One of my coworkers went to a leadership conference a couple of weeks ago, where they participated in a number of exercises to discover what their personal strengths are and how they can leverage those strengths in the workplace. It was such a positive experience for her that the rest of us were offered the opportunity to partake in the same assessment tool to discover our own strengths. Of course, I signed up (have you met me?) despite the fact that these things tend to freak me out a bit. Because whenever I do these assessments, a part of my mind is always asking “But what is the right answer here? How should I be responding?” This time I took a deep breath and decided not to think about anything but rather just go with my first, impulsive response.
Well, that was a mistake.
I’m certain it will come as no surprise to any of you who know me when I reveal that my top five strengths (I feel like Letterman) were Activator, Communication, Input, Positivity, and Adaptability. What was surprising was my reaction to these results.
Because frankly, I was pissed. Disappointed, resentful, jealous, and miffed. I really wanted to go back and retake the test in my usual method–give the answers I’m supposed to give so I can come up with something respectable. Something I can share with others and not feel like a failure. Because none of my themes are good themes. Everyone else was getting the good stuff: Achiever. Arranger. Command. Deliberative. Focus. Intellection. Learner. Maximizer. Self-Assurance. Significance. Strategic. These are all legitimate, respectable traits. Even Empathy is something, for chrissakes.
So what have I done? I’ve been stewing about this for two days now. I mean, seriously stewing. I’ve been thinking about the choices that were given, and the answer I should’ve given. The answers that were the right answers, and the way successful people would respond. Not the irresponsible, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-existence that I subscribe to (as evidenced by the talk I have to give in 6 hours that I still don’t have written–but I digress). I’ve made fun of these results on Twitter. I’ve gone back and poured over the themes I’m not. And I’ve worried that this lack of anything substantive might adversely affect me at work (you may laugh, but I’m being honest here). And I keep wishing that I was different. I want to think that I’m somehow valuable to this group of amazing people I work with. I want to measure up to the really cool people who got seriously insightful themes that really got to their core essence.
You get the idea.
And on my third cup of coffee this morning, as I obsessively dissected this abysmal result for the 137th time, I begrudgingly made a couple of acknowledgements that have gradually turned into a couple of startling connections.
I went back and reread my results. You might even say I actually really read them for the first time. I have to admit that they describe me to a T; the summary describes the very essence of what I am (although I would still argue that just because they fit me doesn’t mean they are strengths. I can excel at being strong in weaknesses. Trust me.) You can read my signature themes summary, or you can just hit the highlights below:
- People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
- People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
- People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
- People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
- People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
Personally, I like to add “…in bed” to each of these but, all kidding aside, even I have to admit that this is pretty spot on. So, fine. *eyeroll* I will acknowledge I have probably received the closest assessment I could get by not over thinking the process.
But in reflection, I don’t really over think; I actually crave the acceptance I think I will get if I get the results I “should” get. And in looking back on my life, I am struck by the undeniable fact that I have never really fit into any of the boxes my parents, my teachers, my bosses (or even my spouse) have tried repeatedly to put me into. Sometimes I willingly try to go into these boxes, because I think that is what I “should” do. Good children behave so parents don’t have to correct bad behavior. Good students study whatever is put in front of them and get good grades no matter the subject. Good employees complete the tasks given to them in a prompt and efficient manner because that is your job. (And don’t get me started about good wives, because frankly June Cleaver was on valium.) When I start suffocating, when I start panicking for lack of air, this is when I try clawing my way out of the box–all the while apologizing for not being able to stay in the box longer.
What. The. Hell.
The shattering conclusion here is almost inescapable: I really am different. I’d like to come to another conclusion, but I’m not really sure I can dodge this truth. I don’t fit nicely into a specific profile. I am disruptive. I am a renegade element. I am a bloody hot mess. Like it or not, I get excited and want to dive in. I laugh. A lot. And waaaaay too loudly for most people. Sometimes I chuck out the dreary and focus on the fun.
These are the very things that caused my father to look at me with stern disapproval and label them my character flaws. And truthfully, all my life I’ve seen these traits through my father’s eyes and identified them as the bad parts of me. Traits I should grow out of. Identifiers not in alignment with what adults should be. But I suppose that to deny these traits is to deny the essence of me, what makes me different from everyone else. And the question I see here is really, do I want to keep pushing away what I am and strive for something I’m not, or do I want to embrace that which I can’t change and, instead, decide how to use it to my advantage? Because I keep coming back to this immovable truth, and it’s a bit tiring to repeatedly deny who I might very well be. I am starting to see a glimmer of truth that perhaps being the Cheerleader (save the cheerleader, save the world!) and the Party Girl might not be the worst thing in the world.
I won’t lie. I’m still wishing I was more like these other successful people I work with. More structured. More legitimate. More… something than what I am. I feel unsure how exactly to capitalize on these strengths. But if they’re what I do well then why wouldn’t I use them to be successful? I am incredibly fortunate to now work in a place where they don’t try to put me in a box. They celebrate that I’m inquisitive, and generous, happy to talk to people and eager to jump into new things. Why is it so hard for me to accept that I live in the moment, and these are not bad traits? Perhaps if I start seeing my strengths as good complements to their strengths, rather than different and inferior, I can start building on that and realizing my own potential. Possibly to exceed it.
Now that would be a strength. Somebody get me some pompoms.