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Perhaps It's Your True Self You Fear
Business Journal

Perhaps It's Your True Self You Fear

Obstacles to building your strengths (part 3), originally excerpted from Now, Discover Your Strengths

by Gallup

Although now out of print, Now, Discover Your Strengths launched a worldwide strengths revolution. Since the book's release in 2001, Gallup has continued to dedicate countless hours to developing our strengths science, the brainchild of the late Don Clifton, the Father of Strengths Psychology. Part of that investment resulted in a refined upgrade of the original assessment for discovering your strengths that you can now find in StrengthsFinder 2.0.

You may be reluctant to investigate your strengths quite simply because you don't believe that your true self is much to write home about. Whatever the label -- a feeling of inadequacy or "imposter syndrome" or plain old insecurity -- the symptoms are familiar. Despite your achievements, you wonder whether you are as talented as everyone thinks you are. You suspect that luck and circumstance, not your strengths, might explain much of your success. The anxious little voice in your ear whispers, "When will you be found out?" and, against your better judgment, you listen.

In part this explains why, when asked to describe their strengths, people rarely refer to their natural talents. Instead, they talk about external things that they have gathered during their life, such as certificates and diplomas, experiences and awards. Here is the "proof" that they have improved themselves, that they have acquired something valuable to offer.

We don't mean to imply that this fear is entirely negative. After all, the flip side of insecurity is complacency. We do want to remind you, however, that if you stop investigating yourself for fear of how little you might find, you will miss the wonder of your strengths. We say "remind" because so many of us take our strengths for granted. We live with them every day, and they come so easily to us that they cease to be precious. Like the New Yorker who no longer hears the sirens and the horns, we are so close to our strengths that we don't see them anymore.

A few years ago Bruce B. won one of America's most prestigious award for teachers. According to feedback from his peers, his students, and their parents, he was brilliant at creating a focused yet caring environment for learning. As part of Gallup's study of excellence, we interviewed him and then gave him feedback on his strengths. One of his strongest talents was Empathy, so we talked to him about how powerful it was that he could pick up on the feelings of each student, that he could make each one feel heard and understood. We described how this theme enabled him to hear the unspoken questions, to anticipate each student's learning hurdles, and to tailor his teaching style so that together they could find a way around them. We painted as vivid a picture as we could of how he had cultivated this talent into a tremendous strength.

When we were done, Bruce sat there with a strange look on his face. He wasn't surprised. He wasn't intrigued. He didn't even seem particularly flattered. He was just confused.

"Doesn't everyone do that?" he asked.

The answer, of course, was "No. Everyone doesn't do that, but you do, Bruce. You do. It's what makes you so very good at what you do. If every teacher was as empathic as you, every teacher would be as good as you. And they aren't."

Bruce had fallen into the trap that catches so many of us. He couldn't help but spot the clues that revealed each student's emotional state. He couldn't help but respond to the emotions he saw. He couldn't help but share their pain and rejoice in their successes. And because he couldn't help it, he didn't value it. It was easy, and so it was mundane, commonplace, obvious. "Doesn't everybody do that?"

The old maxim says that you can't see the picture when you are inside the frame. Well, you spend your whole life inside the frame of your strengths, so perhaps it is little wonder that after a while you become blind to them. We hope that by revealing your five signature themes we have shown you that your instinctive reactions to the world around you -- those things that "you can't help but . . ." -- are not mundane, commonplace, obvious. On the contrary, your instinctive reactions are unique. They make you different from everyone else. They make you extraordinary.

Other articles in this series: Are You Afraid of Your Weaknesses? and Are You Haunted by a Fear of Failure?

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