How to become better at being you A conversation with my CliftonStrengths coach

Growing up in church I was always aware of what I was struggling with or what I should be better at.  Whether it was the songs we sang, the message right before communion, or prayer requests in Sunday school, there was always a common thread, a not so subtle reminder that us humans messed up and could (or should) be doing better. 

This left me feeling like I always had a lot of things to “work on” and it was exhausting.

Thankfully over the last decade God has graciously walked me through several life-giving mindset changes which have helped me step off the mental hamster wheel of trying to fix myself and I want to tell you about one of the resources that helped change things for me.

The other day I caught up with my friend Angela Robles who among other things (like being a former professional softball pitcher, a mom of two, a teacher at Azusa Pacific University, and founder of the Forza Institute) was my Strengths Finder coach when I worked on the video team at Rock Church.  During our conversation I had several “aha” moments and I wanted to share them with you:

(If you’re not familiar with Strengths Finder it is an online assessment that helps you discover what you naturally do best.  It has helped me to know myself better and has empowered me to really enjoy being myself.  Towards the end of this post we get into more details about the test and you can enter to win a free StrengthsFinder giveaway.)

Why should someone focus on their strengths instead of working to shore up their weaknesses?

So currently when you take the Strengths Finder test you only get the results of your top five strengths. The reason why is that they found that if people were able to see the entire list of 34 strengths ranked from highest to lowest, people would immediately go down to the bottom of the list because as people that’s kind of what we’re conditioned to do, to look at what we’re not good at and say “How do I fix this?”.  In our culture I think we don’t spend enough time focusing on our strengths because we’re so conditioned to look at our own weaknesses, but statistically what studies have found is that if we spend most of our time focusing on fixing our weaknesses that maaaaaybe if we work reeeeally, really hard we can get them to become mediocre or average at best, but if you took that same amount of time to really hone in on our strengths you can have much more success and go from being good to becoming great. 

For example, growing up I was a softball player and I remember there was this time when my coach told me, “You can be a really, really good pitcher and get a scholarship and go to college, but you need to give up hitting.  You need to have a designated hitter and just focus on pitching”.  It was a tough decision, but I gave up hitting and focused my time and energy on becoming an even better pitcher and that’s what enabled me to get a scholarship and play at Notre Dame. 

When we spread out our time trying to be good at too many things we can miss these great opportunities to really become excellent at something.

What’s a benefit of being excellent?

When we’re excellent at something it usually brings us joy. Like in Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell is this amazing Olympian runner and there is this great line where he says “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure” and to me that’s truthfully my biggest core conviction – If I do what I’m good at with excellence that’s my way of saying “Thank you so much Jesus”.

That’s such a good reminder that being in a posture of thanksgiving makes it so much easier to feel God’s pleasure in our lives. It also seems like the call to excellence is really a call to humility as well.

Yep, and that’s why I think the greatest leaders recognize that they can be the best at something, but they’re not going to be the best at everything and they need help.

With Instagram and Vimeo I’m always just a few clicks away from being able to watch the best films that my peers have made this year or their best looking behind the scenes photos of their most impressive looking set ups, so the temptation to compare my best with someone else’s best is always there. How do you avoid the comparison trap?

Well, what I love about Strengths Finder is that the results of your assessment paints this beautiful mosaic of all these different, intricate things that make you unique and it reminds you that there’s not one other person that’s going to be like you. So even sitting down and seeing all of these other amazing films and projects that other people are doing, there’s still something that you can do that’s so uniquely you that no one else can do.  Not one other person on this earth can do or think or see the way that you can.

Also, I think in our Christian culture, sometimes we fight against the idea of wanting to be the best because we want to be humble, etc., but what we don’t realize is that being the best isn’t about being better than others, it’s about being the best at what God’s given you the capacity to do. The other people in your life are also the best at something, too, so instead of being jealous or trying to compete against them, you’re free to encourage them knowing it’s not going to take away from your ability to be your best. 

I read a statistic that said people who get to use their strengths at work are six times more likely to be engaged in their work.  What other benefits are there from operating in your strengths?

So for me, I’m currently teaching at Azusa Pacific University and I find this tension where I’m like “Ughhhh am I too casual when I teach?  Am I too empathetic, am I too relational?”  I tend to think that I should be this scholar, academic type instead, but I am actually finding that the more I choose to just be myself and operate in my strengths that I’m getting higher performance reviews, pay raises, and more speaking opportunities.  It’s not because I’m the smartest person or the best researcher or best speaker, I don’t feel like I am at all, but because I’m genuinely authentic in the way I teach and coach, more doors have opened for me. I don’t think that would be happening if I was operating outside of my strengths and trying to do be like someone else.

That reminds me of the verse (Romans 8:19) that says “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.”  For me that verse always reminds me that God has put people around us who need exactly who we are and what we have – they’re literally looking for us – but they won’t recognize us if we’re trying to be someone else.  In a spiritual sense, people all around the earth are waiting for us to be truly Christ-like because that’s what they really searching for, but also in a vocational sense there are jobs and teams and clients and churches out there that would be a perfect fit for our us, but until we’re truly and authentically ourselves they won’t see how great a fit we would be.

Speaking of teams, when we were working together, I was on a video team that had 7 other people which was awesome, but how does knowing your Strengths help you if you’re only a one-man-band?

Well for example, in my consulting business it was helpful for me to know that a lot of my top strengths are relational, but since I’m often working on my own it helped me realize that I needed to be intentional about seeking out opportunities to be around others because that’s when I thrive. Very quickly I realized that if I’m going to work on my own, I’m still going to have to create a team around me. So it might be as simple as saying “I need to start going out for coffee with so-and-so” or “I need to start having lunches with this other person”.  Even if it’s someone outside of your church, it’s important to tap into someone who is more skilled in areas that you’re not.  Building your own, personal team is important not only for doing your work, but for your personal health and wellness.

So it almost seems like in order to do your work well and to thrive personally, whether you work by yourself or not, you need a team.

Right. For me it’s been really fun building my team which is a group of people that wouldn’t normally come together and in a way it’s been healthier.  Like even if you’re on a staff team and you want a stronger, broader influence on your work and on who you’re becoming, it’s important to draw from people outside of who you might typically pull from.  So for instance, instead of being at a table with six people from your department that you’re assigned to work with, you get to be creative in who you choose to be on your personal team and knowing your strengths and weaknesses helps you recognize the areas that you need help in and the types of people that you need on your team.  Also, one of the side effects of building my personal team has been an increase in gratitude because these people are generously investing in me and it’s outside the scope of their job.  They’re not on a paid staff with me, so it’s this healthy, professional relationship based on giving back and forth instead it just being part of their job description that they’re required to do.

Practically speaking, if someone wants to find out what their strengths are what should they do?

Definitely take the Strengths Finder assessment.  You can go to the website and take it there, but it’s $20 and to me that’s a lot just for the assessment, so I always recommend that people buy the book How Full Is Your Bucket or Strengths Finder 2.0 and you can find either of those brand new on Amazon for cheaper than $20 and those books come with a code to take Strengths Finder online for free.  (Make sure you purchase a NEW book.  If you buy a used copy, the code inside it will likely have been used already). 

After that I really, really recommend watching Theme Thursdays on Gallup’s YouTube channel where they go through every one of the 34 strengths and they do this one hour talk about each strength. It’s really cool because they talk about the nuances of the strength and go into a lot of great details about it.  Also, if you don’t want to dive that deep into your strengths, on the YouTube channel they also have “shorts” versions of each video that are like 5-10 minutes long that will give you the heart of what that strength is. 

Awesome.  I have both of those books and have recently started to re-read Strengths Finder 2.0 and I’m still getting so much out of it.  Thanks for chatting with me – you’ve given me a bunch more things to think about now, ha.

Thanks!  I’m super honored and hope this helps.  Talk to you soon!