I remember my parents talking to me about my Kindergarten report card. Something about needing to “play better with others.” I did not really understand. I was one of the good kids that did all of my work, obeyed the teacher, had a few friends, and was nice to everyone else. I just did not socialize and make friends as quickly as most of my peers. Even though I did not understand it, I took the criticism to heart and have tried to push myself to play better with others.
Despite my efforts over the past few decades, I get similar feedback from my supervisor at work. I work in a highly social office full of Facebook fanatics who are committed to group think. I, on the other hand, thrive on independent deliberation. I also have a strong work ethic that means work comes first and play comes later (if there is time, which usually is not the case). Because my supervisor wants me to contribute more to team building, though, I push myself to engage in small talk, work in teams, and attend social events. If everyone from my Kindergarten teacher to my current boss believes this is necessary and good, they must be right.
Or are they? Recently, I stumbled on the notion that everyone performs best (and feels the most satisfied) when they are playing to their strengths. Now that I have heard about the concept, “duh” is the first word that comes to mind. Of course it makes sense, but I have to wonder why this is the first time I have really heard of this notion. I have been told for decades that I need to focus on overcoming my weaknesses. I have to believe I am not alone. How many of us have been pushed to perform in a way that does not utilize our best abilities? How many of us are performing in jobs while the things we do best (and enjoy most) are ideas stuck in our minds? Since stumbling on this notion, I have realized just how much I do this, and not just with regard to the social aspect of my work. I also do not have the opportunity to use some of my best skills (e.g., research, writing, and problem solving) on a regular basis. What has surprised me is how directly I can connect a moment of irritation at work with a moment where I am forced to act outside of my strengths.
As a result, I am committing myself to focusing on my strengths and finding joy when I am able to put them to work. I hope others will do (or are already are doing) the same.