Fish Climbing Trees

Thoughts on celebrating your talents and accepting your shortcomings.

Many of the companies I’ve worked for in my life have all been pretty invested in making sure that the mesh of different personalities can coexist successfully. So, naturally, my preference for achieving this goal is tequila. But, unfortunately, most companies wouldn’t agree with me and therefore achieve it through that oh-so dreaded task of…dare I utter the phrase out loud? TEAM-BUILDING EXERCISES. (Insert ominous music and the thunder and lightning here.)

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, or perhaps it’s the curmudgeon in me. Still, whenever I’m required to do some team-building activity, my first reaction is to begin mapping a plan for my life where I could successfully live in the gutter with the clown from “It” since it seems like the preferable choice.

Many moons ago, I was in my early twenties waiting tables for a spell while I tried to figure out the direction of my life. The company that owned the restaurant was big on team building. I was chosen for a unique “team-building activity” where we went to this farm in the middle of nowhere that offered what is known as a “challenge course.” Or, as I like to call it, hell. You would have to rely on your workmates to make it through the course. The problem was, the course wasn’t on the ground. The beautiful, beautiful ground. Have I mentioned my fear of heights? It was all suspended challenges in the air. Way up in the air.

There we were shimmying up to the top of a 35-foot telephone pole only to balance on the top for a moment then dive for a trapeze bar a good 6 to 8 feet away. All the while being tethered with my coworker Becky down below, holding the rope and my life in her buffalo sauce-stained hands. I hoped she was paying better attention to me than she typically did her tables on any given day.

I jumped. I missed. Becky saved me. I still didn’t trust her.

Fast forward to the current day. My company had us do something last year that fell under the “team-building torture” category that turned out to be life-changing, in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, and it was still torture for me during our staff meeting as an outside facilitator was brought in to play games that tested our new-found personality knowledge and forced us, likely at gunpoint if I recall correctly, to compete in an odd match of personality poker. That part was painful, but what wasn’t painful was finally learning some big lessons about myself.

They paid for it and had us take the Strengthsfinders test. (Yes, all one word, but they recently just changed the name.) It takes about half an hour to do, and each question is timed, so if you fail to decide, it chooses the middle option for you. They explained that the first time you take the test, it will always be the most accurate. It’s not a pass/fail kind of test. It’s a test that helps people uncover their talents and, inadvertently, their weaknesses.

For the first time in my life, I understood why I do some things I do. All of the talents fall within four different main categories. Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. Then under each of those categories are 8-9 different strengths for 34 other possibilities. Finally, they reveal your top 5 strengths. (You can buy the entire list if you want, and it will show how you ranked with all of those.) ALL five of my strengths fell under one category, thinking.

See! I told you guys I’m an over-thinker. But the more I learned about my strengths; everything fell into place for me. For example, one of my strengths is called Ideation which they define as, “People exceptionally talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They can find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.” Which explains how I can tie obscure random situations into some sensical life blog!

When my Ideation strength is being fed, I am a “navigator of ambiguity who brings a fresh perspective.” I find this in my work with producing and making sense from tons of random data. HOWEVER, when that strength is being “starved,” according to them, I am “impractical, all over the place, all talk and no action.” What me? No action. (Ask me about the nine drafts in this blog that I haven’t finished and published.)

Here is the biggest lesson I learned. I looked around the room at the forty-ish coworkers to see their strengths. Almost no one shared my strengths, and I didn’t share theirs. One woman, who sadly is no longer with our company, was someone I held in such high regard I’d find myself tripping over words just attempting to communicate with her. She’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. How dare I speak aloud to her!!

I kid. But I did hold her in high reverence and still do. She’s brilliant. You should see how quickly she processes information. I don’t. I have to chew on details like a thick piece of steak that was cooked too long and has too much gristle. Sometimes it takes so long I give up and spit it out. It takes me forever to process information.

A good example is when my son desperately wanted me to play his zombie-killing video game with him. He sat anxiously by me, walking me through the motions. I stepped into a dark, ominous corridor when my son immediately began yelling, “SHOOT! SHOOT! JUST SHOOT ALREADY!” I had not yet determined what I wanted to shoot yet. I wanted to take a look around the room. Access the situation. Were all the zombies evil? How do you know?

This was the first and last time my son asked me to play a video game with him. I’m happy to say we still have a relationship. His brain works so differently than mine. He’s currently learning Japanese. He’s a week in, and I saw a notebook on the kitchen table this morning from where he had been working on it all night with sentence after sentence written out in Japanese. Wow.

I can’t do what he does, and I can’t do what my brilliant former coworker does. Of course, I can’t do what a lot of people do. But they can’t do what I do either.

I would fail miserably if you had to judge me on my ability to put together a sample bill for congress. But, if you need me to make a video that shows a person impacted by that bill, I’m your girl. I’ll make you cry in 2.3 seconds, to be exact.

For the first time in my life, I stopped beating myself up for everything I could not do. That’s not where my talents lie. I don’t have to compare myself with others. When appropriately used, we all have particular skills that serve the greater good and leave us all in a better place.

You may have heard this quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, but there is no evidence of him having ever said it.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid

Not Albert Einsten

It’s okay if you’re a fish and you can’t climb a tree. You rock in the water. Find your genius and share it with the world. You will make it a better place.

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