who we are, we are able to find identification with others.

More than that, when we develop a pattern of looking for strengths in others, we begin to develop a high-quality mindset—one that looks for solutions instead of problems, one that finds things to like about others as opposed to dislike.  It’s a mindset that expects good things.

From there we discover that if everyone else has strengths that benefit us all, we must have them too.

What would it take to shift to a perspective where we focused on one another’s awesomenesses; one where we walked into situations saying, “I wonder how So-and-so is going to impress me today?”  Or, “I wonder what new thing I will like about them?”

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Strengths and Puppies

September 28, 2015

We are always changing and growing, the strengths provide a toolset that allows us to get specific in the ways we track our evolution.

Most of us can agree on one thing: puppies are the cutest.

And, if we’ve ever been with someone in the first days of their new pet we know how genuine happiness looks. The carefree energy of the young animal somehow draws us into a place of peace and joy. It’s their defense mechanism. It’s nice to be around. As babies, we too, held the same tactic.

Now, let’s imagine that we go out of town for a while and return to find, not a puppy, but a dog. To us, it might not even seem like the same animal, while to the owner it might not seem like the dog has grown at all.

This is called the “puppy effect”. It’s what happens when we witness gradual changes over time such that we don’t really notice them.

And, it’s perhaps easiest to experience this phenomenon within our own self. After all, we spend all of our time being ourselves, so much so that it is easy to overlook change as it happens incrementally. In some ways this is natural, in other ways it may allow for some of our greatest achievements to fade into the background.

Without a language to articulate our unique greatnesses, it is difficult to truly benchmark our individual successes and growth. Without a system to track and measure our development we are likely to sell ourselves short. Luckily, the strengths provide us with a vocabulary that makes the amorphous tangible and the abstract specific.

With that in mind, it may become important to not only think about our strengths, but to actually keep record of when, where, why, and how they are playing a role in our lives.

The simplest way of doing this is by setting aside a few moments each day for reflection. Taking two minutes—that’s right two minuets—to jot down a few thoughts about the development of our strengths perspective provides a record that we can later look back on. It creates concrete reference points that we can compare our current thought-process to that of days gone by.

Without a journal of this type, are we able to see and track our growth and development? What are other ways and methods that we could use to benchmark our greatness? Is it important for all of us to even be keeping tabs on such evolutions? Is this something that keeps us in the moment, out of the moment, little bit of both, neither, depends on the day, depends on the person?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Strengths and Avoiding the Comparison Trap

September 25, 2015

When we allow our strengths to work together we uncover the unique value of our wholeness. 

Consider the complexity of the human body and its systems.  Imagine every organ performing its special function and notice how each one does what it is designed to do.  Like gears in a watch, each part both supports and relies on the next, and together life is maintained in the body.  It wouldn’t matter if there were twenty healthy livers, if the body lacked lungs—or vice versa.  Each individual piece plays a role that is absolutely essential to the whole.

That said, wouldn’t it be strange if the heart grew jealous of the pancreas for being able to produce insulin—or if the kidneys became distracted and envious of the stomach for its capacity to digest food?

The absurdity of this might not be all that different from when we compare ourselves to others and feel less-than as a result.  The strengths tell us that there is only one thing worth focusing on: strengths.  Achiever is no better or worse than context or positivity or input.  Just as the lungs aren’t better than the gallbladder or the esophagus or the brain.

Einstein said it best: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

In that way, a person with, say, ideation is likely to feel frustrated if they measure their worth by how capable they are of executing specific, concrete tasks.  After all, how can we fault an orange for not tasting like an apple?

Living in our strengths does not mean being good at everything.  Nor does it mean being able to do what someone else can do.  Instead, it means knowing who we are and taking action to become more and more of that.  We develop most in our strengths.  Period.

In addition to that, developing a strengths perspective means being able to see greatness in others and appreciating it—even praising it—as opposed to feeling threatened or less-than by it.

What does our greatness look like in the mirror?  Who can we begin to honor as opposed to envy?  What would it take to grow more aware of the unique value we bring into the world—gratitude list, conversations, vision statements, deep breathing?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Strengths and Perpetual Growth

September 23, 2015

Because we are always changing, we are never done knowing ourselves.  The wisdom of the strengths remains true as we evolve.

There are more than seven billion of us on the planet right now.  And, at this moment, we are each of us thinking, dreaming, wondering, or imagining something.  We are vast.  And, similar as we might appear at times, no two of us are the same.  We all have skills.  We can all bring something to the table.

With that in mind, what can be said to be the first ever skill mastered by a human being?  It probably wasn’t juggling or ventriloquism.  It was likely the development of an ability that sustained life, right?

Humans, for example, mastered fishing more than 42,000 years ago.  Not “got good” at it.  Not “figured it out”.  But, mastered it.

Researchers found the remains of thousands of ancient fish in an Australian cave.  And, not just any old bones, either—amid the piles were those of tuna, which, even by today’s standards is a difficult catch.  That is to say, our ancestors weren’t just dropping a line in the water and hoping to get lucky.  They had clearly figured out something that worked and they used it to their advantage.

So, if fishing was mastered more than four millennia ago, how long did it take us to realize that we could even fish in the first place?  After that, how many years did it take for us to get good at it?  And what was that process like?  When it comes down to it, we’ve probably been trying to catch things in the water forever…

Fast forward to the present.  Despite everything else that is happening in our world—including Twitter and bacon ice cream and competitive horse jumping—people still, to this day, go fishing.  Add to that the fact that it has evolved into a more than $130 billion industry worldwide and we can glimpse both the spectrum and the existential magnitude of human capability.

Now, let’s consider the opah, which was discovered for the first time this year.  Put aside the fact that it is huge, bright orange, and shaped like Frisbee, it is the only truly warm-blooded fish.

Wait, what?

We’ve been masters at hooking, netting, trapping, spearing, scaling, cooking, and eating fish for more than four thousand years and we are still finding new ones?  Not only that, but species of fish that break the mold on what we thought about them in the first place?  (i.e. cold-blooded and all)

Though, when it comes down to it, it really isn’t that surprising.  In fact, it’s likely that we will be pulling new and exotic life forms from the ocean forever.  Which, when we allow it, is like the process of learning, knowing, and discovering ourselves.  We continue to do it all of our lives.

Whether we are skimming the surface or dredging the depths, aren’t we always learning new things about who we are, were, and can be?

The strengths provide a steady guide in this adventure because even as we change, they stay the same.  The actual words and ideas, that is, are static—our abilities to interpret their wisdom grows and evolves as we do.

Think of when we re-read a book and get something totally new out of the second time through?  Don’t we ask, “ How could I have not seen that the first time?”  After all, the sentence themselves didn’t change between readings…we changed.

And, so it is with our strengths.  The more we think about them, the more their depth is revealed.  Choosing to think about our greatness and seeking to develop it can reveal an entire matrix of options and opportunities.  It can mean the difference between dropping a single line into a pond (normal life) and casting a vast net into the sea (strengths life).

Because, as we change, our abilities to incorporate, understand, and apply more and more complex ideas into our lives is heightened.  From there, we can begin to encourage a strengths perspective in situations that before would have baffled us.

In that way, like the early fisher-people, who probably practiced for centuries through trial and error, we, too, have the opportunity (and the honor) to practice being and finding new layers of ourselves.

The strengths, as always, give us starting points and steady ideas to return to.

So, in what ways are we perpetually growing?  What would a list of our greatness consist of?  What are some step we could take toward deepening our understanding of ourselves?  Greater awareness?  A few moments of conscious reflection before bed?  What questions can we ask of our lives—and could the strengths be the answer to some of them?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Strengths and Not Overcomplicating Things, Part One

September 21, 2015

As we grow in our strengths, we feel more and more confident in our awareness that we are in the right place at the right time.

Known for his subtle but always innovative style, French composer Maurice Ravel described his own music as “complex but not complicated.”

Because the words are so similar—and sometimes used interchangeably—his statement sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms.  It could almost sound at first like he is saying “six of one, half-dozen of another”.  However, complexity and complicatedness are, in fact, vastly different ideas.

Nature, for example, is wildly complex in its ornate systems and flamboyant mysteries, which create and sustain life.  We can all agree that it is certainly not simple.

But, can we really say that nature is complicated?  Not really.  That word, by definition, implies difficulty, strain, and, even, an element of the unnecessary.  Anyone who has studied, or even sat in nature knows that there isn’t really a “struggle” going on.  Things happen as they must and that is that.

Sure, life at all times in the forests and oceans is vying for nutrients and space—but there is an ebb and flow to it.  An order.  There is an obvious cycle being enacted and reenacted.

Consider the activity of a wooded valley, there is no deliberation or hemming and hawing.  Sun rises, sun sets.  If a tree can’t grow any longer, it dies and becomes fertilizer for the soil or home for insects and mushrooms.  It is not moral or immoral, it isn’t a place were “choices” are made by leaves and bushes.  Things just are.

So, it may just be that things shift away from complexity and toward complicatedness only when we enter the equation.

As human beings, it begs the question, “What would it mean to live a life that is complex but not complicated?”

When we live in our strengths, we are likely to face complexity without complication.  Complexity being, perhaps, challenges with a value, while complicatedness being the opposite.  The strengths give us a knowledge and a language that serve to streamline our actions and weed out the unnecessary “noise”.  This allows us to tune into ideas that support the creation of the best versions of ourselves, while avoiding that which limits our greatness.

Through the strengths we don’t have to wade through complicated mazes of self-doubt and perplexity.  By developing a new mindset where we look for our others’ qualities as well as our own we no longer question our motives and our path.  We learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are, where we are.  We have hope because we have a gameplan: a language to demystify our selves and others.

We can feel good about what we are doing and we can allow ourselves to feel fulfilled by our actions and decisions because, complex as they may be, we know they are leading somewhere.

Are we pursuing our own dreams or someone else’s?  What about our lives is beautiful and complex?  What about our lives is complicated?  What would it take to shift the balance from complicatedness to complexity?  Are we working toward our own greatness or someone else’s?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.