Don’t Get Stuck on the Wrong Train--Find Your Strengths

Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

Not too long ago, I had a great conversation with a prospective client. My brain synapses were popping and the more we talked, the more information fell out of my mouth in a waterfall of enthusiasm. It was energizing and sent my Input “strength” into overdrive.

Wait . . . what?

You know, my input! From StenghthsFinder?

 Know Thyself, And Thy Strengths

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is an online assessment tool produced by Gallup in 2001. Users answer 177 personality questions and once finished, they receive their top five strengths from a possible 34 themes. According to Gallup, once individuals and teams know their strengths and talents, they will be more productive, experience greater happiness, and engage more deeply in their work.

I first did StrengthsFinder in the mid 2000s, and have since completed it two additional times. In all three cases, the strength themes of Input and Learner have always been present in my top five. Stable elements of my personality, apparently.

To understand what Input and Learner mean, consider this: I am the person who would love a floor-to-ceiling, ladder-required library in her house. Not because I want to read all the books from cover to cover but because each book, stocked full of interesting tidbits of information, contains an opportunity to learn something new. Yeah, I know, there’s this thing called  the Internet now, and the information superhighway is right there at the touch of a button, but chalk it up to the Gen Xer in me--there is just something better about having a library of actual books I can leaf through in my house.

The reason I bring this up, is not because StrengthsFinder is new and flashy, but because it remains highly pertinent and useful, bringing one’s strengths and career into sharper focus. In understanding strengths, it becomes easier to think about one's career trajectories. And that’s useful. Today, the average person has 10-15 jobs in her lifetime, and changes careers anywhere from 3 to 7 times.  

 Like many Denver broads, I have had a myriad of career aspirations since childhood--from pediatrician to film producer to psychologist. I ended up in higher education as an administrator and pseudo academic and now find myself oriented to writing, coaching, and consulting. What struck me most as I finished my recent client meeting was how circuitous our paths through life can be, especially when no single career calls to you from a young age.

More than One Direction  

We are largely taught we must be trained for one direction in life and our schooling exacerbates this narrow focus. For women, this can mean work outside or inside the home. But what if training towards a narrow point doesn’t align with our strengths? Why do we limit ourselves in the name of expertise? 

For seventeen years, I worked in higher education and as I think about my strengths, I can see exactly why I got my PhD. But now, with higher education in my rear view mirror, I am discovering a whole new set of opportunities. These are opportunities I had not previously considered or perhaps I was not able to see because I never really thought about what I was good at. I got on a train and stayed on it without much reflection regarding the destination.

Step Off the Train, and Pause

I think this is a trap many of us fall into, whether for lack of options, opportunity, resources, or reflection. Stepping off of our train, and taking a moment to pause at a station, to reflect on our strengths while there, may be the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Years ago, I could not have predicted I would be here now, doing this work--coaching others in the sports of running and triathlons, writing, and engaging in ongoing consulting projects. But here I am, hovering around what might be considered mid-life, changing directions and actively trying to apply my strengths to my profession.

Broads, do you know your strengths? What lights you up? Whether through assessment or personal reflection, it is always helpful to take the time to consider how you can orient your personal and professional worlds towards your strengths. While it might not result in a big life or career change, and could be simply a small tweak here or there, I recommend spending some time to hone in on what you are good at and to identify your strengths. Maybe you’ll find, as I did, you need to change trains for a different destination.