Sophomore year in high school. Fifteen years old. The homecoming dance is coming up and my friends are starting to make plans. Who do I ask?
The bright smile, welcoming attitude and positive energy she exudes is contagious -- of course I'm going to ask that girl!
I walk up to her locker without a single word of what I am going to say planned out; I'll figure that out when I get there. You see, no matter how much I practiced, I never really knew what would come out of my mouth and yet, somehow, things usually seemed to work out.
Fast-forward 18 years. Married, three kids, several career changes and a lot of laughs later, that girl and I are still the same kids we were in the high school hallway at heart. We have spent many evenings telling stories about that sophomore homecoming dance. In fact, telling stories is one of our favorite things to do. She remains steadfast that we went as "friends;" I hold true to the thought that it was our first real date, even if we did have a third friend drive us around all night.
The very qualities I fell in love with in my wife, Janna, in high school are still what attract me to her today. Many years ago I dubbed her the "Humane Society for People," and gave her the catch phrase, "If she won't take you in, you have no chance." She has always seen the best in people, picturing the best version of them in her mind -- even if they had given up on themselves long ago.
When in social situations, Janna is at her best. She can smile, win a crowd over in a matter of minutes, crack the perfect corny joke, or hop on stage and sing a killer rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" if you dare to do karaoke with her. She is the person who unites groups of people, and is often seen as the glue that holds friendships together. As her partner and a parent, I've seen these same things in her every day. She is excited to meet other parents, invite them to our house and officially add them to our circle. This is her natural behavior, her element. These things are timeless -- they are her talents in action.
Don't get me wrong, we have both changed a lot over the past 18 years. We are more educated (with four college degrees between the two of us), more seasoned (we've each left jobs we hated) and have experienced the painful process of losing friends and family we love. There is no question these experiences have a lasting impact on who we are as people. They do not, however, change our natural talents. What they do change is how our talents show up in what we believe is important; our personal values.
As we've grown, matured and experienced all that life has brought our way, our values have changed. But when was the last time we actually talked about this? More importantly, how do we go about talking about something as hard to explain as our values?
Having helped some of my clients explore the connection between their strengths and values, I approached this critical conversation with my wife with a genuine curiosity. I was excited to learn how her filter and mine had shifted over time. I turned to my trusted toolkit and I followed a few simple steps:
- Using the values cards, we each sorted the deck into two piles: non-negotiable and situational.
- We chose to focus on the non-negotiable pile, challenging ourselves to narrow it down to our five individual core values.
This process alone was worth the time invested in the activity. We honestly could have stopped there and it would have been a great evening together.
- We then proceeded to connect our talents to our values by discussing a few of simple questions:
- How do you see your partner's themes contribute to bringing a particular value to life?
- What does it look like when you are actively supporting all of your partner's values?
- How do our collective values align to the culture we are trying to create for our family?
- What talents do I have that can support my partner's values more effectively?
This is when the light bulbs started popping. Immediately, we each could give specific examples of times we supported both our personal values as well as our partner's values. We also spotted actions we were taking, sometimes frequently, that were counter to our partner's values. It was eye-opening.
As we came out of that conversation, I had a renewed sense of connection with my wife. The same excitement and energy that I felt in the hallway my sophomore year of high school was present on our porch that night. I was able to see so clearly how the things that make my wife such a great mom, partner, and friend -- her natural talents -- were being driven so clearly by a set of values that I could align with. Just as CliftonStrengths gave us a language to talk about those talents, this conversation had given us a language to talk about how we use our talents in relation to our values.
If that is not a conversation worth having, then I don't know what is.
Next time you are planning an evening with the ones you love, try incorporating a conversation about values and strengths. Share some stories, have some fun and grow in your understanding of one another. I would love for you to share your experiences in the comments section below. You never know -- your comment may be the one that inspires someone to act!