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A few years ago, my husband brought in a package from the mail and said, “I have a surprise for you!” He then gave me this book. I will admit that this was not what I was expecting when he introduced it this way (ha!), but I loved it! He got a copy of this book at work and went through the process as part of a development program. He thought I would also enjoy it and I did – he knows me well. 🙂 

Anyway, the whole idea of this book is to help you figure out what you are naturally good at and then find ways to cultivate your strengths. The book has defined 34 different strength themes and outlines and describes each of these. Reading about the different strengths is interesting, but a big part of what you are buying with this book is an access code to create an account and take an online assessment (The Clifton Strengths Assessment). The assessment takes about an hour and is supposed to help determine which of the 34 are your top strengths. You go through 177 paired statements and pick the one that best describes you. You also rank how much it describes you on a 5-point scale. It seems like they don’t want you to overthink it, so you only have 20 seconds for each question. (Note: I don’t think that there is a way to pause the assessment, so make sure you have a block of uninterrupted time before you start.) At the end, you get a list of your top 5 strengths. Once you’ve determined these, the book and online tools then provide resources and suggestions for ways to use this information.

My top strengths were (descriptions quoted from the online results):

  1. Learner – Strategic Thinking: People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  2. Analytical – Strategic Thinking: People who are especially talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
  3. Discipline – Executing: People who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.
  4. Developer – Relationship Building: People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
  5. Input – Strategic thinking: People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

This is pretty spot-on for me. I spent 23 years of my life in school (getting my bachelors, masters, and PhD) and my biggest priority for my career is that it keeps giving me opportunities to learn (Learner and Input). I am an Analytical Chemist and a lot of what I do is think about factors that might affect a situation (Analytical). I thrive with structure and routine in my personal life – so much of my life organized in spreadsheets and lists (Discipline). And, as a mother, I am trying to cultivate the potential in my kids every day (Developer).

It was fun to see what strengths came through for me. I was also happy to see that I am actually using quite a few of these in my personal and professional life. (If you aren’t, the book does give you tools and guidance to try to make some changes.)

The biggest thing that I took away from this book, though, was something that pretty much flipped my perspective upside down. I used to think that it was important to focus on my deficiencies. I thought this was the way to self-improvement. What this book argues, though, is to focus on your strengths. Of course you need to have a base level of proficiency in certain things that you don’t like or aren’t particularly good at in order to be a functioning adult in the world. Beyond that, though, try to make yourself even better at the things you are already good at. If you’re guiding a student, for example, that loves math class and is struggling in history class, you should encourage them to spend their extra time on math rather than history. They need to do enough to meet the requirements of history class, but put should put their extra energy and focus on math class. This is not how I used to think about things, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

If you are looking for direction in your career or if you have older kids that are trying to find some direction for their future, this might be a great tool for some self-evaluation.

I’d love to hear what you think if you get the book and take the assessment.