She shuffles in her seat, carefully tucking both feet under her legs as she stares blankly across at me. This all feels foreign to her. I am peppering her with questions about who she is and what she likes.
What lights you up?
What would your friends say is the best part of being friends with you?
Play me your favorite song.
Tell me about your best friend.
I am doing my best to inquire without being intrusive as I do the “get to know each other” dance with the 12 year old client across from me.
I ask one more question, before proceeding on.
What are your strengths and when do they shine?
The blank stare grows deeper.
She responded with confusion and I think I detected curiosity.
No matter how many kids I ask that question, the answer is too often the same.
We give every kid an award. We have awards ceremonies at the end of every year beginning in kindergarten. We don’t say “you’re so smart” anymore, we say “you work hard”. We stopped constantly telling our girls how pretty they are and we do our best to focus on other attributes that will empower them. We sign our boys up for dance and our girls up for football.
Yet still, our children hear their weaknesses so much louder than their strengths.
Maybe because as a society, we focus on weakness.
We pick our bodies apart.
We wear guilt and shame on our shoulders.
We treat any weakness like something to be fixed instead of something to be learned from.
We reward things like good grades, and sports wins, but ignore the work it takes to be a great communicator, or a great friend.
We focus on the wrong things. Or more accurately, if what we really want is for our children’s happiness as they grow older, then why are we intent on lauding the things that have nothing to do with who they are at their core?
We focus on doing, doing, doing, so we can ignore our own flaws and feelings.
We groom our kids from an early age to do the same.
I believe in a strengths based approach with all people.
Looking back, I was born with the strengths I still possess today.
I had the ability to fly from day one.
I had the tools, but had no idea what they did or how powerful they were.
I had no idea how to match my strengths to picking a career, or a partner.
So I floundered.
I struggled to figure out who I was and in the process made many mistakes that only succeeded in taking me off my intended path. I think we can agree, I was not alone in my floundering.
If we don’t know our strengths, we don’t know ourselves.
If we don’t know ourselves, we have no idea who would make a great partner for us.
If we don’t know our strengths, we don’t know how to figure out what career would best suit us.
We spend much of our lives working and our professional happiness relies on our ability to match our strengths to that one choice.
If we don’t know our strengths, we struggle to feel capable.
I doubted my worth, because I had no idea of my value. What was my value comprised of and what exactly does that look, sound and feel like?
I knew what society wanted me to do. I knew how to act so that I would get a favorable response. I learned how to use my skills through trial and error, and I think we can all agree that beautiful gifts are earned along the way of a broken path, ultimately leading us to authenticity.
And.....I have to believe, that there is an easier path to ourselves.
Learning what our strengths are is a vital lesson when young.
After my daughter’s fifth grade awards ceremony, she emerged dismayed.
Not because she didn’t get an award.
Not because she was feeling competitive.
Not because she didn’t get the award she wanted.
Her words to me were “my teacher didn’t even know me, after all that time.”
My immediate feelings were sadness and frustration. I paused, and in that pause, was able to realize that some teachers are great at “seeing” our kids and some teachers are doing well to just manage the classroom. What a gift to have both, so we can learn from the differences.
This is a fact that my emotional mind did not want to hear at that moment. It is also a fact that we struggle to say out loud due to the fact that our teachers work so hard for such little pay.
It is not a teacher’s job to teach our kids what their strengths are in character, in communication with others, or who they are at their core. If we find a teacher that does this.....they are a gem and a member on our team. Hold them close and consider them part of your village.
It was at that moment, I realized it is my job to help my child discover these gifts.
It is my job to highlight her strengths in relationships.
It is my job to shine a light on her inner beauty.
It is my job to bring her strengths to the front and find the lessons in her weakness.
It is my job to connect my child with her authentic self.
It is my job to help her hear that voice inside.
A new tradition was born in our home. From a culture rich in awards ceremonies, I took my cue.
The very next Sunday, we set out on our normal family hike.
We hiked to the top of the mountain, 10,000 feet up.
But this hike was different.
I was exploding with excitement at how their faces might look when they discovered.
I took a week to be still and to notice what strengths had shown up for my kids this year.
I was digging for the strengths that usually go unnoticed to the naked eye.
I was feeling for who they are at their core.
I was watching how others felt in their presence.
I was listening for how they resolved conflict.
I was recalling arguments, lessons learned and beautiful moments too.
At the end of this voyage, I was ready.
Ready to hold their hands and remind them of who they were born to be.
Ready to bring up examples of where I had seen each strength show up.
Ready with tears and they could see how deep their abilities resonate.
You see, this is our job.
To light up the dark places.
To remind them of their humanity.
To introduce them to themselves.
To help them discover who they are and what they bring to the world.
We have now woven this into our family meetings. What strengths we saw this week from you and how they showed up. My sincerest hope is that you will create your own tradition around your child’s strengths.
They have the rest of their lives to hear from the world what their weaknesses are, let it be us that reminds them of their strengths.