By Catherine Shaw
I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on that crucial question: who am I? I haven’t yet managed to answer it to my satisfaction, nor do I think I ever will, but, like most people, I’ve formed a basic sense of self from my likes and dislikes, the things I’m good at and those I’m not, my background, blah-de-blah-de-blah. (I know I’m not saying anything new or revolutionary here.) Of course, life always gets interesting when something in my life forces me to redefine the way I think of myself. College was responsible for several identity crises (maybe that’s why it’s so expensive…), many of which involved realizing I really wasn’t as good at something as I thought I was.
Oddly enough, it’s much easier for me admit and adjust to being worse at something than I thought I was than it is for me to integrate something new into my idea of myself. At least, I find it odd, since why wouldn’t I find it easy to claim a new skill or ability as something at which I excel?
If you’re wondering why you’re drowning in this morass of self-examination, you should blame Servant Year. More specifically, you should blame Servant Year’s mid-year retreat. Most specifically, you should blame the Clifton StrengthsFinder test we took prior to the retreat and which we discussed at retreat. (Yes, I had fun with that little progression. Probably more than I should have.)
Donald Clifton, a psychologist, created the StrengthsFinder test after many, many years of research. He identified thirty-four “themes of talent” and the test determines which of these are your top five strengths. Mine were:
5. Developer (my first reaction to this one: what does this even mean?)
While I generally take this kind of thing with a grain of salt, I was still pretty surprised to find empathy and developer made it on the list. Not that I think I’m unempathetic, exactly, but I’ve never considered myself particularly skilled at figuring out other people’s emotions without some sort of verbalization on their part. I definitely don’t “hear the unvoiced questions…anticipate the need…find the right words and right tone [where others grapple for words]” (Rath, 97). I’m good at listening, but I always struggle to find the right words to say. Usually all I’ve got is something along the lines of “I hear you, and I understand where you’re coming from. I’m here.” Yes, there is a degree of empathy there, but I don’t think I’ll ever number it among my greatest strengths.
According to the StrengthsFinder book we received to help us interpret our results, being a “developer” means that I “see potential in others. Very often, in fact, this is all [I] see…when [I] interact with others, [my] goal is to help them experience success. [I] look for ways to challenge them. [I] devise interesting experiences that can stretch them and help them grow. All the while [I am] on the lookout for the signs of growth…[that] are [my] fuel. They bring [me] strength and satisfaction” (Rath, 89). Umm, no. Yes, I like helping people get things done or figure things out, but I don’t do that because of the potential I see in them or because I want to help them along their journey of self-discovery/self-actualization – I have never thought of it that way. I just do it because I like to. So I disagree pretty strongly with this particular theme’s presence in the list of my top five strengths.
My StrengthsFinder results spurred a lot of introspection (hence the beginning of this blog post). While I disagreed with some of my results, it made me examine my thoughts and actions more closely in certain areas to see if I had missed some indication of my abilities in those areas. A few months later, I still disagree with the empathy and developer strengths, so the StrengthsFinder test didn’t cause a life epiphany that helped me figure everything out, sigh. But I do think it was a valuable exercise in that it prompted me to question my sense of identity and to pay more attention to why conceive of myself the way I do.
So there you go. No mind-blowing revelation of life-changing proportions, but more of a small challenge to my equilibrium with positive consequences. Not bad.
Catherine Serves as Director of Christian Education at St. Luke's Church.