I truly believe that we all have a heck of a lot to learn from Alice in Wonderland – and so I’d like to start this blog post off with one of my favourite quotes from the book.
“The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness– you know you say things are “much of a muchness”–did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’
In this blog post, I’d like to talk about you and I’d like to help you delve in to your muchness, your heart and the many things that make up your authentic self.
Your values, your beliefs, your competencies, your strengths: all of these things make you you, and this post is going to focus on one of these – your strengths.
Rather than looking at strengths in the conventional way, I’m going to address them through the viewpoint of positive psychology. Alex Linley, a British psychologist, says that your strengths are your skills, the things that you are good at, that you excel in – but he also adds that they bring you energy.
So, to summarise, your strengths are the things you’re good at: you excel and you often exceed expectation and, they bring you energy.
In this post, I want to share his model with you. He looks at strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses as follows:
Your learned behaviours are those things you’re good at, you excel in, and you may exceed expectations – but they do not bring you energy.
A personal example: I spend my life working with people and helping them to be their best selves. A core part of my business is leadership development and team development. However, I started my career as a scientist. While I was good at it – in fact, my manager increased my responsibilities because of my competency – this did not bring me energy and I did not look forward to going to work every day.
So, yes, I was good at it. It was a learned behaviour, a competency, but it didn’t bring me energy.
Your realised strengths are the things you’re good at, you exceed and excel at, and they bring you energy.
Alex Linley calls them realised strengths because you understand that you have them, and you most likely use these without thinking too much about them.
Having realised strengths as part of your job or study means that you’ll be able to take the energy they give you and put it into your time spent on learned behaviours when you need to. You’ll be able to put this energy into tasks and projects that sap your energy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a tension here. I love leadership development. I love team development. But, they still leave me tired.
It’s a different kind of tired than I got from being a scientist, though. It’s a good tired – like, “bring it on again! I can’t wait until I do it again.” Compared to an “urgh, if I never had to do that again, it would be too soon” kind of tired, it’s a completely different experience.
Your unrealised strengths are the strengths that, for whatever reason, exist without you knowing it.
You might not know that they exist because you’ve never reflected on them or because no one has ever given you feedback on them. But, if you took the time to reflect or to request feedback, you may realise some strengths you didn’t know you had.
Finally, we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that every single one of us has weaknesses. Sometimes we euphemistically call them “areas for development”, but I’m going to call them what they are: weaknesses. The things we’re just not very good at.
There are some parts of our roles, be they in our studies or in the workplace, that are going to be weaknesses and we are going to have to do something about them. We can’t just say “oh, that’s my weakness so I’m not going to do it”.
This blog post isn’t designed to tell you to ignore your weaknesses. I want you to know that you should always play to your strengths, and when it comes to weaknesses, tackle them head on.
How do I use this information?
Working to your strengths, you’re more likely to achieve your potential, be your best self and flourish.
When we’re flourishing, we’re more confident, more resilient, and more likely to open ourselves up to opportunity when it comes knocking.
However, Alex Linley cautions that you should always marshal your realised strengths, because sometimes, they can get in your way, particularly if you use them too often. As an example, one of my strengths is authenticity. Being ‘me’ can sometimes get me in trouble – so I always try to keep this strength in check.
Maximise your unrealised strengths by identifying them and using them more.
Moderate your learned behaviours because they may drain you, and minimise your weaknesses by developing them into competency, or, if you can, delegate.
In closing, I’d like to offer a few more words from Alice:
“I wonder if I have been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But, if I’m not quite the same, the next question is, who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
Your story can change. Your story will change.
I end with this because I come back to what I said earlier: own who you are, because that’s when you’re going to be your best self.
This post is part of our Mind the Gap series, helping graduate students transition between study and work.