"What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?" – Dr. Donald O. Clifton
Dr. Donald O. Clifton's poignant question challenges us to shift our perspective, to look beyond the traditional focus on weaknesses and instead celebrate our strengths. Embracing this mindset means recognizing that each of us has a unique set of strengths – qualities that energize us, define our character, and drive our success. It's a philosophy that not only changes how we view ourselves but also transforms our interactions with others and the world.
For the longest time, I mistook my constant need to check in with others and ensure everyone's comfort as a symptom of my anxiety. It was a pattern I couldn't quite place – was it a weakness, a quirk, or something else? But when I began exploring the world of strength-based psychology, I had an epiphany. These actions, which I once viewed critically, were actually manifestations of my core strengths (as measured by the CliftonStrengths Assessment): Harmony and Empathy. This realization didn't just change how I saw these traits; it transformed my entire approach to personal interactions. Suddenly, what I once perceived as a vulnerability became a unique ability, allowing me to forge deep connections with those around me.
"Suddenly, what I once perceived as a vulnerability became a unique ability, allowing me to forge deep connections with those around me."
This newfound understanding of my strengths led me to confront another challenge: imposter syndrome. Like many, I often found myself questioning my accomplishments, wondering if I truly deserved my successes. But as I embraced my "achiever" strength, I began to see things differently. This strength wasn't just about achieving goals; it was a reminder of my capability and worth. It became my anchor, reassuring me that I've earned my place through hard work and dedication.
My journey of self-discovery also intersected with my biracial identity. In the past, I struggled with my lighter skin tone, feeling like I had to prove my blackness. But through a strength-based lens, I started to reframe my perspective. Instead of viewing my racial identity as a deficit, I began to see it as an opportunity – a chance to highlight the diverse experiences and contributions of mixed-race individuals. This shift wasn't just about acceptance; it was about celebrating and leveraging my unique background as a strength.
"Instead of viewing my racial identity as a deficit, I began to see it as an opportunity – a chance to highlight the diverse experiences and contributions of mixed-race individuals."
Incorporating these strengths into my daily life has been a transformative experience. I've become more mindful, regularly pausing to recognize when I'm using my strengths. This practice extends from personal settings, like ensuring everyone feels included during gatherings, to professional environments, where I use empathy to connect with children and colleagues. One of the most significant habits I've formed is advocating for my needs. As someone who excels in writing, I've learned to prepare notes for meetings and presentations, turning a potential weakness in public speaking into an opportunity to showcase my strengths.
"One of the most significant habits I've formed is advocating for my needs."
Of course, this journey hasn't been without its doubts. Initially, I was skeptical. The idea of focusing on strengths felt somewhat gimmicky, and I was hesitant to discuss it openly. But as I began to model this approach, not only did I overcome my own doubts, but I also noticed a shift in how others perceived this perspective. By confidently sharing my strengths, particularly my harmony strength, I've been able to demystify the concept and encourage others to explore their own strengths.
There wasn't a single 'aha' moment that defined this journey for me. Instead, it's been a series of affirmations, particularly when presenting on strength-based practices. The positive feedback I receive after each session reinforces my belief in this path. It's a reminder that what I'm doing is not just valuable for me but also resonates with others.
If you're considering embarking on a similar journey, my advice is to start with a strengths assessment. Take the time to really dive into your top strengths and reflect on how they manifest in your life. Think about the decisions you've made, the careers you've chosen, and even the challenges you've faced. How have your strengths played a role in these areas? Remember to be gentle with yourself. Recognizing that no one is good at everything is crucial. The best starting point is to focus on what you excel at, and you'll find it makes a significant difference in your confidence and overall life.
"Think about the decisions you've made, the careers you've chosen, and even the challenges you've faced. How have your strengths played a role in these areas?
This journey of embracing my strengths has been more than just self-discovery; it's been a path to empowerment and transformation. I encourage you to explore your strengths. Who knows? You might just uncover your own superpowers.
This article was written by Dr. Kelsie Reed, a school psychologist, and CEO of the Strength-Based Collective. Follow her on social media @dr.kelsiereed to learn more about her work.