In my last post, I gave you five tips to survive the end of the semester and the holidays. Why did I give you said tips? Because you can better manage your stress, even during times we THINK are inherently stressful. This week, I want to continue this theme and do a Strengths check-in. How your talents show up for you can absolutely impact your stress levels. And if you don’t know how they’re showing up, you might very well be adding to your own stress, so keep reading to find out how to keep that from happening.
I’ve talked about how your talents can contribute to your stress in previous articles. Remember, when you use your talents productively, they are showing up as Strengths. When they get in your way of being productive, they are showing up as weaknesses. In other words, the things that come most naturally to you and the things you’re best at can be your superpower OR your kryptonite. We’ll discuss this a bit more in a minute.
First, I want to explain what I mean by productivity here. In our world, productivity or being productive is typically equated with doing more things. You probably think you had a way more productive day when you crossed more things off your list. But that just keeps us in the mindset that the only way to get where we want to go is by constantly doing things, which as you know is exhausting. So, when I say productive, I simply mean how effectively you’re achieving your goals.
If your goal is to see more students, then yes, you’ll gauge your success based on doing more. But if your goal is better self-care, then you might need to look at things differently. Sure, it could mean counting how many things you did to care for yourself. But it most likely means DOING less. Likewise, if your goal is better student retention, you may currently be killing yourself trying to do more and more things to get those numbers up. But that doesn’t mean doing more is achieving your goal unless you’ve assessed how all those things are impacting retention and know their benefit. In a nutshell, the doing must be aligned with the goal to decide what is or is not productive.
So, what does this have to do with your stress and surviving this time of the year? Well, we think about the end of the semester and the holiday season as having certain intrinsic stressors, right? I mean what about students freaking out about finals and their grades, turning grades in, closing the res halls, prepping for the spring semester, planning holiday parties, buying gifts, scheduling family visits, planning fun holiday experiences for your students or your kids, etc. Blerg. Just thinking about all the things can feel overwhelming. But what if I told you your talents may very well be contributing to the stress you feel and the obligations you believe you have? Not only that but by better managing the way your talents show up, you can decrease your stress while being more productive.
What am I talking about? Let’s break it down using some examples from Alicia and me. On the work front, the end of the year is challenging for me. You all are SO busy and overwhelmed, you don’t have much bandwidth to connect and think about things like professional development. So as much as I want to reach out and connect, I know that’s not a good use of my time. That’s where my Adaptability gets in the way. There are plenty of things I could do to prep for the spring or work on behind the scenes stuff, but without specific deadlines it can easily lead me to not doing much of anything. This is especially bothersome because there are so many holiday distractions, like finishing my shopping list. And while doing nothing may seem like your dream situation, I get anxious because I know I’m not utilizing this time to prepare for the spring. So instead of letting Adaptability lead, I need to lean into my Strategic. It can help me prioritize what I can do now to make 2024 more productive and less stressful.
What about Alicia? This is the last week of classes, which is great. But that means next week, right before the holiday break, she has to deal with the bad grade report. That’s a list of the students she advises who didn’t pass one or even multiple classes. She has to contact them and figure out what the next steps are so they’re in the right classes next semester, if they’re even eligible to continue as a student. Alicia has Maximizer and Developer and they both get drained even thinking about dealing with the students on the list. Her Maximizer is very systems focused, so she finds herself thinking about what she could have done differently to reach that student and help them earlier in the semester. And her Developer focuses on how those students didn’t live up to their potential, and again if she’s not careful what she didn’t do to support them. Again, all of this has the potential to be a huge bummer on which to end the semester if she’s not managing her talents well. Instead, Alicia could reframe the student’s performance in terms of what they did accomplish. She can also use her Relator to connect with those students to get more information about what went wrong this semester so they can set themselves up for greater success in the spring.
And since the holidays are coming up, I’ll throw in a Christmas example for myself too. I have Relator, so I enjoy buying very personalized gifts for folks during the holidays to show how important those people are to me. My Input has carefully documented what folks like and don’t, so I combine that with my Ideation to decide what to get folks. My Strategic has been looking for deals since October, so I had 80% of my shopping done by Black Friday. But I also have Adaptability. Have you seen how many ads Facebook has this time of year? I’ll see something I think someone would love even though I already bought them something. Then, I’ll spend the next hour researching the product (Input), debating in my mind whether they should get an extra gift, including whether that means other folks need more gifts then too (Intellection and Connectedness). Again, left unchecked, this can quickly get out of hand and my joy of finding a great gift for the people in my life can easily become stressful. That’s why I’ve leaned into my Context and Strategic to remind myself of what I’ve already done and what realistic limits are for my gifting.
Hopefully, you can see in these examples how your talents, which again can be wonderfully powerful tools for you, need to be properly managed. When you just let them do what they do without aligning them to your goals or your values, they can add to your stress. That might mean by creating more work for you, or it can impact how you feel about yourself. If my Adaptability is leading, I’m probably not going to get much done between now at the new year. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean we all could use more time off, so that’s also a valid reason to just chill. But if instead my Adaptability says chill and my Strategic is constantly reminding me of all the things I haven’t done, that’s a recipe for me to both get nothing done from a work perspective with the added bonus of feeling terrible about it. That’s why the end goal is so important. I need to decide what my goal is for these next few weeks, and then use my talents to make sure I meet it.
For Alicia, she’s got these students who she knows to some degree who haven’t passed one or possibly several classes. Maximizers want to turn good into great. And in this situation, it would be easy to think that there is no good. I mean if you’re on the list, it’s because something went wrong, right? It would be so easy for her to judge herself and possibly them for why they failed. But here’s the thing. Sometimes students don’t pass their classes. Yes, she or they might have done something differently that might have gotten a different result, but maybe not. But focusing on past failures is going to add to her and their stress. Instead, she could reframe her Maximizer to upgrade her already good system for connecting with her students into something greater. Or she could lean into her Developer to focus on the successes the student did have, even if it wasn’t the class or two that put them on the list. If she’s paying attention to how these things are showing up for her, she has the ability to change the narrative or shift the talents that are leading the charge.
And here’s the sticky wicket. You’re on autopilot most of the time. We all are. It’s how our brains are wired. That means if you don’t check in with yourself and how your talents are showing up, they probably will create more work and stress for you. That’s especially true when you’re already feeling stressed.
So, what can you do to help yourself? Well first, you need to be aware of how your talents are showing up. Set a reminder to check in with yourself to see how your talents are behaving. If you’re feeling frustrated with something or someone, there’s an excellent chance at least one of your talents is getting in your way. But you don’t have to wait until you feel frustrated. You can set a timer or put a small reminder on your calendar. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” And here you’re thinking about your goals and priorities. Then ask yourself, “How are my talents helping me do those things and how are they getting in my way?”
The next step is to manage how your talents are showing up. That could be reframing the situation, like with Alicia’s Maximizer. Instead of getting caught up in the failure, she focuses on Maximizing her systems so next semester she might catch a few more students before they get to that point. Or like my example, you can simply shift the talent that’s currently “in charge” of what you’re doing. Adaptability needs to take a back seat and Strategic needs to step up right now.
It’s helpful if you think of your talents as being tools. You have several in your toolbox that you know how to do well, but you need to match the right tool for the right job. Otherwise, you end up trying to hammer a screw in. And while it can get the job done, it’s going to take way longer and it’s likely you’re going to be frustrated along the way. By checking in with yourself, you can make sure you’re using the right tool whether it’s dealing with end of the semester business or making sure your holiday season is festive and joyful.
Again, I wanted to do this as a follow up to the last episode because this is yet another way you can be empowered to create a better life and experience for yourself. The end of the semester does have its challenges. The holiday season can be a joyous time, but if you’re not careful it can also lead to stress. It’s how you’re navigating those challenges and using your talents that will make all the difference.