When I was putting together Adopted for Daily Life: A Devotional for Adopting Moms, I knew I wanted my friend Melissa to contribute. We had met in Maryland years prior when we were both involved in foster care. Since then, I’d seen her grow a community supporting adopting/fostering moms and I knew she would be a great encourager for the moms reading our book.
A few months ago she reached out for tips about putting together a new devotional since she’s now creating. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and I ended up recording an episode of her podcast, The Adoption Connection, about a topic that is super fun to talk about: helping our kids discover their strengths.
I first heard about Gallup’s CliftonStrengths (also referred to as StrengthsFinder) when I was working at a large church in the south a few years ago. Most of the staff had completed the assessment to find out their “top 5 strengths.” I must admit, I was super skeptical. I hated to feel like I had a limited set of options about anything, especially my personality. And the way Jonathan talked about it, I thought for sure it was some multi-level marketing scheme that I should stay far away from. He was just so passionate about it. I figured no one could be that excited about some personality test unless it was a scam, right?
Time to Drink the Kool-Aid
Eventually, I was forced to take the assessment as part of my classes in an organizational leadership program. I admit I complained about the “test” the whole time I was taking it. What? It’s 170 questions long?! And you only get 20 seconds for each question? This is ridiculous!
But then I got my results. I read through them and immediately started to look for hidden cameras in my house. How could anyone know me this well? Just who is behind this? Where did they get this information? I spent a few days reading everything I could about the research behind CliftonStrengths and the 19 million people around the world who live it.
Before I knew it, I was the one excitedly telling people about this crazy test that explained my unique set of strengths.
[Oh and my initial reasons for not wanting to participate ended up being pretty textbook for someone with the strategic strength, which happens to be numero uno for me. Go figure.]
A Little Background
When I was growing up, I found myself craving change. I would always look at a situation and think up a new way to do it. In my brain, I perpetually wanted to find the most efficient way to complete a task, especially if I felt like everyone was just doing it the way it was always done, regardless of whether that was the best way.
This led me to seek out new experiences and new ideas. It’s what pushed me to drive 3,000 miles across the country to attend college, explore new careers, become a foster parent, go back to school at 41, and ultimately to live in six different cities in two different countries over the past two decades. I loved it all.
And while that might sound either exhausting or exciting, depending on who you are, inside I lived with this little nagging feeling there was something wrong with me.
My dad had the same job from age 16 to 65, my parents lived within a 20-mile radius until retirement. My inlaws are the same. My sister lives about four miles from where we grew up and her kids go to the same high school we went to. She’s had the same job for 15 years.
I felt like I was weird or broken because I wasn’t like all of them…
And then I took this assessment. Based on a 40-year study of human strengths, it measures the presence of talent in 34 areas by asking you to respond to a series of paired statements. Originally the researchers were looking for what made great leaders, but what they found is there isn’t a set list of strengths you must have to excel in leadership. Instead, the key is knowing your unique set of talents and mastering them into strengths.
According to Gallup, the odds of someone having the same top five strengths as me, in the same order, are one in at least 33 million. And the odds of someone having all 34 in the same order as me is infinite.
This was way different than other personality tests I’d taken and felt much more relevant.
So when I received my results, I found language to describe the parts of me I’d always considered to be weaknesses. The more I read about my strengths, the more it made sense.
Created For a Purpose
One in 33 million = coincidence? No way.
As a Christ-follower, I then went to God’s Word to see how this lined up. The more I looked at what God has to say about how he made me and who he made me to be, the more I became absolutely convinced living our strengths is not only common sense, it’s God-ordained.
You see, the world needs change-makers like me, but it also needs maintainers like so many of the awesome people around me.
I believe God created me, and you, with the specific sets of strengths needed to accomplish the plans he has for us in his kingdom. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be hugely encouraging and freeing. In fact, my favorite part about talking with someone about her strengths is how encouraging it is.
Last summer I got to lead a workshop for a bunch of young adults who had aged out of foster care. The organization I volunteer with offers all participants the chance to take the CliftonStrengths assessment and then attend a workshop to learn more about their strengths. Being present while these young adults learned—many for the first time—that they have at least five areas in which they are really strong was like watching someone literally grow in confidence right in front of your eyes.
The research shows that when we know our strengths and seek to grow in those specific areas, the sky is the limit*. We can be great leaders, moms, team members, students, teachers… whoever we were created to be, wherever we are planted.
So my word count just officially hit 1000, which means it’s time to end this post. I could talk for a long time about this, as my kids and husband know quite well. Thankfully, other teams and families have started to ask (and pay!!!) me to talk with them about their strengths. (My family thanks you for that, by the way.)
Oh and back to the point of this post… the podcast I recorded with Melissa is now available. So if you’re curious about how I’ve seen strengths encourage parents and kids, check it out.
Find Your Top 5
If you want to take the CliftonStrengths assessment, you must have a code. You can either buy the code at Gallup’s web site or purchase a book that comes with a complementary code. If you’re a student or teacher with a .edu email address, you get a discount. [Note, use this link if you want to find out your ranking for all 34 strengths instead of just the top 5.]
…and once you find out your strengths, I’d love to chat with you about them! 😀
Some great strengths resources:
- All 34 CliftonStrengths Theme Descriptions
- All 34 CliftonStrengths – Cheat Sheet (PDF)
- CliftonStrengths 2.0 Technical Report: Development and Validation
- Lead Through Strengths
- Strengths School
* A University of Nebraska study evaluated reading scores before and after students were given speed reading training. Average readers improved 66%, which is great, but above-average readers improved 828%! This is one study that showed the real value of focusing on growing in areas where you are already strong, as opposed to weak or average areas. Read more.