Great Expectations

If you believe it, you can achieve it.  This quote, gracing many an inspirational poster or email, is a big, fat, boldfaced lie.  Ok, well, maybe it is technically true.  Humans in general are really good at learning new things.  But the problem with this motto is that it encourages an expectation that we can, and should, do anything and everything.  And that is just not true.

As Katelyn mentioned in an earlier blog post, we have started conducting mini trainings at our weekly  staff meetings.  Last week’s training really stuck with me, and I wanted to share my experience with it.

Our director, Maureen, led us in a training based on the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Dr. Donald O. Clifton.    It’s all about building  upon your strengths, rather than working to improve your weaknesses.  Written out in a short sentence it seems like an obvious tactic, but it actually is really much more common to see people rewarded for improving upon things they have trouble with, than to be rewarded for doing something even better.  Maureen opened the training with a quote from the book, which illustrates this point well:

“Doctors have studied disease to learn about health.  Psychologists have investigated sadness to learn about joy.  Therapists have looked into the causes of divorce to learn about happy marriage.  And in schools and workplaces around the world, each one of us has been encouraged to identify, analyze, and correct our weaknesses in order to become strong.”

After this training I realized that I have spent a lot of time trying to improve aspects of myself that I or other people considered lacking.   For example, I do things slowly and get distracted easily when doing tasks, and I have put countless hours into trying to get faster and focus longer.  I also have an excellent ability to see a situation from multiple points of view, something I often take for granted. Their argument is that if I had put those hours into building my strength instead of focusing on what was difficult for me, I could in fact mitigate the negative effects of my weaknesses.  I might need to spend some time managing my weaknesses, making sure they don’t get in my way, but then I can spend the bulk of my time developing the things in which I already have a head start and really accomplish something, rather than just tread water.

It can be very easy to focus on our weaknesses- there’s a lot more obvious room for improvement with them.  Building on your strengths takes a lot more effort for a lot less visible gain.   And, depending on how you display them,  people aren’t necessarily going to appreciate you if you show off your strengths too much.     However, I read a blog post recently on the amount we could accomplish if everyone just watched 1% less TV a day. I bet we could accomplish even more if everyone just spent a little more time focusing on their strengths instead of their weaknesses.

An AmeriCorps term of service has the potential to be one of the most successful and educational experiences of your life.  But, a year is a short time, so it can feel like a total wash, especially if you focus on all of the things that you are having trouble with.  If you take the time to really think about what you are good at, what you enjoy, then on what you need to adjust, and apply that to your duties as an AmeriCorps member, it just might help you turn a good year into an excellent one.  And that is something worth striving for.



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