Kind Promise: I will share strengths.

My brother wanted to take some planters from our house to his. He brought his truck and was getting ready to load the planters. My friend Joshua offered to help. I assumed they would each take it an end of the dirt-filled-3-foot planter. Instead, Joshua picked up the planter and put it in the truck. He’s a big guy. It looked effortless.

girl looking through binocularsIt seems like sharing our strengths should be  easy, but it isn’t sometimes. We – and those around us – don’t always recognize our strengths. It’s hard to consider something a strength if we have been belittled for it. One of my strengths is a love of learning. It has also been labeled as “nerdiness” and “brown-nosing the teacher.” Past hurts can make it scary to think about our strengths. How do we discover and embrace our strengths so that we can share them?

Two Treasure Maps to Strength

Consider yourself an explorer, out to discover the wonders of your own life. Strengths – as I think of them – are the landmarks of your character. While they have grown more spectacular over your lifetime, they have been present since you were a small child. If you haven’t looked, you may not be aware of them. Here are a couple guidebooks to help you as you journey:

StrengthsFinder: Based on psychologist Donald Clifton’s work, this book and website combination includes an online questionnaire that will return your five top strengths. Our nonprofit agency worked with this system and a trainer to identify our individual strengths and think about how we could work together as a group to best use each other’s strengths.

VIA Survey of Character Strengths: this free online quiz, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, takes about 45 minutes to complete and returns your top five strengths. (Copy your results to another document if you want to save them.)

Knowing Your Strengths Helps You Claim Them

I’ve seen folks respond to items on these lists in three ways:

Recognition: a strength “feels right.” The person responds, “yes. That’s me. I’ve always been like that.” That was my response when I saw “learner” on both of the strength assessments. I love bumping into a question and finding the answer. (The Internet is a box of chocolates to me.)

Happy Surprise: the strength is unexpected, but not unwanted. StrengthsFinder suggested that one of my coworkers had Winning Over Others (abbreviated “woo”) as a strength. (In other words, being persuasive and charismatic.) 24 years old, she was about to attend her first national conference. Reporting after she returned, she said, “I walked into the room and was scared at first. Then I thought, ‘I’m going to woo the heck out of these people! ‘”

Puzzled Surprise: the strength is unexpected and seems foreign. StrengthsFinder said I am strategic. Since strengths aren’t negative, it doesn’t make me angry, but I’m still not quite sure how this fits for me. (Maybe I see the big picture?) It’s nice to have a mystery to continue to explore.

Identifying your strengths allows you to celebrate them. It gives you courage to try practicing them. It is an invitation to claim them and find ways to share them with others.
Rather than bemoaning the fact that I can’t help load planters, I can research planters (I did – and found good ones!) and share the knowledge – and the planters – with others.