Last semester we read a series of books and articles on strengths-based development. I have always been a big believer in working on my weaknesses with more vigor than developing my strengths. As it turns out, there are data-based reasons why this way of thinking is exactly backward.
Here's the theory in a nut-shell: If you concentrate on your weaknesses, or the things that you don't do well, you will improve them, but you will never be great at them; you'll only be "not bad" at them. But, if you develop your strengths, and always play to them, you can develop those into towering strengths, be more engaged at work and feel more productive and fulfilled everywhere.
When I first went to college, I majored in Music, but ended up in Philosophy. I discovered that, while I loved music, there were things I needed to be able to do (like play the keyboard) that I would never be good at. I would only ever be "not bad". What I loved about music was all the Philosophy that is contained in Music. I was still playing to my strengths, just in a different way. In thinking about other people I know, I realized that what makes them happiest and most productive is when they play to their strengths. They know what they are good at and they use those talents every day.
One of the common misunderstandings of strengths-based development is that you ignore the weaknesses. That's not true. Your weaknesses can be your Achilles Heel, and if they are, you must address them. But there are things we work at that are not mission-critical, so to speak. If you're not a good pianist, you let someone who is play and you sing. If you're not a good singer, but you play piano well,
It's just like Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians "There are many gifts, but the same Spirit." As the body of Christ, we are all called to a mission and given the specific gifts and talents to accomplish those. No two of us will be exactly alike - and that's a good thing! How would it look if we walked around with three feet instead of just two? Well, the Body of Christ is no different.
Recently, as I was prepping to pass this information along to some of my younger friends who are getting ready to graduate, I discovered another facet of this theory - the relationship facet. One of the suggested books for follow-up is a book called "How Full Is Your Bucket?" (Clifton and Rath, 2009). In this book, Don Clifton, the father of strengths-based development theory, puts forth the idea that when you are positive, and share genuinely positive interactions with people, you and the person you share with are healthier and happier. He suggests a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions as the "golden ratio". No relationship is completely positive, but when you get more negative interactions, to positive ones, you drain people, and you drain yourself, too.
This is a great way to develop and mend relationships. When you fill a bucket, you aren't just blindly dropping compliments that mean nothing. You are taking the time to get to know each person. To get to know who they are, what they do best and how they are motivated best. It becomes a personal relationship and the people you work with or live with become Persons, not just cogs in a wheel or problems to be dealt with.
I see this as a very Christian way to look at the world. If we are truly serious about the idea that when we act with kindness to even the least of God's people, we are acting toward Him, then there is no other way to act. When we recognize the strengths of those around us, we recognize the gifts that God has bestowed on each individual - gifts he has given in to that person in that combination. When we complement those strengths and draw others' attention to them, we honor the presence of God in each human soul.
It's not always easy to look for the good in the bad. It's there, I promise. Recently, my sister-in-law and I were discussing how much it stinks that my brother is so sick and in the hospital. I reflected that it could be much worse. We live in a city with one of the most highly rated cancer research hospitals in the country. We live in a place where we are close to family and friends - our roots run deep here. And, though this is awful - no doubt about it - it could be a worse situation.
For me, it's a reminder that time passes quickly and you may not get another chance to say "I love you."
Do it today. Fill that bucket.