Taking the Fear Out of Self-Awareness

That inward journey is scary. You never know what you will find.  Will I like what I discover about myself?  Will I hate it?  Will I find that I’m fundamentally flawed and deficient if I go there?

Perhaps we can agree that even the most saintly heart on the planet experiences envy, greed, selfishness, aggression, hate and despair at one time or another.  We are human, after all, and being fraught with imperfection is a truth we all share.  Ignoring that fact is kind of like ignoring the fact that my teeth will rot (and will give new meaning to the phrase ‘dragon breath’) if I don’t brush them.  Sticking my head in the sand about what is universally true does not change that reality.  Similarly, accepting our imperfections will not magically make them worse either.

I argue that our imperfections are not a problem; they are, in fact, an opportunity for growth and improvement.  In addition, our imperfections make us beautifully human and relatable.  I was talking to a student recently who described a peer as ‘perfect.’  This perfect young lady was so intimidating, no one could imagine dating her.  How does she share her fears, insecurities and struggles when no one can imagine that she has any?  How do you share your fears and insecurities with someone that doesn’t have any?  How can you feel seen if no one can see you?  Distancing yourself from emotions is a recipe for emotional isolation.

Instead, I argue that we should we focus on our strengths instead of our imperfections.  Our imperfections are there.  We accept them.  But trying to fix our weaknesses feels defeating and counterproductive because it is.   In addition, what we may call our weaknesses are sometimes actually strengths that are being poorly used.

Identifying and optimizing use of our strengths helps us feel energized, successful and authentic.  We can also develop strengths we didn’t realize we had and expand our repertoire of skills.  Finally, we can use our dominant strengths to improve in the areas we’re not so strong.  In this way, we address our weaknesses without giving them power.

Yes, this is about power.  Our personal power.  By refusing to acknowledge or accept our personal truths, we give power to what we will not name or discuss.  By shedding light on our Voldemorts and managing them in a positive way, like Harry Potter we reclaim our power and ability to grow and change in ways we could not have imagined.

Now what’s so scary about that?

Another Blind Spot Bites the Dust

We are strong!

We are strong!

This week I’m in training to learn how to become a Strengthsfinders coach, where it all began here at the Gallup Institute in beautiful Omaha NE.  I truly love this assessment.  The premise is that we all have an array of 34 talents that we can develop into strengths, or skills that we can use productively.  For each test-taker, the 34 talents are provided in order, from strongest to least strong (we try not to say “weak”), so we can see where our talents lie.  In order to be successful and engaged, we should focus on using our top strengths to their maximum potential.

I truly believe in this premise.  The groups that I have led through Strengthsfinders in the past have been similarly inspired to quit focusing on their weaknesses.  For some, it has been transformative as focus on those weaknesses can be  heavy burdens to bear.  For others, Strengthsfinders is merely an incredibly helpful framework to become more effective, either as individuals or as teams.

We did a little exercise yesterday where we talked about the strength we love and the one that drives us crazy.   Just FYI, the one that I love is called Relator.  As a Relator, I love to build and deepen relationships. I’m good at it, it’s important to me, it makes me happy and is also useful at work for building networks.

The one that can be hard for me is Input.  As Input, I love to collect information and data, and be in the Know (PS that does not mean that I gossip).  Input sometimes means that I easily venture into nosy-ness and I make people uncomfortable.  But I’m a relator!  I want your 411 (for the Millennials, there used to be this number you’d call to….never mind)!  I learned another downside to Input:  I get frustrated when I feel like I should have access to information and it’s withheld from me.  This, I had not considered.  The other day I practically had a tantrum because Chris hinted at something, but then refused to tell me. Drives. Me.  CRAZY!

What I never stopped to examine is how the strength I love can also have downsides.  My Relator strength also, turns out, means that I need to spend time with those that I love.  While that’s good, I make time specifically for my friends and loved ones, sometimes my loved ones need space.  I tend to try to just find others who want to get together when a loved one needs downtime, but when that fails, I find myself following people around like a puppy dog:  playwithmeplaywithme!  That’s not so endearing after the 100th or 2nd time.

I have another strength which I realized I try to downplay almost completely, is Command.  Command means I can take charge in a heartbeat, and people often look to me for direction and leadership.  My students usually will stop and listen to me when I stand in the front of the room, when other faculty sometimes have trouble commanding their attention.  I have to be careful not to walk to the podium before I’m ready to start, because they will also quiet down too early (then it’s hard to get their attention later).   I downplay it because I have a tendency to be bossy, and I usually don’t want to lead, though I usually will when asked.

So I found this lesson to be a great reminder to view all qualities, regardless of whether I view them as assets or liabilities, as part of a spectrum.  Failing to recognize either end of that spectrum leaves me with blind spots where I’m hurting myself (puppy dog) or missing opportunities.  Recognizing that I have not been using my Command strength to full advantage, part of my goal this week is to discover how to take better advantage of Command, without feeling like I have to accept all the responsibility all of the time.

This work, both as it applies to me personally as well as professionally, has me jumping out of bed each day saying, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”  I can’t wait to go back out and do more effective Strengthsfinders training and coaching, and to see how I can make better use of my strengths.  And though I’ve always considered myself good at viewing the entire spectra of my qualities, I don’t tend to spend enough consideration of the downsiden of my relatively positive strengths…it’s gonna be GREAT!