Your tower of strengths

Whether we know or acknowledge them, we all have them –  those unique attributes, characteristics, talents and strengths that set us apart from everyone else.

  • For many of us our strengths lie dormant for years, never fully explored.
  • Some of us use our talents daily, but still do not recognize their true value nor the powerful potential they have for our lives.
  • Then there are others, who have not only discovered their strengths, but have used them to create the lives they really want.

Dr. Ben Carson, a professor and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions, is one of those people, who discovered and pursued their talents early in life and in his case, against great odds.

By fifth grade Carson was labeled the dumbest kid in his inner-city Detroit classroom. He had decided to accept that title, until his mother, who was working three jobs and had never learned to read, pushed he and his older brother to read two books a week and write a book report about them. Carson’s reading skills were so poor he had to begin with picture books, but within a short period was reading the chapter books of his choice. Carson used reading to begin exploring his interests, and later to help him discover his strengths. He shares his life story in the book “Gifted Hands”, which was also made into an inspirational movie, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the lead role.

Carson believes that a big part of creating the life you want, is understanding and using your talents and strengths. I liked what Carson had to say about discovering ours in another of his books, “Think Big: UNLEASHING Your POTENTIAL for EXCELLENCE”. He suggests we set aside the time to write the answers to these questions (The [brackets] are my additions.):

a) At what have I done well so far in my life?

b) In what school subjects [activities, jobs] have I done well [or did I enjoy]?

c) How did I choose those subjects [activities, jobs]?

d) What do I like to do that has caused others to compliment me?

e)What do I do well, and think of as fun although my friends [or colleagues] see it as work – or as a boring activity?

Carson encourages self-assessment, but also notes – if we are having trouble coming-up with answers or if we want a broader perspective, talking with someone we trust might be helpful. Asking folks we respect and who care about us their opinions about our strengths and talents might feel uncomfortable, but it is well worth the effort; they may see us in ways we do not yet see ourselves.

Simple steps overall, but they can make a big difference in your life.

Whether you are 15 or 50 I think Carson’s advice is sound, and agree with him that self-analyzing and reflection pays off.  It is so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day commitments and lives that we often overlook or ignore our true feelings, interests and aspirations.

If you want to further explore your personal strengths, check-out Martin Seligman, Ph.D.’s web site Authentic Happiness, which  has a number of great self-assessment tools, including the VIA Survey of Character Strengths that measures 24 character strengths.

Seligman is the “father” of positive psychology, world re-known author, lecturer,  researcher, professor and Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. You have to register to take the test and it takes about 30 minutes, but it is free and the same tool professionals use. You can take the test as often as you like – I suggest taking it two to three times about 3 months apart for the most comprehensive feedback.

Whether you are planning to make major life changes, or simply exploring your options, you can increase your self-knowledge and confidence by taking time to answer Carson’s questions and the VIA survey.

And, just like Carson discovered, your small and no-cost investment of an hour or two spent identifying your talents, can help you build your tower of strengths, which you can use to create a lifetime of happiness. I like that.

PS for Parents . . . Carson reminds us to let those we love, especially our children, discover their own paths. His questions work well for teens, who are wondering what their futures hold – and Seligman’s web page offers a free VIA Strength Survey for Children.


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