For as long as I can remember, I have always tried to understand who I am and what I'm good at. And I've always tried to learn more about the things that interest me so I can be good at those things. My pursuit of knowledge was just one of the things that made me me. So much so that my mother called me her professional student when I had enrolled for a PhD.
The word overachiever is no doubt blinking in spiritual neon lights above my head. And I was obsessed with getting straight A. Totally obsessed. I was the kid who wasn't allowed to do homework when I got home from school. Nope, I had to go out and play first. And come a certain time at night, those school books were taken away from me. I wasn't allowed to study anymore.
My husband is constantly reminding me of how I would totally freak out before a university exam, stressing about this formula or that, only to walk out of the exam with top marks. (We were in the same graduating class for engineering. That was how we met.)
But my obsession with learning and striving for the best I can achieve is not something that I like doing by myself. I prefer it when I'm able to encourage others to join me on my journey—and sometimes, I drag people along kicking and screaming.
But I have another talent that I have exploited my adult life in every job that I've ever had. I have this innate ability to explain complex ideas in a way that everyone can understand. It's something that comes from my days in university, when my mother would be the sounding board I needed to wrap my head around some of the more complex physics concepts. If I could explain it to her, then I understood it. And when I was stuck, she would often say something completely bizarre that would unlock the thing that was confusing me.
I say this all jokingly because I know exactly who I am. I know my little quirks and my family love me for them. So, when I decided to take a CliftonStrengths® test, I laughed at when I saw what my top five strengths were:
But perhaps I should take a step back and explain what all of that means.
What are CliftonStrengths®?
Don Clifton was a psychologist who was fascinated with the way people did things. He was focused on people's strengths and how they could enhance those strengths to become more productive. It was his life's work to develop a model that focused on one's natural talents and tendencies. That model was the CliftonStrengths® model.
Today, strengths-based management is used in many businesses around the world and in many education institutions.
And I'm sure that had the model been around when I was a teen, my parents would have known all about it and have likely laughed and what my strengths were just like I did.
My first introduction to CliftonStrengths®
Every year in February during my chapter meeting of the RWNZ, we focus on setting goals for the year, but we tend to extend the conversation to productivity. We look at various models that might explain our personalities, where we might be in our writing journeys, or any other toolset that might be connected to goals and productivity. For our 2021 session, we were introduced to CliftonStrengths®.
I had picked up a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths and read it through cover to cover, then didn't do anything else about it. I just passed the book to my husband, thinking that he might find it useful in his role as a manager.
Then a few weeks ago, I was reading Dear Writer, You need to Quit by Becca Syme, and again there was this idea of the CliftonStrengths® model. So, I got the Strengths book back from my husband (he wasn't doing anything with it… it was just collecting dust on his bookshelf at work), and took the test.
Then laughed at the discovery.
My most dominant strength is Learner
People who are strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. It's the process of learning that excites them.
Remember that my mother called me her professional student. (OMG, if my mother had known about this strength trait, she would have been laughing so hard.)
But it turns out that learners like teaching others, sharing their knowledge and experience. They like tracking their progress and they love steep learning curves.
Could this not be any more me?
My next dominant strength is Individualization
When I first saw this individualization theme, I thought that it was connected to how I like to work isolated from others, but that wasn't it at all.
Individualization is about how I see people for their own abilities and their own uniqueness. While I understand the stereotypes, I don't categorize people that way. In fact, I struggle to categorize people into single boxes. People are made up of lots of boxes.
But the factor of Individualization that was fascinating to me is how those strong in this theme have the ability to figure out how different people can work and how they can be more productive. It's focusing on the uniqueness of the individuals for that productivity.
And for the last three years, I have been working on a test of tools to help writers become more productive based on the things that make each of them unique.
Are you starting to see why I was laughing when I saw the results?
But the joy of the discovery doesn't stop there.
Strength #3 was Achiever
So, an achiever is one who works hard and takes immense satisfaction in being busy and productive. They crave the feeling that comes with achieving something. And when they accomplish one thing, they immediately turn their attention to the next accomplishment.
Yeah… This is definitely me.
I often have so many things on the go that my friends wonder how I'm able to do it all and do it well. They are constantly afraid that I'm going to burnout. But it turns out that my achiever trait is what drives me to keep going like I do.
And the irony here… There were a few recommendations on the list to help avoid burnout that I had already adopted (long before I took the test). One in particular is to make sure that I add things that are outside of work, focused on self-care, to my daily To-Do lists. At the top of my list every day is to go for a walk.
Then we come to #4 Activator
I found the activator theme particularly interesting, especially considering the nature of my job.
The activator is a person who can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They're basically a motivator, able to encourage others to get started down a particular path. And they do so by taking action.
An activator is one who can take someone's idea of wanting to do something and be that inspiration that will kick-start that person down their own journey. And this is exactly what I do as part of my day job.
As an editor and writing coach, it's my job to help other writers to get going and feel excited about the work that's ahead of them. It's always a lot of work, and I make sure that my clients know that, but they normally feel some sense of confidence that they have the skills needed to face the challenges ahead of them. And they also know that I'll be right there with them if they need me.
But there were a few warning sitting there in those pages about the CliftonStrengths® that also have me hearing my mother's voice. My go-get-em attitude can be a little pushy and irritating to some. And there's mom in my head calling me her little bulldozer.
Strengths #5 for me is Relator
A relator is one who enjoys working with people that they respect. Relators don't shy away from meeting new people, but there is something about the intimate knowledge of those around them that seems to make things all the better.
Relators thrive in environments where they're able to forge friendships. Those old classic office settings (where everyone needs to work in their own little cubicle) can be stifling. To put it blunt, a relator is a people person.
Knowing this trait explains why I seem to gravitate to those I already know when I'm in a large group. And it also explains why I turn into a Chatty Cathy when I'm at a write-in with other writers—because I want to know more about the others, to get to know them as a person.
And the advice sitting in the documents for relators: "find people in your company to mentor."
OMG, this is yet another extension of what it is I do for a day job. My editorial style has always been a mentoring style, where I try to teach the writers how to spot the issues I'm seeing for themselves.
I don't know about anyone else, but I am seriously blown away with how I've naturally found my own strengths and have deliberately taken steps to create a career path that is perfectly suited to those strengths.
Taking the CliftonStrengths® test
If you are interested in taking the CliftonStrengths® test for yourself, you will need to pay out some money for either a copy of the book Now, Discover Your Strengths or for one of the test packages through Gallup. It's not something that you can do for free.
Is it worth it? Hmm… Don't know. It didn't really learn anything new about myself, but it did help me to solidify the path that I'm on, knowing that I am playing to my strengths. But whether you would find it useful for yourself is something that only you can decide.
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