Signature Strengths. When I think of this term, Colossians 4:5b comes to mind: “make the most of every opportunity.”
Memories and impressions come in flashes for me. An incident here, a look there. I formed opinions about my parents – who they were – what they were – which seemed to take solid form by early adulthood.
Being a psychoanalyst by nature, I did, and still do, spend time reflecting on those moments, attempting to dig deeper into their psyche. Fortunately, my mother is still alive, and we talk regularly. This allows me to find some clarification, but only from her perspective. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because I am a woman, I feel I have come to understand her motives and actions better than my father’s. I love my father deeply – do not misunderstand this. However, my memories and impressions leave me believing he treated her as though she were not as intelligent, not as capable, as he was. And yet, she is… and more so. Sadly, those memories and impressions are not only mine. She carries those beliefs along with her. It is sad to me how we can wear one another down.
From an early age, I remember my mother on the phone. If it rang, it was for her. If we could not find her, go to where the phone was and she was undoubtedly seated next to it with the receiver to her ear. If the phone was not attached to her ear, then we were seated in the backseat on our way to someone’s house, or waiting in the backseat while she was “running an errand that will take just one second”. Hmm. On a humorous note, these seconds added up to minutes added up to… us having to go to the bathroom. In her effort to beat the clock, she told us that if we bounced up and down in the back seat, we would not have to go so badly. Um, don’t try it. It is the opposite.
I could stop there, as many do, and think “Wow, my mother seldom listened to us. She just dragged us all over the place.” I could have formed a negative impression, as though others were more important to her than we were. For a few moments in time, I did. But then I allowed my memories to broaden and expand as I dug deeper.
My mother had an uncanny ability to unify a group and rally them around a cause. She could organize and energize and get things done that no one else seemed to be able to succeed in doing. She worked hard – never asking anyone to do anything she herself was not willing to do. A quality she passed on to her daughters. She was also incredibly kind. She was the one dropping off groceries secretly to the family whose father just lost his job or for the woman who was trying to raise her children alone, and so on. (I learned how to excel at doorbell ditch from her.) It didn’t matter to her “why”. She treated everyone with dignity and respect. I learned that from her too.
She began with community efforts. I was known not by my own name, but as her daughter. She made things happen in our community, and she was well-respected. This spiraled in to heading up fundraising for charitable causes nationally, and eventually she was working for an international company, keeping them mindful of their duty to support charitable causes, and heading that up for them.
And yet, I believe neither she nor my father ever noticed how capable and intelligent this woman is. How talented and gifted she is. I believe she still sees herself as “less than”.
During her last visit, I sat her down and gently forced (haha) her to take the strengths test. She was shocked at her results, at first doubting them. Then when I talked to her about my memories and impressions I just shared with you, she had that look in her eyes that I live for in my practice. A little light went on. A tiny “a-ha” moment.
Here are her results: Kindness & Generosity; Gratitude; Fairness, Equity, & Justice; Leadership; Citizenship, Teamwork, & Loyalty.
It all made perfect sense. A little light went on in my own mind, an “a-ha”.
Our signature strengths are those ways of being that come, for the most part, effortlessly, automatically, and without much thought. It sounds simple, but this is not the way it always plays out.
She began to share her “top moments” – those times when she felt she was at her best. I gently showed her how in each situation she was using one or more of her top strengths. Even in those moments that were tragic, she began to discover how she naturally, effortlessly, used a strength to be at her best.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beginning of why I believe discovering our unique signature strengths, becoming aware of and identifying them, being mindful of and applying them intentionally, is so important. It helps us to reevaluate our pasts in a positive way; it helps us to make better choices in the present, leading us to more opportunities to be at our best self, no matter the situation. They can help us to ‘make the most of every opportunity.
Now, she is not my client. We do not meet weekly to discuss how she implemented her strengths this past week, nor do we discuss ‘homework’ for the upcoming week in order to strengthen, fortify, and build resiliency and positive emotion into her life. But we are able to have conversations that involve re-framing a situation in light of her strengths, helping her to make better decisions in the present. This does not undo 70 years of programming that she is “less than”, but I do hope that awareness is starting to wear down the lies, and that eventually rebuilding will begin.
But it has made the puzzle pieces make so much more sense for ME! I already admired and appreciated my mother, but now I CELEBRATE her! Remembering now energizes me! It compels me to want to help everyone discover their strengths and to become aware of how they have been implemented their strengths in those moments when they felt that they were at their own personal best. It fills me with a desire to share how strengths can be used to re-frame the past into more constructive learning experiences, frame the present into opportunities, and to fortify the future into greater resiliency.
To quote Colossians 4:5, understanding our unique strengths helps us to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Understanding and applying our strengths equips us for works of service which build up the body of Christ. We can find unity as we each grow in & apply our strengths, and in recognizing and appreciating the strengths of others. (Ephesians 4: 1-16.)
And there is so much more.
Strengths can be underused, overused, or be absent entirely. That is why counseling/coaching from someone who understands strengths is so helpful. A great athlete always has an excellent coach (from the same team.)
Let us grow in strength, and in our strengths, as We Press On in and through Him.
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever, Amen,” Hebrews 13:20-21