Updated: Feb 27
Earlier this year, I had to learn how to walk again. Now before you get too impressed – although I definitely said it that way to get your attention – it’s not that I couldn’t walk rather I realized I was walking in a way that was causing me problems. (This is going to be a fantastic talent analogy, so keep reading!)
If we have never had challenges from walking, from an injury or disability, we might rarely think about how we walk. Typically we learn to walk when we’re way too young to take constructive criticism. Most of us don't even think of there being a wrong way to walk. I mean if walked from point A to point B, you’ve successfully walked, right? As long as there are no obvious problems, we just walk however our body makes it work.
Why did my walking skills suck? Turns out, I’m hyper-flexible. I always knew I was more flexible than others. I can always easily touch the palms of my hands to the floor. When other people commented about how bendy I was, I wondered why they were so stiff. People were always impressed with my bendability. Stretching in yoga was easy. Massage therapists could easily get my muscles to relax. Awesome, right?
Often it is awesome, but because I’m hyper-flexible my joints can go too far in the other direction. This can strain my ligaments, tendons, and muscles. I’ve had a tendinitis several times, including in my hip which left me with chronic pain. Hyper-flexibility also means I can more easily get out of alignment – although my chiropractor doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve known about my hyper-flexibility for a few years, so I did things like weight lifting instead of yoga and try to remember not to lock my knees when I stand.
It wasn’t until this spring when I started having some pretty severe shoulder pain that I really figured out my problem. I went to a rather brilliant massage therapist who was also a trained Physical Therapist. She told me I was locking my knees when I walked and when I stood – which pushed my hips forward – causing my shoulders to slump forward and out of proper alignment. OMG! My shoulders had always done that. I just thought I had lazy posture. Back in the day when I first learned about my knees locking, I focused on not locking them but I didn’t understand how it was affecting the rest of my body! After I learned what locking my knees was doing to my hips, I started pushing my hips back where they were supposed to be. This prevented my knees from locking and pushed my shoulders back where they belonged. I have way less shoulder and hip pain now.
Okay, so here’s where I tie this back to talents (finally, right?). I had been walking wrong my entire life and had no idea how it was impacting my entire body. My talent was being flexible. It came naturally and impacted how I interacted with the world, including walking. Many times, being flexible came in handy, but not here. It wasn’t until I understood how my talent (being flexible) was negatively impacting my posture and the rest of my body that I knew to make a change. I had to adjust how I used my flexibility to make sure it was only being used in productive ways, instead of getting in my way and ultimately causing me pain.
The same issue can happen with any talent. Your talents come naturally to you – so much so that you don’t usually think about them. They impact how you interpret and interact with the world, including other people. Often when your talents are in play, they are helpful. But other times, they are the cause of your pain and you don’t even realize it.
For example, I have Input. If you’re not familiar, basically I like to collect information that I think will be useful for myself or others (vs. Learner which thinks all information is equally interesting). In education, especially as a supervisor, having a collection of information for training, handling student issues, or supervision resources is quite handy. It’s also great if we're starting a new initiative or program. Let me know what we want to accomplish and I can get you plenty of relevant info ASAP! It can also be a pain in my ass, just like my hyper-flexibility. If I don’t set a time limit, I can go into research mode for too long, which impacts creating action. I can also annoy my colleagues by continuously sending them articles and info that they don’t have time to read (even if it would help them).
Whether it be walking, problem-solving, or achieving goals, whenever you feel stuck or in pain you need to look at how your talents are affecting you and the people around you. Are they helping you be productive or getting in your way (maybe it's both at the same time)? Maybe one of your talents is dominating the others. Maybe one is under-performing. Maybe one of your talents is in conflict with someone on your team, impacting your ability to move forward. The first step is always self-awareness and assessing how your talents are working in a given situation.
The second step is making adjustments. If your Achiever wants to get things done but won’t (or can't) weed out useless tasks, turn your up Strategic. If your Maximizer is constantly improving your teams’ performance, so much so that you forget to tell them what they're doing well, turn it down. Sometimes, adjusting means learning new skills and knowledge (and then practicing) to support your talents. If you have Harmony but no assertiveness skills, you’re going to run into problems.
Once I figured out what was wrong with my posture, it took a while to remember adjust my hips each time I walked or stood. But like anything, the more you practice the easier and more automatic it becomes. As you start looking at how you’re using your talents and making adjustments, you will definitely have to pay more attention and be mindful of the changes you’re trying to make to both assess if the adjustments are working and to make the changes stick. Initially it will probably seem a bit awkward, but improving how you use your talents – so they’re always being productive – is what turns talents into Strengths.
The good news is, you're already on that journey, just by being interested in this topic. Keep the momentum, maybe get an accountability partner, ask close friends for feedback, get coaching, learn more about your talents through the multitude of Strengths resources available. Just keep walking, and adjusting, and walking, and adjusting.