A Student’s Perspective: The Impact of Strengths for Adolescents

Editor’s Note: Leadership Vision is proud to have been a partner with Singapore American School (SAS) on its journey to becoming a Strengths-based organization. From faculty, to support staff, to students and the community, SAS has been steadfast in its commitment to bringing Strengths into the conversation. Today’s guest post is from  Hana Matsudaira, one of the students we worked with at SAS. We first met Hana in her Junior Year. We were impressed by her deep insight into the adolescent experience and her desire to help students make meaningful connections beyond test scores. She is now entering her Senior year at SAS and is spearheading a movement to integrate the language of Strengths into the fabric of the student high school experience. We’ve invited Hana to share her story with us.

As a junior at the Singapore American School, I often feel caught in the spiraling vortex that is my generation. I step through the cafeteria doors everyday feeling as though my classmates view me as competition as much as they do a friend. See, this is the thing about my generation: trying to find our level in this game, we constantly search for ways to measure ourselves. We compare ourselves to each other. We look to our grades, any quantitative data, and let them define our self-worth and strengths.

A New Language

Often, our line of reasoning sounds something like this, “Well, I got an A on my AP Lang rhetorical analysis essay so writing is obviously a strength of mine.” In high school, it’s difficult to break through these superficial barriers. When you ask us what we are good at, you will always get answers like, I’m good at basketball. I’m good at baking. I’m good at debate. What you will never hear is, I’m a great analyst. I love thinking about the future. I’m great at learning new things. If we describe ourselves in these ways, we are considered egotistical or cocky.

Changing My Course

As someone fascinated by personality, I feel compelled to break away from these surface level self-descriptions. At the Singapore American School, we are offered a course called Catalyst where we essentially create our own project in the span of a semester. For my Catalyst project, I trained to be a Strengths Communicator. I aimed to bridge these conversational barriers for my peers and teachers hoping to ultimately create a more empathetic and respectful SAS.

This fall, I was asked by my school’s administrators to produce a video about the power of Strengths. In the video, I shared my thoughts and challenged our high school faculty to explore Strengths with openness, compassion, and vulnerability. But first, they needed to hear an honest voice to truly understand the impact that a simple conversation had on me, not about my math scores or English essay.

Changing My Conversation

When I first took the StrengthsFinder assessment, I was in the thick of my “sophomore slump”. For a month or so last year, I was constantly tired and agitated as I spent the year defining my self-worth through the comparison to others and arbitrary standards.

When I first read my StrengthsFinder Theme packet results, I was surprised. My Top 5 Themes were:

I had viewed myself as your stereotypical studious, student council, organized teen so I was surprised that Achiever, Arranger, or Responsibility weren’t in my profile. As I read the descriptions, I found myself resonating with the traits of each theme, but I still had many questions. As luck would have it, one of my teachers was learning to be a Strengths Communicator, too. He offered to have a 1 to 1 conversation with me about my Strengths. Little did I know that the 1-hour exploration would be catalytic.

You see, even though I felt fairly comfortable with who I was, I had never gone deeper with my analysis. Together, we went through each of my Themes of Strength and made real life, personal connections with them. I was able to recognize my talents and put them into my own context with my own words. We did not let these Strengths define me, but rather we explored what they could mean for me.

The conversation re-energized me. It helped me focus. My self-awareness moved from the superficial to the significant. The conversation around StrengthsFinder gave me an opportunity to begin unfolding deeper layers of myself. Seeing how these pieces of me fit together has helped create a more solid self-image.

Shaping My Mission

After I began conducting my first Strengths 1 to 1 conversations, I realized very early on that most of my peers had never sat down and had someone listen to them for an hour. I also realized that I had never listened to someone for an hour. I learned so much about my peers which I believe may not have happened otherwise. I learned about paradoxes, I learned about the power of fairness, I learned about factorials, I learned about totalitarianism. I realized that I have incredibly fascinating friends and I’m walking away having gathered a lot of new information.

By the end, these conversations were very intimate. I feel very honored that my friends would open up to me. Some people cried during these conversations, shared their fears, shared what they are the most proud of, what they love. Because of that, for many, these conversations were a cultural change and a time of self-reflection, ultimately challenging me to empathize and help them understand all the way.

I am trained as a Strengths Communicator for my peers. I want my friends to be confident in the fact that they are unique and not defined by a percentage. StrengthsFinder is the tool to reveal these deeper and more genuine conversations and relationships.

Video Link Here: https://youtu.be/MWyo1_NPMDk

Caption: In fall 2016, Singapore American School’s Strengths Communicators asked me to make a video explaining the potential benefits of more widespread use of the Strengths Test for our high school students.