A woman was having a birthday and decided to throw a party for herself. As the guests gathered, she focused the conversation on how each person knew her. After 40 minutes, she could see her guests were growing weary, so she shifted the conversation: “Okay, enough about me. What do you think of me?”
Sometimes working with strengths can feel this way, and if we’re not careful, strengths can become self-centered. But your strengths are not all about you. Actually, a "me-centered" approach to strengths can hinder achievement, wellbeing, and purpose.
In his new book, Life’s Great Question, best-selling author Tom Rath writes:
“A growing body of evidence suggests that the single greatest driver of both achievement and wellbeing is the understanding of how your daily efforts enhance the lives of others.”
In Patrick Lencioni’s work on employee engagement, he finds the same thing. One of the “job miseries” that Lencioni identifies that leads to disengagement is not knowing the difference you’re making in the lives of others. On the flip side, a driver of engagement is knowing how your efforts are contributing to people.
Rath goes on:
“According to top researchers who reviewed hundreds of studies on this subject, the defining features of a meaningful life are ‘connecting and contributing to something beyond the self.’”
This reminds me of a quote that is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill:
“You make a living by what you earn; you make a life by what you give.”
Now here’s where your strengths come in. Your strengths are your best means for positive outcomes. Your strengths are those activities in which you do well naturally, lose track of time, produce remarkable results, and feel satisfied, so much that others confirm you are good at them.
Although your strengths make you feel good and help you accomplish remarkably, your strengths aren’t all about you. If you make your strengths all about you, you will have missed a major part of them.
Your strengths are for making positive contributions in the lives of others. You may look inward to find them, may set aside time to develop them, may talk with others about them, but these practices are really building, reinforcing, and growing your strengths so they can serve others better.
They are in the end, outward-facing, even though they first look inward.
Which is why the Strengths Workshop we did the other night brought such joy to me. Here were individuals seeking to grow in their strengths so they could better serve others:
Here were inspiring people wanting to make the most of their strengths as they look outward. “We make a living by what we earn; we make a life by what we give,” said Churchill.
The woman whose birthday it was didn't know what to say to that.
What are your areas of strength?