I’m sitting here, late afternoon, keyboard in front of me, and I’m fighting the urge to go in the garden. Instead I’m writing. Strengths are supposed to be something you dream and drool of doing, and one of my strengths is writing. Strengths: the things which you can spot for yourself because you want to rush to do them, can’t get enough of and make you feel really, really happy. So why is the garden calling, if I love writing? Does that mean writing isn’t a strength? How do I really know?

It begins some basic identification

How to name your strengths can be a simple process: take one of the tests online. Read a book which gives tips on ‘strengths spotting’, or ask friends what you seem to enjoy. I’ve done most of these and I have a good idea of my strengths and how I should be spending my time, both professionally and personally. In my experience, discovering and connecting to your strengths and your real authentic self has been life changing. Liberating. Do it for yourself! It is mind-bendingly fabulous to offload the more challenging stuff (doing my book keeping) so I can focus on the creative, narrative, change agent-y stuff. If you are lacking perseverance, or tend to procrastinate, it might just be that you are giving your attention to the wrong stuff.

What I know is that writing is listed in the various strength tests I’ve competed. Gardening isn’t. But both are creative processes. Do the tests get it wrong?

Beyond the tests

No they don’t. What the tests are, is the beginning of the journey and the tests don’t test for everything ( how could they, when life and the human experience is so rich?), the tests don’t know anything about you, your life, your personality, the context in which you are using your strengths or how you are feeling on any given day. The tests need a ‘you’ input. Here is an example: I have the strength of creativity, love of learning, and appreciation of beauty and excellence. Put those together, and that explains my pottering in the garden obsession. But you may have those same strengths and express them very differently. You might like fine art, or making jigsaws. Whatever! And that’s another subtlety of strengths which is really useful to understand. What I love about being in the garden is what I learn, what I see, what I experience and how I express a part of my creativity. The output is less important. Using strengths is what brings joy. And you may not know what mix of strengths suits you best until you begin to mix them up for yourself.

Stirring things up

Here’s another recipe: creativity, empathy, and love of learning. Chuck in narration and a big dose of change agent and my biggest and most professionally rewarding and successful moments are as a coach, working with others. Strengths in use are like cooking up the same ingredients but in a different order and adding slightly different spices and the outcome varies as much as chilli con carne versus shepherds pie. Same ingredients, but a very different taste.

Learning your own strengths recipes

So let’s go back to the writing question I began with. Here’s something important which I have learned about my recipe for writing, as MY strength. I love it as a form of self-expression, and write a best self-journal every week. I love it when I write on social media. I’m passionate about using words as a catalyst for change and development for others. My writing has to have, as a core additional ingredient, my strength of narration and the use of metaphor. Then it flows. Don’t ask me to be funny; it’s not one of my strengths!

Internal and external environment matters in the mix
But if it’s sunny, I just want to be outside with the roses. This is how it is. Every day, every circumstance, every mood brings new ways to blend and cook up your strengths and this produces more wonder, opportunities to learn and new ways to discover the joy of connecting with self and others in new ways.

Giving your strengths a name is just the beginning: the recipes you can create from mixing things up is where the magic happens. Enjoy stirring it up!

About the author: Sue Roberts is a coach with 12 years’ experience and is currently also a student studying for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University.

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