I discovered the strengths approach as an overweight nine-year old kid training for my first judo competition. The problem with martial arts is that your opponents are not the kids who have the same level of skill as you but kids with the same weight. Which means that I had to compete against kids who had trained anything from two to four years more than I had. Not a promising situation. So I did what I always did: I studied people closely during practice. I tried to figure out what the good judokas did. I noticed how they not only had certain moves they were really good at but also that everyone has weaknesses. So I watched and then I watched some more. At the day of the competition I got there early and studied every fight. I took note of the weaknesses and thought about how to take advantage of them. I also made a mental note of what each fighter was really good at so I didn’t get myself in that position where they could strike. In my first competition I finished with a bronze medal. The second year I got gold.These successful outcomes were not the result of my superior knowledge of judo or more practice: they were outcomes of using my analytical strength to leverage my game.
Of course I am telling you this to brag but also to point out, that life lessons really can be learned everywhere. I did not practice judo to later become an aspiring strengths expert. Neither did I play football (the real kind, not with hands) to learn more about how to make the most of my team mates strengths (we also finished third and then a year later number one). Intuitively discovering the strengths approach was what I would like to call a beautiful side-effect. As children we pick up almost everything we learn as a positive side-effect. Kids don’t have lots of goals when they wake up in the morning. They don’t assess everything in terms of how much they will gain from it. They just go out, do stuff and as a beautiful side-effect learn tons of things along the way.
The purpose of this post is not to suggest that concrete goals are bad. Rather I really believe most adults when thinking about change rely too much on concrete goals and steps and forget about beautiful side-effects. The two approaches don’t exclude each other, rather they complement each other.
One of the most fulfilling things I have found in life is that if I whole-heartedly jump into something I feel passionate about it’s virtually impossible not to grow. However that’s almost never the goal. I engage with stuff I feel passionate about because it makes me feel alive and it’s fun. However one of the most beautiful things in life is that in the end there are almost always tangible rewards which I could never have anticipated. And even if that’s not the case at least I had fun. That’s all part of the adventure of the strengths way of life: following our strengths down the rabbit hole with a heart and mind ready for adventure, enjoying the moment and then emerging as changed person.