Find Joy in Your Strengths

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.

It’s all random . . . or is it?

We were among the millions affected by the storms that struck the Eastern United States last night.  The storm hit after 9:00, and by the time it passed, it was too dark outside to assess the damage.  We knew from the angry, orange lightening and loud thunder, though, that some damage was likely.  We went to sleep without electricity, hoping for little damage and a quick return of power before the heat of the day on Saturday.

This morning I woke up early for a Saturday – 6:00 a.m.  I would normally roll back over for some more shut eye but immediately remembered the storm and jumped out of bed to assess the damage.  We confirmed what we suspected from glimpses the night before – one of our older trees that is about 40′ tall was hit hard.  Who knows if it was lightening, or just the stress from the wind and rain, but at least four large branches broke off the top and are strewn across our backyard.  Only one large branch survives, and she looks quite bare.  We also discovered some broken branches that are still hanging on in other trees and a dent in our garage door from something that is no longer around.  We felt quite blessed, really.  Yes, we may lose one of our beautiful trees, which saddens me.  We chose our home, in part, because we are surrounded by the beauty of nature.  We feel lucky, though, that we saw no damage to the house other than the dent in the garage door.  Unlike many hit by the storm, we also had power (it woke us up when it came back on at 1:00 a.m.).

After inspecting our house and yard, we explored the area a bit to make sure everything was okay in the neighborhood and on our route into town.  We saw nothing of concern for our closest neighbors – most seemed to have little if any damage, including broken branches or damaged trees.  We could not tell why some trees were affected, though.  Nearly dead trees in one neighbor’s yard continue to stand tall today, while another neighbor’s vibrant tree was split in two.  As we left the neighborhood and drove into town, the impact seemed even more random.  We would drive a stretch of road with little evidence of the storm, and then see a house with a large area of shingles blown away.  Once in town, the lack of power and street lights were clear effects of nature’s fury, but we saw little that would explain why the power was out.  Then we saw the the store whose sign fell to the ground from the store front and whose roof looked like it had been peeled back like the lid of a sardine can, and the above-ground swimming pool that had been flattened by fallen trees.

Still, the damage seemed so random.  How can a healthy tree be split in half while a neighboring tree that is dying survive the same storm?  How can one store front look like a disaster area when the only impact on the store across the street is a garbage bin laying on its side?  As we drove home, I commented on how random it all seemed.  My spouse, relying on deeply-held religious beliefs, responded that it may seem random to us but that all things have a purpose.  Yes, I have grown up in this philosophy, too.  As the saying goes, all things work together for good for those who love God.  Still, my logical brain could not accept that God decided which tree would fall and which would stand.

As the evening settled, I decided a bit of a diversion was in order and picked up a book to read for a little while.  To my surprise (and a bit of delight), I read about trees and their importance to many cultures, including how some religions view trees as having special spiritual significance.  I found it interesting that this message was delivered on a day when we have witnessed the damage or destruction of so many trees.  As a nature lover, I agree that trees and all of nature are special and can deliver many important messages that we would otherwise miss.  I believe today provided another example.  I started out the day thinking that the storm and the trees that fell (or did not fall) showed just how random life is.  My reading – so aptly timed for today – suggested that maybe things are not quite as random as they appear.

Random?  Purposeful?  I do not know the answer.  I cannot believe that the neighbors without shingles on their roof, the home without a pool, and the store without a roof were singled out intentionally last night.  I do not understand how a dead tree survives a storm that fells another.  But I hope that some unseen purpose may follow the storm’s destruction.

Why “Grow Your Mind?”

The best part of any day is an “aha moment.”  You know the kind – when you suddenly realize exactly how something works.  Sometimes it is a simple thing that somehow perplexed you for quite a while.  Others are more complicated, and you only achieve the moment of clarity after careful consideration.  Still others are answers to questions you never knew to ask.  The most rewarding, though, can be the questions you thought you had answered, only to realize one day that you had it wrong and that the truth is so much better than you originally thought!  Knowledge and understanding are, in my opinion, the keys of life.  I have sought both from an early age, starting with when I pestered my older brother to play school.  I continue to take pleasure in the fact that each day presents the opportunity to learn more, to challenge my existing beliefs, and to develop a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.  I want to share some of those moments in this blog and challenge people to look for similar opportunities in their daily lives.  Everyone will have different moments.  The important thing is that everyone strives to “grow your mind.”