Do you wake up in the morning excited to start your day – or do you feel dread, avoidance, apathy?
We tend to think of these reactions as fixed personality styles, but that’s wrong. The emotions you experience as you get out of bed are often a function of whether you spend your days using your signature strengths -- or trying frantically to correct your weaknesses.
I’ve long been fascinated by the Strengths Revolution -- the idea, advanced by people like Marcus Buckingham, that we should play to our strengths, especially when it comes to work and career. This principle seems so simple and self-evident, yet it runs against powerful currents in our culture, especially the philosophy of “no pain, no gain.” There’s nothing painful about using one’s strengths. Gain does take work, but the effort is pleasant.
If you’re curious about your own strengths (and weaknesses), you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths here, issued by the University of Pennsylvania. (Look under the "Questionnaires" pull-down menu; you'll need to register.) Of 24 possible strengths, the quiz will rank yours in order. (If you don’t want to take the full test of 240 questions, you can go here to rank yourself. (Click on the "Signature Strengths Self-Rating Scale" link.)
I just took the official test, and three of my top strengths were:
-- “Appreciation of beauty and excellence,"
--"Forgiveness and mercy," and
--"Love of learning.”
I wasn’t too surprised by this – I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of character strengths -- but I found it interesting to see which test questions I could answer without hesitation. With these questions, my personal tendencies and self-knowledge were both very strong. For example, it was was very easy for me to answer "I have no trouble eating healthy foods" (Not true, unfortunately) and "I get chills when I hear about acts of generosity" and "I'm always busy with something interesting" (Yup and Yup). I could also say with confidence that I do not "work at my very best when I am a group member." (And indeed, one of my weakest areas is something called "Citizenship," which involves being a dedicated teammate, working hard for the success of the group, and valuing group goals and purposes even when they differ from your own.)
I was just about to write I need to work on that-- and I do. But still I adhere to the test’s core principle: that “your top strengths are the ones to pay attention to and find ways to use more often.”
Back when I was a corporate lawyer (and often got out of bed experiencing the unpleasant cocktail of emotions mentioned above), I wasn't using any of my core strengths, except perhaps love of learning -- but even that was directed toward learning things I didn't much care about. I loved many of the incidentals of the job -- my colleagues, the sweeping view from my office window, the steady salary -- but these very important things still were not enough. I found myself living for vacations.
Now, in contrast, I use my strengths most every day, and as a result I love to work.
What are your core strengths, and are you using them consistently? It seems to me that this is as good a definition as any of living “the good life.”
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