“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliantgorgeoustalented, and fabulous?

Marianne Williamson

FIERCELY ALIVE: Who Are You?: 2.1.2

You Are Strong

Frequently when my Mayerson Academy colleagues and I work with groups, we ask participants to pair up for conversations. Something quite extraordinary happens nearly every time. Pairs are first asked to share places in their lives where they would most like to see improvement or change. Pretty instantly, the room is filled with conversation, often accompanied by nervous laughter, as the pairs discuss the 10 pounds they need to lose, the list of house projects they can’t get to, or the relationships they want to work on. The dyads are dissolved back into the original large group and we ask participants to find a new partner and discuss their strengths. The room noticeably shifts from unbridled dialogue to quiet self-conscious concern. It’s hard for people to talk about their strengths. There is certainly a long list of reasons for this phenomenon, but right at the top is lack of awareness.

While Michelle McQuaid, best-selling author and workplace well-being teacher, has noted in her recent research that strengths awareness is on the rise, she also suggests that many of us are still in the dark about who we are at our best. Abraham Maslow’s words written in 1963 in Toward a Psychology of Being still ring true. He asserted, We find another kind of resistance, a denying of our best side, of our talents, of our finest impulse, of our highest potentialities, of our creativeness. It is precisely the God like in ourselves that we are ambivalent about.”



It’s beyond my wisdom or expertise to know exactly why we resist knowing our best selves. What I have witnessed, particularly with mission-driven leaders, is that the conversations about personal strengths can feel selfish or arrogant and in conflict with work that is primarily about others. If that rings true for you, consider how knowing your best self is a contribution to others.

      • As a parent: According to James Hillman, in The Soul’s Code, you must bear witness to your own sense of self first, to be capable of the central task of parenting, allowing a child to express her truest self. (To activate your strengths as parent, no one knows more than Lea Waters.  Check out The Strength Switch)
      • As a leader: In research reported in Harvard Business Review, Sterling Livingston suggests that, “What managers believe about themselves subtly influences what they believe about their subordinates, what they expect of them, and how they treat them.”
      • As a citizen: In one of my favorite quotes about learning, Tom VanderArk, says, “Learning is a personal journey that becomes a common good as individuals and the larger society benefit from the contributions that emerge from development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.” (Recall the Ripple Effect)

Knowing your strengths marks the beginning of creating a strengths-based life that will impact your life and the lives of everyone around you. Take the free VIA survey and see your unique character strengths profile. To learn more about the meaning of each of the strengths check out this free resource. Or for a deeper drive, take a look at The Power of Strengths by Ryan Niemiec and Bob McGrath.

Once you know and are ready to fiercely own your strengths, learn about the strengths boomerang here.