I was living in one of my favorite cities, working as the assistant director of a multistate project, growing a national profile and pulling down a rock-solid salary and great benefits.
I had it made.
And I was miserable.
- Do you feel like you have to squeeze into someone else’s idea of who you should be?
- Do you struggle to trust your own judgment?
- Do you hold yourself to unrealistically high standards?
I sure did.
I was perpetually sprinting from one deadline to the next. I couldn’t slow down to notice what was working well or what was great in my staff. I struggled to have my ideas heard and my approaches valued, especially when they differed from those of a smart and forceful project director who put in 14-hour days and expected everyone on staff to be just like her.
- I was pressured to be someone I wasn’t.
- I was made to wonder if my ideas and decisions were sound.
- I was told my absolute best efforts were only average at best.
While at a coaching workshop for clinicians, I began to see how I might move my career in a more rewarding, better-fitting direction. I enrolled in a coach-training course that introduced me to character strengths.
As I explored my own strengths, I noticed I was overusing and underusing 3 of my top traits – honesty, judgment (critical thinking) and appreciation of beauty and excellence.
And then it struck me. Oh, my gosh . . . I wanted to strike out on my own, and I knew that my 3 top strengths were also my 3 top enemies. I needed to turn that around.
Overusing Critical Thinking: From Overthinking to Clearly Seeing
When making a big I-could-fail decision, I would agonize over all the possibilities. Once I finally did make a decision, like starting my own business, I’d second-guess myself. If things didn’t go absolutely perfectly, my interpretation was that I had utterly failed, not just at the task at hand, but as a person too. It was heavy and scary.
Trusting that I’d put my critical thinking to good use was a leap of faith that propelled me from thinking about leaving my safe, full-time, fancy-title position to taking on the risky adventure of starting my own business. When the freak-out, I-don’t-have-a-business-background-how-am-I-going-to-strike-out-on-my-own thoughts came, I took a deep breath, wrote down all the smart decisions I had made in the past and the results, reinforcing my gut instinct that I was doing the right thing – just not easy thing.
Underusing Honesty: From Should Be to Just Be
I cared a lot about doing the right thing and following the correct formula. And I cared deeply about what people might think of me. So sometimes I minimized who I was, and I felt fake and needy and embarrassed that I cared so dang much. And deep down I knew these were deal-breakers for becoming the coach I wanted to be.
I realized that as sincere and earnest as I was to get it right, there was no integrity in forcing myself into shoes made for someone else. Heck, I’m not a supernova of rah-rah, or a meditative poet-healer or a tough-love tough talker. I am a constant, compassionate – and as one client put it, “charmingly forceful” – champion, guide and thinking partner. What a liberating relief to let go of what I should be and just be.
Overusing Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: From A++ to A-OK
My entire life I was (or tried to be) an A student. I wanted to be smart in school, and that meant getting an A, better yet an A+, with a few extra credit points for good measure. When I was a young professional and a report came back with suggested edits, I’d feel a hiccup of shame and frustration well-up. I couldn’t clearly see the best in myself, yet I could always point out to direct reports, colleagues and friends what they were doing well when they had “self-perception blinders” on.
I learned to lower my personal standards, from “perfection is the only acceptable measure” to “reasonable works,” by moving forward with a project when it was “good enough” and finding that it was better than I thought. This helped me take on new challenges without getting trapped by performance anxiety. I was able to stop worrying about making exactly the right decision by shifting to making the best decision I could with what I knew in that moment. Plus I stopped taking it personally if someone didn’t respond to my ideas. Steadily I grew confident and am now infinitely more relaxed than I used to be.
Find Out More about Making the Most of Your Strengths
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