3 Steps to Embody Your Value and Strengths

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I turned 20 in jail. I was a top-tier student who had completed a year of college but struggled with low self-esteem and a vanishing sense that my life had value. Clinging to others for a measure of my worth, I fell into a spiral of drug abuse and criminal convictions. At a moment I felt like a total failure, my cellmate saved my life. She showed me the power I had to create my future by knowing who I am.

One evening as I was drowning in self-pity, she rose up, slammed me against the wall, and said, “You have no idea who you are. You are smart, you are strong, and for some reason, you deeply care about people. When you get that in here (she pointed to my heart), you will get out of here.” Her words gave me the courage to face my demons when I got out. She inspired me to focus on helping people discover their strengths and fulfilling paths.

That experience taught me the difference between outer and inner confidence. I had confidence in my skills and mental capabilities; I did not have a strong sense of who I was. I had always been acknowledged for what I did, not who I am. Yet who I am created the ups and downs of my life.

I learned who I am is an evolving puzzle made of up multiple and contrasting moving pieces. Who I am cannot be defined in one static phrase.

In the article, “Let’s Get Real,” Dr. Grant Hilary Brenner, M.D., said, “We all have masculine and feminine sides, introverted and extroverted ways of relating, emotional and stoic ways of reacting… Authenticity is a unifying force in the constantly changing stream of experience.”1 Brenner suggested we be aware of and embrace these complex and even contradictory self-aspects, knowing how they show up as strengths and weaknesses in our behavior in differing situations. We can then claim ourselves, powerfully and peacefully.

When I did my doctoral research on smart, strong women in the workplace, I found a common pattern: strong on the outside, unsure on the inside. The women could identify their performance strengths. They also could identify their weaknesses and often worried they would never be good enough no matter the number of achievements they racked up. But they struggled to name their strengths of character.

In the years following my research, I have found similar distortions in self-analysis in many men in the workplace. Most people develop a strong sense of “what I can do” and a flimsy interpretation of “who I am and can be.”

When writing my book, Wander Woman, I wanted to provide an exercise to help readers claim their inner powers to match with their outer abilities. I discovered how to use principles of appreciative inquiry to identify strengths used in the past that can be claimed and embedded in one’s current sense of self to overpower situational fears.

How to Claim Your Strengths

Claiming your strengths calls on you to release fear of judgment and your defense mechanisms shielding you from failure. When you walk proudly with your strengths, you can accept your weaknesses as a part of who you are as a complex combination of aspects, with different sides of you showing up in different situations. When you are asked about your talents and gifts, you won’t be embarrassed to share them. When you face a challenging situation, you can recall your strengths even when you are afraid of failing, also knowing what you can achieve.

Your skills and knowledge are a part of your self-definition, but you need to know what you did to gain the skills, knowledge, and wisdom you have. Use this exercise to help you name your strengths from the inside out.

Exercise—Know Your Powers

Step #1. Recall a peak experience where you felt fully alive and fulfilled, a time when you overcame a major challenge in your life to complete a goal or important project. Think back to a moment when you were proud of what you achieved, what you endured, or what you did to lift others up. This moment could have occurred many years ago, or recently. Recall how good you felt about yourself at that moment.

Step #2. List five to 10 character traits you possess that you called on to create this peak experience, including your:

  • Internal strengths and gifts.
  • Strong emotions and attitude.
  • Personal values.
  • Unique sense/perspective.

Consider items in the following list. These traits represent the strengths that make you great even more than your accomplishments: courage, conviction, calmness under pressure, love of life, love for people, confidence, sense of humor, playfulness, flexibility, decisiveness, determination, integrity, grace, global perspective and acceptance, generosity, loyalty, honesty, enthusiasm, appreciation, faith, joyfulness, peacefulness, patience, curiosity, daring, open-mindedness, willingness to learn, creativity, empathy, compassion, appreciation of differences, respect, responsibility, commitment, positive energy, optimism, trust, and kindness.

Confidence Essential Reads

The list is not complete; include your own words to describe what has helped you succeed. The items on your list add up to your personal power—your ability to confidently face the present and shape your future.

Step #3. Speak your list out loud regularly until you are comfortable claiming your powers.

In her book, The Last Word on Power, Tracy Goss explains the power needed to make the impossible happen. She says it has nothing to do with authority or competence. Goss said, “When you acquire this power, you can operate with a quality and integrity that frees you to take the risks and actions necessary to change the world.”2 You must discover and claim your strengths so you can use them to transform the world around you.

The late activist Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” You serve us all when you embody your value and strengths.

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