method of lizzy

preservations… for posterity

Find Your Strongest Life

lifeTo be honest, I would never have picked up this book on my own accord. The reader will quickly notice that the author, Marcus Buckingham, is a man – yet this is a book for women. On top of that, this looks very much looks like a self-help book – a genre I stopped reading when I was about 17. Despite these two obstacles, I wanted to read this after I read about it on Michael Hyatt’s blog:

Most of us were taught by our parents and teachers that the secret to success is improving our weaknesses. As it turns out, this is completely wrong-headed. You can focus on your weaknesses all you want, but you will likely only make marginal improvements. However, if you will focus on your strengths—those things that you are naturally good at and come easily to you—you can make huge strides. In fact, when you do so, you will be more happy and fulfilled. Not only that, you will make your greatest contribution to the world.

Buckingham starts off with startling statistics relevant to the modern woman: despite a wealth of opportunities, women are less happy than they were forty years ago and less happy relative to men. While an extra hour of free time will double a man’s feelings of relaxation, it will do nothing for a woman. Studies show that having kids only amplifies both of the previous statements. Six major studies of happiness also show that “though women begin their lives more fulfilled than mean, as they age, they gradually become less happy. Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older” (p.19).

These statements are sobering. Buckingham postulates as to why the studies are giving these results: Some women are trying to have it all (all at the same time). Some women are in an unfullfilling career. Some women are multitasking and taking on too much. Some are afraid of change. But all of the unhappy, unsatisfied women have one thing in common: they are not paying attention to what strengthens them.

What are your strengths? What does your strong life look like? Perhaps surprisingly, living a strong life means much more than “doing what you are good at.”  Living a strong life means being successful (as defined by you), instinctively looking forward to tomorrow, growing and learning, and having your needs fulfilled. You find your stong life by paying attention to those moments that strengthen you: when do you feel an emotional high? When do you positively anticipate your day? When do you become so involved in what you are doing that you lose track of time? When do you feel invigorated at the end of a long, busy day? When do you get to do the things that you really like to do? According to Buckingham, the happiest and most successful women find that they can says “everyday” to at least four out of five of these questions.

There were a good many portions of this book that I felt were applicable to me. I’m a mommy-tracked professional who is still somewhat career-minded. I’ve always been told that I am pretty good at what I do and I have degrees and certifications that I worked very hard to earn. I’ve said before that I enjoy my career the same way that I enjoy putting together a jigsaw puzzle: sometimes it’s fun to figure things out, other times it is frustrating and I want to give up. The jigsaw puzzle is never really a fulfilling endeavor – even once it is complete, the joy is fleeting. At least the jigsaw puzzle doesn’t require a daily commute, time-wasting meetings or office politics.

I can honestly say that my career has rarely strengthened me as Buckingham defines it. I’ve known this since I graduated from college – maybe even before that. But it’s something that I have always pushed aside. I’ve had the attitude that my career doesn’t define me – it’s what I do because I am good at it. I’ll do the things that I enjoy the rest of the time. I can see the faults in that thinking and I can see how I could become one of those women who is progressively less happy. Because my career doesn’t strengthen me, it will gradually weaken me.

There is not an easy solution to this predicament since every person is different. Buckingham advises keeping track of individual moments that strengthen or weaken you. Track these for a few weeks and notice the trend. He also has developed the “Strong Life Test” which is like a watered-down, simplistic version of Kerisey’s work on temperament. (I scored as an “Advisor,” which was pretty accurate: you can be demanding and opinionated, but above all you are discriminating: “good enough” is never good enough for you.“)

The book offers some fairly fluffy stories of women who figured it all out: a woman who opened an incredibly successful cupcake store, a woman who became a Hollywood agent, a woman who put together sewing seminars and then was contacted to represent a sewing machine company. They are nice stories, and they are somewhat inspirational while also seeming somewhat unrealistic.

This is a good book if you find yourself craving balance (Buckingham will tell you sorry, but it doesn’t exist) or if you feel that you are in a rut. I think that this book is just as relevant for men as it is for women, and I can’t help but wonder if the focus on women is a bit of a marketing ploy. There is good food for thought dispersed randomly throughout the book, but there are no answers given; only a few rudimentary tools that may or may not point you in the direction you need to go.

October 5, 2009 - Posted by | books, introspection

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