#18: Know your strengths.

Confession: I’m a tiny bit obsessed with personality-typing. Now, not as much as some people. (I meant the “tiny bit” part literally.) I don’t yet understand all the ins and outs of my type, and I can’t analyze others well enough to pin down their types. (A former co-worker of mine studied mental health counseling and correctly matched each of us to our Enneagram type while we worked one day. Now, that’s a skill I’d like to have.)

But I find the topic fascinating. I love every conversation (i.e., podcast episode) I’ve heard on the topic, and I have several books about The Enneagram and MBTI on my to-read list. But one of my favorite assessments is Strengthfinders.

When I took the test a few years ago, I did so eagerly but then balked when I saw the results. I was unenthused, to say the least. My strengths felt boring, and several of them seemed too similar. But our department took the assessment together, and as we went around our circle over breakfast and shared, we were each able to affirm what we saw in the others.

I remember, for example, that my friend Michael was surprised to learn that “empathy” was one of his strengths. “I don’t think I’m good at understanding other people’s feelings,” he said. But Michael is a writer and a storyteller, and it was clear to all of us how he worked hard to understand the feelings and motives of each character he created. Sounds like empathy to me.

So, if you’re wondering, my top 5 strengths are: learner, connectedness, intellection, input, and discipline.

I was frustrated by these strengths for a few reasons. First of all, nerd alert. I am definitely a nerd, and sometimes I don’t like that about myself. But these strengths seemed to confirm it.

Secondly, learner, intellection, and input all seemed very similar and therefore, boring. Can’t I be more interesting than that, or have a little more variety in my life?

And finally, I found myself wishing for the strengths of other people on my team. Couldn’t I be an achiever—someone great at bringing things to fruition? Or couldn’t I possess woo—that amazing ability to draw others to myself, easily connecting with people? I found myself comparing my strengths to others and wishing I could be more like them.

The test had suddenly revealed an ugly part of my heart—the most insecure and volatile, the darkest and most easily discouraged parts of myself. Truthfully, I just didn’t like myself all that much; I didn’t appreciate the nuance and complexity with which God knit me together. I wanted to be more like other people, who (as the test confirmed) possessed the character traits I most valued. I focused on what I imagined my strengths told me I’m not: not action-oriented, not charismatic, not adaptable, not a people-person. These are all things I desperately wanted to be.

Strenghtsfinders is, I believe, particularly useful to the perfectionist because it begins by saying, “Your weaknesses are irrelevant to this discussion.” And as a lifelong perfectionist, I can tell you that there’s nothing I love/hate more than focusing exclusively on my weaknesses. Strengthfinders essentially reiterates what Scripture already tells us: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, created intentionally and carefully. What’s more is this: For each person who takes the assessment, all the various strengths can be ranked in order from 1 to 32. Based on some statistical analysis (speaking of weaknesses—I could NEVER for the life of me understand in my freshman stats course), you’ll find that there has never been, in all of human history, a person who has all 32 strengths in the exact same order as you.

Much of my life, my faith has unwittingly operated under the assumption that the story begins in Genesis 3, with sin and failure and weakness. I skipped the first two chapters entirely, forgetting that we were first created strong and whole and good. It’s a truth I spend much of my life bucking against. I am uncomfortable talking about strengths; it’s much easier to focus on weakness and identify the myriad ways I could be better. At my core, I can see only the sin and unfulfilled potential and am so ashamed of and embarrassed by those shortfalls that—like Adam and Eve seeking shelter in the garden—I cover up. Instead of fig leaves, I use striving and hustling and achievement and—yes—perfection.

My pastor used to say that sometimes the most practical things are also the most intensely spiritual, and though it may only be a personality assessment, I think this is true of Strengthfinders. It helps me remember the careful and precise way I was knit together by a skillful creator.


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