Earlier this year, Oprah featured a workshop conducted by career counselor and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham. Working with 30 women over a period of several weeks, Buckingham led the group through a series of simple exercises to reignite passion in their careers and their lives. He outlined several key components to the process, but it was his segment on personal strengths that I found most intriguing. A quick overview and then, how we can employ this in our teaching of yoga.
The process of reigniting passion in life begins with determining your individual strengths. Who hasn’t heard that advice, right? It is an essential part of the philosophy in career path manuals like “What Color is Your Parachute” or “Do What You Love the Money will Follow”. Take note, my friends, Buckingham’s definition of strengths may be a little different than first pass.
Many of us would define a strength as “something you are good at doing.” But a strength, by Buckingham’s definition, must energize you and make you stronger. Simply being “good” at something doesn’t necessarily make it strength. In this workshop, strengths meet a different set of criteria that must include the following three benchmarks:
- When thinking about the task, you are excited; you anticipate the activity;
- When doing the task you tend to lose track of time;
- Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.
Certainly some of the things which you’d classically define as “something you’re good at” would also meet the three criteria listed above, but that’s not always the case. As an example, meet Sharon. As part of her job, Sharon retypes manuscripts. Sharon is a great typist. Her fingers fly like the wind across the keyboard and she makes few (if any) errors. This would make typing a strength by our first basic definition.
Now let’s explore this deeper. We learn that Sharon looks forward to large typing assignments (meeting criteria #1). When she types, she zones out, moving effortlessly through the pages of her project (criteria #2). Finally, as she types that final punctuation completing the project; she feels exhilarated. A sense of satisfaction and pride fill her as she notes the quick turn-around time she achieved (#3). Typing is certainly one of Sharon’s strengths.
But suppose, instead we had discovered the following about our girl. Sharon doesn’t really like typing, but it’s part of her job and after all, she’s “good” at it, so her boss frequently asks her to take on these large projects. (She got to be a fast typist in school because she saw it as a necessary job skill to acquire.) Sharon would much rather answer the phones or work on filing. The manuscript arrives on her desk, and she looks at it with dread. How long will it take to get through THAT? She pushes it aside. She procrastinates. When she eventually gets going she’s watching the clock, impatiently waiting for her upcoming coffee break. Finally finishing the project, Sharon looks up and thinks, “I’m ready for a drink. It must be 5 o’clock somewhere.” Typing — in this case — is definitely not one of Sharon’s strengths. She may be good at it, but it is not a strength.
Notice the difference in the two scenarios? Take a moment to make the distinction, and then see if you can identify examples from your own life. First, can you think of something that you’re “good” at — people may have even told you it’s one of your strengths — but on examination it fails to meet the listed criteria? Then take note of one your strengths, something which meets the outlined standards. Buckingham says, “Your strengths strengthen you!”
There is much to write on this topic, but this has been in draft mode for almost two weeks. So, I will post this introduction to the topic now and write more in a follow-up.
INSIGHTS: If you are willing, I invite you to post your two responses to the question at hand:
- What is something that you are “good at” which does not strengthen you, and
- What is something that does?
Until next time, may we all help to strengthen one another,
The workshop materials are available on Oprah.com, and the audio (8 segments, about 3 hours long) can be downloaded in its entirety from iTunes, all free of charge!