If we consider our lives as a blank canvas that is painted over time, clearly, your painting will be different from mine. Everyone’s painting would be unique because no two lives are the same. Even identical twins may lead vastly differing lives.
I like to imagine the universe as a mosaic of all our awesome life paintings. To create our own masterpiece, we must “become fully.” We must paint our best canvas by identifying and leveraging our strengths, blend them with our passions and skills, and be able to self-lead or navigate the world so that we plug a hole in the universe. The universe will not be complete unless each of us paints our best canvas and manifests our unique value proposition.
Now, as one of my former executives used to say, let’s not be confused.
This is: a) not easy, b) a lifelong journey, and c) a combination of internal and external work. The latter part is especially challenging for people in the west. We are often more comfortable acting out than looking in, being told what to do rather than mapping our own course, and emulating others rather than embracing our authentic selves. Doing is easier than being, but it doesn’t work – I know from personal experience, and I struggle with it every day. So, what is a busy, high achieving, totally wired, motivated person supposed to do? Unplug – just a little.
Becoming fully requires that we up our game in understanding what’s going on inside of us. It means making more time for reflective learning, quieting the mind, and sitting. Sitting? Yes, sitting – in silence. Answers to our life questions, like butterflies in a garden, come to us when we are quiet. You cannot chase a butterfly. You must sit and let it come to you. The same process works for exploring our inner world. Insight, understanding, wisdom – they come to us when we are quiet.
See the photo above? I shot it about this time last year in the beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan. It was completely quiet except for the trees whispering with the wind. The beautiful colors reflect only where the surface of the lake is calm. Reflection requires stillness. When is the last time you chose to be completely still?
When we “do the work” of exploring our inner and outer worlds, and make connections between them, we find courage and confidence that we might not have had otherwise – and that helps us paint our canvas in new and unexpected ways. We become at our best when we need it most.
One of my clients was let go from his job at a high tech company. Of course, this was an upsetting and disruptive life experience. However, we’d already been architecting his success plan, and he felt more confident in his job search as a result. But the best part of the story is the ending – not only did he land another job – he landed one in an entirely different field – HR! He leveraged his great relationship building strengths, his belief in doing the right thing, his gift of influencing and supporting others. By doing the internal and external work, he found a role that he could pursue with passion and energy, and he communicated it with confidence and clarity in the interview. He didn’t just get another job – he plugged a hole in the universe.
The Strengthsfinder assessment helps us map our internal world – and then we better understand why we behave the way we do. Taking it isn’t enough – reflecting on your customized results and linking them to your external world is a great way to add paint to your canvas.
Want to try an exercise this week?
- Pick one strength from your Strengthsfinder Insight Guide report, and find the description or line that most resonates with you. (Haven’t taken it yet? Go to www.gallupstrengthscenter.com)
- For the next seven days, read that line in the morning before you start work and again at the end of the day when you’re done.
- Then (and this is the hard part) set the timer for 10 minutes and sit in utter silence (no tv, radio, people, dogs, cats, kids, etc.) Close your eyes, relax your body and mind, and breathe slowly. When your “to do” list pops into your head, and it will, encourage yourself to “just rest.” And let it go.
- At the end of 10 minutes (which will feel like 2 hours), just jot down whatever comes to mind. One line, one paragraph, whatever.
I’m going to focus on this statement in my report, from my #1 strength, Ideation: Your desire to be the champion probably stimulates your creative thinking. This description appeals to me because I am championing a new initiative in my job – and there is lots of gravity associated with getting it off the ground. So I want to “noodle” on it, sit quietly, and see what “insight butterflies” land on me! If I learn anything dandy, I’ll post a comment. You can do the same (and you have to register to share a comment because we had an issue with an evil spammer – I’m learning about the perils of having a public blog!)
Steve Jobs said we are here to put a dent in the universe. That was his point of view as seen through the lens of his own strengths – denting the universe is how he measured success. I get that. However, I also see value in each of us becoming fully so that we can help complete the universe. Let’s do it together, and support one another along the way.