The Ever-Moving “A” Game

Love this picture - I want to meet THAT cook!

Most people wake up every day, planning to make it a great day. They either have a list of things they’re raring to get done or, on those really lovely days, no list at all. I really think that the majority of us have every intention of bringing our “A” game to the table the majority of the time.

Then life happens: people get sick, layoffs abound, workloads increase while sleep becomes a fond memory. It gets harder and harder some weeks to remember what your “A” game is, much less produce it.

I have a refrigerator magnet with a quote by American folklorist and writer, Zora Neale Hurston, that is one of my favorites:

“There are years that ask the questions and years that answer.”

Last year was definitely a questioning year. The only cataclysmic life change we didn’t have was the loss of a job. My husband and I were ticking through the year’s upheavals the other day:

  1. An off-the-charts high-risk pregnancy
  2. The birth of our first and only baby
  3. Putting down our dog, Hoshi, when our new baby was less than a month old
  4. A raging case of post-partum depression (go figure)
  5. The illness, and subsequent death, of our last connected parent
  6. Home renovation and moving over the holidays (in the rain, of course!)

By December 31st, I was wiped. Like most of the nation, I could not WAIT for 2010 to be over.

The New Year dawned and each month has brought revelations and new ideas that I don’t know whether I’d have been open to if 2010 hadn’t beaten me into submission.

Putting my writing on the front burner and launching this blog was a decision I made in January.

In February, I went to a conference put on by the Boomer Consulting group for accounting firms. While the world of accounting might not sound very scintillating to most people, Boomer’s Human Capital and Learning Symposium was by far one of the best professional conferences I’ve ever attended in terms of take-aways. The name might not be “sexy” but the concepts sure were.

Maybe it was because it was put on for the accounting industry, which is full of very practical people. But between Melinda Figeley Dean’s keynote presentation, “Building a Strengths-Based Organization: A New Paradigm for Development” and Rebecca Ryan’s dynamic closing talk on “Managing the Millennial Invasion,” my thought process did a 180 degree turn on several concepts.

I started thinking about the forces that had shaped me and how much or little these things affected my “A” game. I’ve spent a lot of time since February thinking about the innate strengths nearly everyone possesses.

Society, starting with our schools and continuing through our workplace management teams, sure does put a mighty amount of focus on improving our weaknesses. After hearing Melinda, and then Gary Boomer, speak on the subject I’ve been pondering a crazy idea…what might happen if these organizations put this same amount of energy in developing peoples’ strengths?

What kind of mountains could we move if we applied our efforts toward being stellar at the things we’re good at, rather than worrying about our faults? I have a feeling we’re talking about peaks the size of the Rockies.

I’m not talking about turning into a society of narcissists that can do no wrong. I’m talking about making it a primary goal to discover your innate strengths and spend more time on them.

We did an exercise in the Pre-session at Boomer where we listed the things we were good at. Typically, we’d always been good at them, so we didn’t really see them as anything nifty or unusual.

The things people came up with were amazing – there was so much talent in that room and the majority of it was not being used the workplace, where we spend at least 50% of our waking hours. How sad is that? These abilities were being relegated to the hobby side of the fence. No wonder so many people hate their jobs!

My innate strengths, in no particular order, were:  writing, teaching, motivating others, doing hair and learning software.

We had to just scribble this down quickly but I have to say, I felt so lucky when I thought about my list. Life pushed me early into a job I am uniquely suited for. Except for the “doing hair” part, my innate strengths describe the perfect software trainer, which is what I do for a living.

I’m not great at training every day, but I hit the damn good mark most days because it’s easy for me. And no wonder…it’s a job that draws on at least three areas of my innate strengths, so it doesn’t feel like work.

Novel concept to ponder: It doesn’t mean you’re a slacker just because you like to do the things that come naturally to you. Pay attention to the things that are easy for you and try to do them more often.

Writing, which is one of my innate strengths, is a mixed bag for me. Writing short is fun, and falls into the playtime category. Writing long (as in a novel) is extremely hard for me. The complexity and sheer organizational strength required intimidates me most days. Still, it’s a dream of mine to publish novels so I keep at it.

As I’m getting older, I’m learning more ways to get around my weaknesses. One of my most successful methods is to trick myself by writing short scenes and snippets (can we say BLOGS, anyone?). It feels like playtime, so I don’t run screaming from my computer. My critique partners then help me put my scenes together in the proper order, which is a win-win for everyone.

I’ve noticed that most writers read books and attend workshops that focus on helping with the “weak areas.” There’s nothing wrong with this; I sure need to know more about writing a synopsis. But a weak AREA is very different than a weakNESS and I’d like to shine a little light on this elephant that few people like to address.

We can’t be great at everything.

Julia Quinn, a super fun bestselling writer, gave a talk at 2000 writers conference that began, “I dream of being an organized person.” I felt like she was speaking directly to me as this is a major weak area of mine – perhaps this is a writer/creative person thing.  My current most glaring organizational sin: I’ve got Christmas presents I’m just now getting sent and Easter is next week!

My #1 secret weapon in my fight for organization is my husband. I’m not kidding – he finds stuff I’ve lost all the time, and he’s a filing demon. The computer comes in behind him as the second best organizational godsend. LOVE that Search feature…

Another New York Times bestselling author,  Susan Elizabeth Phillips,  said something in a workshop several years back that was so momentous to me, I’ve never forgotten it.

She said, “Plotting is not my strong point, characters are. When I stopped focusing my energies on plot and started putting it into writing great characters, my writing took off.” She admits to being a very slow writer and has taken steps to work around that too.

This is a New York Times bestselling writer who has embraced who she is and what her strengths are. I doubt she’d have been quite so successful if she hadn’t done so. I’ve met her; she is a lovely, happy person.

She doesn’t waste time lamenting the things she’s less than stellar at, she just finds an alternate route to get to the finish line.  She’s in a career that she loves, doing what she was meant to do. There is great beauty in that.

What are your innate strengths? Again, I’m not talking about the things you’ve learned to be good at. What were you always good at? Share your uniqueness in the comments section – we want to know!

See you Monday for the Tax Day More Cowbell Mash-up!

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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2 Responses to The Ever-Moving “A” Game

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Never thought about it this way, Jenny. I think looking at our weaknesses is a woman thing…my husband could ratttle off his strengths.
    Me? Hmmm…
    I tune in to people’s emotions quickly and am a good listener.
    I am perpetually optimistic. I’m a ‘head down grinder’ kind of worker…I’ll go farther than brighter people, because I won’t give up.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I think it is partially a “woman thing” but I think it is much more a societal one. From the time we’re in grade school, I think the American system spends a lot more time talking about how to improve the things we’re bad at, instead of perhaps teaching kids how to find answers/compensate through the things they are great at.


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