How Well Do You Know Yourself?
Life is a sequence of choices we make. What we hold on to and what we let go of make all the difference.
Before we know what we want, we must know who we are. Yet knowing ourselves is among the hardest things to do these days. Our lives are packed with responsibilities and distractions, leaving little room to reflect on what is meaningful to us. We’re busy reacting rather than living, looking at but not seeing the truth in life. Until one day when our health breaks down and we finally stop to ponder what is important to us and how we should live the rest of our lives.
Some of you may say you know yourself well. You’ve done the Myers-Briggs personality test or the 16 Personalities questionnaire. 1 Yes, these analyses provide insights into our temperament and behavioral characteristics. But we change in reaction to the changes in our environment. If you did your test back in those college years, I’m not sure how accurate it’ll be now. Think of these tests as photos taken at a particular moment of your life—a glimpse of your past.
Most people know their weaknesses well; few know their strengths. Ever since we were old enough to tell right from wrong, we learned about our shortcomings, often from our parents. They wanted to protect us by informing us about what we lacked and the importance of amelioration. We were told to work on our weaknesses so we could increase our chances of success.
The thing is, if we only focus on our weaknesses, that is all we see, so we feel insecure, and believe we’re not good enough. All you working mothers out there, if you remember one thing from this book, let it be this message: it’s much more satisfying and effective to enhance our strengths than to improve our weaknesses.
Nicole Kidman, a renowned actor and producer, describes herself as being exceptionally shy, a circumstance that was only worsened by her childhood stutter. “I just remember everyone always saying to me, ‘Calm down, think about what you’re gonna say.’” Even with her massive success in the entertainment business, “I don’t like walking into a crowded restaurant by myself.” 2 Our genetic makeup has created a blueprint for us, where our weaknesses and strengths are laid out already. Our job is to figure out how to maximize the effect of our strengths while not letting our weaknesses stop us. No one is perfect, so we can shove off the burden of trying to be so.
What Are My Strengths?
Few of us know precisely in what areas we excel because we’ve been focusing on improving our weaknesses. Strengths lead us to new horizons; our flaws keep us on the treadmill of life, busy running but not getting anywhere. To have an accurate grasp of your strengths requires work, but the result will be empowering. When you know the magic words that sum up the purpose of your life, you’ll know why you’ve failed in previous attempts trying to fit. Instead of muscling with your feebleness, you can now free yourself of that burden and discover where your strengths can lead you.
The four steps of self-discovery include:
Think deeply about yourself.
Reflect on your past interests that weren’t fueled by monetary benefits.
Think about what others say about you.
Use a well-tested character strengths assessment tool to verify your findings.
Think Deeply about Yourself
What activities energize you? What gives you joy just thinking about it? When are you at your best? Periodically take an inventory of your emotions, filter out the impurities, and look for the gold specs that highlight your life.
My husband had trouble deciding what career he should pursue when he finished high school. All his friends wanted the computer science major as it was all the rage in the ’90s. He took a week-long road trip to Yellowstone National Park. The open road and scenery helped him think deeply about what he cared about the most and what he was good at. When he returned, he chose to study civil engineering. While many of his friends switched career during the dot-com crash in the early 2000s, he’s still satisfied with his career path.
Reflect on Your Past Interests that Weren’t Fueled by Monetary Benefits
Think about what you wanted to be when you were in tenth grade. What activities consumed most of your time when you were a child? I’ve loved reading from a very young age. By the time I was twelve, I had read all the classic literature on my father’s bookshelves, such as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I was enthralled by the power of words. I had a big pile of notebooks collecting all the beautiful phrases I encountered. I wrote my first novel when I was ten. My parents told me I needed to have a successful career to be financially stable. So I tried a business major, then engineering, and eventually pharmacy. Although I’ve published technical articles and research papers, creative writing was always a nostalgic thought for me.
A few years ago, a surgery kept me off work for weeks. During those long, idle days, I started writing a political thriller. I watched my characters react and then fight back as their lives turned upside down. I cried for their struggles and their courage to do the right thing. I haven’t stopped writing since.
Think about What Others Say about You
We’re not always the best judges of our characters. Others may have a more accurate view of our personality traits. Your close friends and family members will be among the first people you’ll want to consult. I asked my seven-year-old son what he thought of me. Amazingly, he identified three of my top five strengths. If you have trusted colleagues at work, ask them what you have done well. These external inputs will converge on a few core characteristics that likely represent your inner wealth.
You may receive a range of opinions about you from different sources, so the caveat is to find commonality in them. Reflect on your past experience to verify the existence of such traits. Ignore those irrelevant statements about you. You don’t live according to people’s opinions. You live true to your values.
Use a Well-Tested Character Strengths Assessment Tool to Verify Your Findings
Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, two well-known researchers in positive psychology, created the Values in Action Signature Strengths test to help people identify their own positive strengths and learn how to capitalize on them. The questionnaire contains 240 questions that take about twenty-five minutes to complete. You can register and take the full test at www.authentichappiness.org for free and receive feedback on your top five strengths.
The survey examines an individual’s profile of character strengths in the following categories:
Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
Humanity: love, kindness, emotional intelligence
Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
My top three strengths are love of learning, fairness, and curiosity.
Once you have identified your strengths, view them as the clues to your struggles and untapped potentials. In the next chapter, I’ll show you how to improve the fit between your strengths and your life.
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