A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to help a friend redo his resume and prepare for an interview. While we fiddled with which words might capture the depth of his experience, we discussed the classic interview prompt: Tell us. What are your strengths and weaknesses. While, for many, this understandably begins a calculated game of "How Can I Make My Weaknesses Into Strengths?" - couching the vulnerable truth of our weaknesses in a package of proficiency and capability - for us, it brought to the surface a greater reflection on strength and weakness.
What does it mean to be weak? What does it mean to be strong?
As a student and employee, I have taken a number of surveys designed to help reveal my strengths, or charisms, or callings (as a former church employee, many of these have had a decidedly spiritual tilt). I've outlined my strengths in resume-form, practiced saying just the right words to impress at interviews, and written papers extolling how my strengths would help benefit a company or university. But never once did I consider what it actually meant to be strong.
Strength, in our society, contains an underlying, deeply painful bias. It is painted by gender stereotypes, racial and ethnic conventions, and generational values. A strength, for most of us, is merely what we do well, what we're good at, perhaps even what we've been allowed to be good at (but, well, that's a larger discussion). And, while it might shine a light on our competencies, this definition tells us nothing about ourselves, our lives, and what we bring to our work and our world.
A strength is whatever you do that makes you feel strong.
Rather than competency, or a mere reflection of what you're good at, a strength is something that does just that... makes you feel strengthened. And, on the flip side, a weakness is something that leaves you feeling weak.
By this definition, while I might be good at accounting, I feel strengthened when I write. While I may be proficient in my ability to organize and analyze, my strength is, instead, my ability to help others unpeel the layers to reveal their authentic selves. Rather than the measurable competencies that we've come to extoll in a job interview, these strengths invite us to feel stronger - alive, even - and lead us to make decisions from that place of strength.
For each of us, there are daily choices and actions that can help us tap into that place of strength. And, conversely, there are choices that we know will leave us feeling weakened and off-course. When we choose to take action in the direction of what makes us feel strengthened, our resulting choices reflect that strength.
For me, I feel strong when creating the physical and spiritual space for creativity and productivity, clearing the dust of daily living from my desk and cultivating a place for beauty and clarity. I am strengthened when I feel strong in my core, when I feed my body the food it needs, and when I make choices that align with my authenticity. I am strong when in community with brilliant and challenging sisters, and when I trust my instinct to speak. I am strengthened when I write and set goals and make to-do lists. And, when I do those things that make me feel strengthened, I carry that energy and strength forward into my personal and professional decisions.
What are your strengths?
Do you feel strong when you've gone on a run - or when you're integrating in Savasana?
Do you feel strong at the head of the boardroom table - or strengthened when you're interacting directly with clients and customers?
Are you at your strongest when you're reading or studying - or strengthened when you're hiking through unknown territory?
Do you feel strong when you're on top of your finances - or when you're traveling without an itinerary?
When I know my strengths, it reveals pieces of who I am. And, beyond that, I know how to feel strengthened -- which, oddly enough, comes in handy the most on those days when I wake up feeling weak, or full of doubt, or a bit off-course. To make the choice that aligns with my strengths, leaves me energized and redirects me toward my desires and goals.
What about you? What does it mean, to you, to be strong? What are your strengths? And what is one daily choice you can make to feel strengthened?