What I’m about to say may be committing a sacrilege to the very essence of the Strengths movement, but I really believe I need to put it out there.
Strengths can have a dark side.
There. I. Said. It.
Call it a shadow, call it a basement, call it an underbelly. I just have to call it something, if I am being honest with myself and sharing the truth of this journey with those I aim to serve.
Let me be clear. Exploring and reflecting on my strengths has been nothing short of life changing. The 1-1 session was an opportunity to shine a light on my talents. This new language paved the way for an unapologetic approach to self-acceptance. Knowing and articulating why I do what I do, think what I think and need what I need has been a gift.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
But here’s something else I have learned. If you stare at your own reflection long enough, you’re bound to notice the flaws too.
At the beginning, I wrestled with my Top 5. It was easy to embrace the brightest strengths-the ones varnished in layers of positive personal and professional experiences. It was much harder to appreciate and take ownership of the strengths with baggage-the shadowy ones that made me feel vulnerable or smothered me in self-doubt.
Like many people, I have some strengths that come with searing memories of being misunderstood, misused, or misinterpreted. This created an initial aversion to my results. It also led to a bit of ‘strengths envy’.
Ohhhh, she has great strengths. I wish I had a little Woo or a hint of Discipline. No wonder she’s better at this job than I am…she has Empathy. Lucky. Why don’t I have any ‘Thinking’ strengths?”
Shades of Truth
I know that I am not alone in this. Many people struggle to come to terms with their results. I have learned that this is a natural part of the process. In fact, the real beauty of this work is in the struggle.
For some, the talents conjure up negative experiences, assumptions or labels, which can cause tremendous angst.
- Command = Bossy.
- Analytical = Annoying.
- Relator = Arrogant.
- Maximizer = Perfectionist.
- Ideation = Medication.
Over a lifetime, this kind of negative feedback erodes self-confidence and greatly influences our ability to embrace these natural behaviors as talents. There are others who may already be on shaky personal or professional ground.
After digging into their strengths, they may recognize a lack of alignment or best fit. This can be a difficult realization. And there are still more people who are challenged with smoothing the rough edges of a raw strength into something more refined and mature.
What I know now is that I cannot be anyone I want to be…. but I can be a whole lot more of who I already am. I have learned to pay attention to when my talents bring life to myself and others. When this happens, I know I am influencing from a place of generative strength.
I am now also equally as attentive to when my strengths are being de-generative. I notice when they are depleting my emotional energy, causing instability, repelling to others or damaging to my relationships. In these dark moments, I try to pause and re-calibrate my strengths to better fit the context. This takes awareness, acceptance and practice.
There is a timing and precision to the generative application of our strengths. I don’t always get it right. But if I think of my strengths as musical notes, it helps. When I play parts of them together as a chord, the sound is unmistakable. Unison. Synchronicity. Recognizable and unique to all those who can hear it.
But if I am off key, ever so slightly, the sound will change. And if I consistently miss the mark, there is dissonance. Too much of one note and it drowns out the rest, not enough of another and the chord will never reach its full potential. But I play on. Aware of my faults, yet not letting them define my life’s performance or mar its beauty.
Your Dark Side
Have you experienced a dark side of your strengths? What has that been like, and how have you learned to re-calibrate?