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When Your Strengths Get in the Way of Stepping Up Your Game

Laura was busy. REALLY busy. And really productive, too. In addition to working as a vice president at her company, she sat on several boards, was active with local community initiatives, was looking after her elderly dad, and was the executor on her deceased brother’s estate. She was handling all of this well, but she had a few concerns that had been increasingly nagging at her. First, she had no white space for recreation (read this as re-creation), activities that helped rejuvenate and refresh her mind, body, and soul. Burn-out was creeping up steadily. Second, while she enjoyed living a full life and making a contribution to others and her community, she had a sense that her gifts and talents could be used in a way that was more fulfilling and meaningful to her. But she was so busy it was hard to find time to think about it…and she was concerned that some initiatives she had started would crash and burn if she gave up leadership.

Laura clearly exhibited a number of strengths: the ability to lead others to achieve objectives, a prodigious capacity to execute on goals on her own, a strong sense of integrity to give back to her family, friends, neighbors, and beyond, and a high standard of excellence in all she does, just to name a few. Each of these strengths had helped her be successful with the roles, obligations, and goals she had taken on, yet she had hit a wall where the dedicated use of them was now starting to slow her down and feel less satisfaction day by day, week by week, with what she believed she was capable of doing, contributing, and enjoying.

With ongoing focus and coaching, Laura began to understand, emotionally and even physically, ways in which these strengths were costing her time, effort, and joy. She began experimenting with slightly slackening her standard of excellence, delegating aspects of her leadership roles to others, saying no (or, at a minumum, “I’ll think about it”) when approached by others for anything that would be an additional demand on her time and attention. And she began to schedule small increments of time for a quick meditation, or an after dinner walk in the woods, or take a 20 minute bike ride on the nature trail she helped get developed, to use that time for enjoyment and re-creation.

To be sure, she still had what others would consider an overwhelming amount on her plate, and she did still feel her own internal pressure to maintain high integrity, even if the standard of execution wasn’t always as high. She still fretted about how to completely let go of leadership of some committees, though she had reduced the pressure they created by delegating tasks to others. Yet, these experiments gave her a little space to “be” rather than just “do”. While “doing” was a pattern she found difficult to break, and she felt tension and guilt even well into her experimentation, she recognized this as some of her strengths attempting to assert themselves, and was able, gradually, to find peace with this tension.

This space to “be” was what she needed to re-evaluate how she was using her talents and passions, to reconnect with them in ways she had set aside in the drive to use her strengths to make a contribution. Now it was less about just giving back as a responsibility, and more about surfacing those unique and individual passions and gifts, harnessing her (slightly softened) strengths to them in ways that filled her with a more sharply honed sense of meaning and purpose. She has set aside some time to begin developing ideas to start a social enterprise – a for-profit business that aims to increase social and economic justice. She is getting mentoring and is networking to further develop her business idea and her connections. She’s still really, really busy, but in a way that is more enlivening than burning her out and feels more fulfilling because it’s bringing out more of who she is and wants to be.

Interested in learning more about your unique strengths, how to both recognize their beauty as well as how they may be getting in the way of you having the career and life you want? Sign up for announcements about upcoming “Revealing Your Strengths” program, coming this spring and fall at First Nature Ranch.

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