We hear a lot in the world of strengths about managing, rather than fixing, our areas of lesser or non-talent. That's good advice. But to truly overcome the barriers our non-talents can present in our lives, we need to do more than manage them: We need to embrace them. Let me explain.
So there I was, in the summer of 2008, in the aisles of Kmart in Charlottesville, Va. Our oldest daughter and I made the 1,200-mile trip from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Charlottesville where she was to do her internship at the University of Virginia. We drove her 2002 Honda Civic pulling a U-Haul trailer behind -- which is in itself a story worth telling, but for another time. Anyway, back to the aisles of Kmart. I was there picking up some household items for Julie's apartment when my phone rang, and it was my wife on the line. This wasn't alarming, because she and our younger daughter were due to get on a plane that morning to fly to Charlottesville and join us for the weekend.
But what was alarming was her tone of voice, and even more so what she said: "I noticed that we didn't have any hot water this morning, and when I went down to the basement to check on it, I noticed a pretty big puddle under the hot water heater. I think it's leaking. What should I do?"
At that moment, upon hearing those words, my brain froze. All I could manage to say for what seemed like five minutes was "Oh no!" over and over and over again. Here I was, 1,200 miles from home, and my wife and daughter still had to drive over an hour to get on an airplane that was departing in two-and-a-half hours. I couldn't think, and the more I berated myself for not being able to think of what to do, the worse it got. Finally, my wife talked me down from my mental ledge, and we came up with a plan that involved a friend who knew nothing about hot water heaters, a plumber, and replacing the water heater while we were out of town. In the end, it all worked out.
But that incident caused me a great deal of frustration, because it was not the first time something like this has happened: an unexpected event -- maybe even a minor emergency -- throws off my plan, and I have a "freak-out" moment. Why does this happen? I would think. Changes shouldn't throw me, I like change! I like risk! I like challenges! I am smart! I should be able to handle it! Why can't I? The more I would fight the "brain-freeze" and "freak-out" moments, the worse it would get. What's more, the more I fought it the longer it would take for my Strategic and Ideation themes to kick in with an idea and plan that my Command would be eager to put into action.
Why was this so hard?
The answer was to be found in my CliftonStrengths All 34 report: I have Adaptability at No. 27.
"Aha!" (Yes, I really did say "Aha!") No wonder I don't handle changes to my plan very well! I am not "go-with-the flow, take-life-as-it-comes, live-in-the-moment" type of person. I have a plan, a system, a process -- and I am usually armed with plans B, C, and D if plan A doesn't work out. So if something comes along that I didn't plan for, Wham! I am hit with a freak-out brain-freeze. I am not going to be able to adjust and adapt right away -- it's not the way I am wired. And you know what? That's OK. I can't change my basic wiring. I just need to let myself feel what I am feeling and it will pass. So I resigned myself to a life of inadaptability.
But then a funny thing happened.
Once I acknowledged -- no, embraced -- my lack of Adaptability, I found that the duration of my freak-out brain-freezes got shorter. Once I knew that I was going to feel that way when the unexpected came moseying by for a visit, the freak-out was not nearly so intense and passed much more quickly. I quit fighting it, I quit trying to be something I am not. And once I accepted and embraced that, who I am came to the rescue much more quickly. It's as if my dominant talents were saying, "Dude, get out of the way! Let us help! We can do this if you let us!"
So that is what I learned, and something I take into my coaching: I am not adaptable in the CliftonStrengths sense of the word. And that's OK. Actually, it's better than OK. And it's a lesson I pass on to those I coach: Embrace your Dark Side. Because only then can you overcome it with your greatest strengths.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.