Knowing Your Strengths (when everything changes)

Much like a athletes on a team, each person should know and use their strengths for the benefit of others.

Much like a athletes on a team, each person should know and use their strengths for the benefit of others.

Those of you in the business world or members of Grace Church are probably very familiar with Strengths Finder. I was first introduced to Strengths Finder as an intern at Grace Church in the Summer of 2010. The basic premise is that you should, as much as possible, operate out of your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Rather than focus on improving your weaknesses, the majority of your energy should be spent on maximizing your strengths.

As an athlete, this concept makes so much sense to me. We first learn the “basics” of a sport with everyone playing lots of positions. Then, as the work and skills required become more difficult, we specialize and maximize the specific talents of each individual on the team. Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing also took advantage of this principle. Still, it wasn’t until I was almost finished with college that I learned to think about it in terms of my personal and professional life.

I recently took the Strengths Finder test again for work and I was surprised to find 4/5 of my strengths have changed, probably reflective of my seasons of life. I’ve listed my strengths below. Learner was the only crossover (duh, I’m a nerd no matter the situation), but it moved from first to third.

2010 Strengths:

Learner
Achiever
Individualization
Developer
Discipline

2015 Strengths:

Strategic
Relator
Learner
Analytical
Command

Last week, we asked all of the Mill Community Ministry interns to take the test and then we shared our results with the group. We defined strengths as something when you do it, you feel strong. You may be good at it, but if it drains you and makes you weak then it may not be a strength.

Joey Espinosa led our conversation and we talked about how our strengths are to be used first for God’s glory and purposes and second to serve others. When we are aware of our strengths we can actively seek out ways to use them for God’s glory and others’ benefit while also finding people whose strengths match our weaknesses. Together, we are a complex masterpiece reflecting God’s image on humanity.

So what do we do when the game changes? We’re no longer a baseball player, but a soccer player. (You know I’m refraining from making a snide soccer>baseball comment!). Our previous strengths may not be as applicable or we may need other strengths. The risk of knowing too much though, is that we can use our strengths (or lack thereof) as an excuse. It’s not in my gifting, we say. I’m not called to do that; it’s not how God made me. Yet sometimes, we must serve and work outside our strengths knowing God is most present in our weaknesses.

For me, in my new job, this has included thinking a lot about the best way to grow Nasha Lending. The main part of my job is working with entrepreneurs to help them start their businesses, including connecting them to resources (personal and financial). Perhaps this is why strategic and relator are now busting through the top.

Now, more than ever, I’m thankful I have clarity about my strengths, community to bolster my weaknesses, and grace to cover all. After all, my greatest strengths are often also my greatest weaknesses.

Book Review: The Elegant Universe

200px-TheElegantUniverseThe Elegant Universe by Brian Greene is a fascinating, albeit, intellectual read. Greene seeks to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and then String Theory’s attempt to merge the two seemingly irreconcilable ideas.

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically Theory of Relativity deals with the macro-universe and Quantum Mechanics deals with the micro-universe and when you try and use one theory for the opposite (macro or micro) everything breaks down. String Theory is an attempt to find a Theory of Everything (TOE) that explains the universe in its entirety.

Greene does an excellent job explaining both Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in layman’s terms. The detail and intricacy of each theory screams of an intelligent creator. At one point, Greene muses on the possibility, but it is more a passing nod than an actual claim to be explored.

The book begins to break down once String Theory is discussed. I imagine this is due in part to my lack of ability to understand the science, but also because the most brilliant scientists and mathematicians in the world have only an approximation of what they think part of the theory might be. It’s kinda hard to thoroughly and clearly explain an approximation of a guess of a part.

More than anything, however, I loved how the pure science of the book and the reality of our universe scream that God is at work. I was constantly blown away at the creativity and minutia of the God of the universe even when explained mathematically. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science, math, or to someone with a desire to be awed by God’s majesty.

Through all of this though, I was reminded as great as it is that God reveals himself to us through his creation, that is not the most important thing. Our God is personally knowable. He desires a relationship, not just knowledge. Even if I understood all the details of string theory and could explain the universe in its entirety, if I am not drawing life and purpose from the One who created it, then I am without hope.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

A Review of The Hunger Games

Over Thanksgiving I had the good fortune of having lots of free time to read, run and hang out with my family and friends. As promised, I am going to provide a personal review of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I am still allowing this blog to evolve as I refine its purpose. As an avid reader, I think I would be remiss to not share my thoughts on at least a few of the books that I read. Now, lest you think that I only read best-selling, non-fiction books, I assure you this is not the case. I love reading. period. However, The Hunger Games lends itself to book review. I even remarked to my Mom, “These books would be so easy to write a paper on!” Nerd, I know, but I think we have already established that fact.

SPOILER ALERT – This post will contain some spoiled content.

The Hunger Games details a futuristic society that is a great, great, great…great grandchild of the United States. At some point in history, the districts, of which there were 13, rebelled against the Capitol only to be brutally squelched. In remembrance of the rebellion, every year each district must send 1 male and 1 female “tribute” between the ages of 12-18 to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death between the tributes of each district, 24 in total as district 13 no longer exists, with only 1 winner surviving. Enter, Katniss. The heroine, protagonist and an all around bad you-know-what. Katniss is ultimately the female tribute selected from District 12 to participate in the Hunger Games.

Throughout the novels there is constant tension between the “collective good” of Panem (the nation-state), as determined by the Capitol, and the needs of the residents of each district. The Capitol represents all that is frivolous and fleeting. Their lives are nothing more than eating bon-bons and keeping up with the latest fashions. In contrast, the districts are all suffering to various extents and in many cases are literally starving.

Most of the tension in the novel stems from the collective good vs. the good of the individuals. Through no fault of their own, many of the citizens are suffering at the hands of the few. They are unable to provide for their families and are at the mercy of the decisions of the elite Capitolists. 35.9% of the population of South Carolina is considered “Low-Income Working Families”. What does it say about our society that over 1/3 of the population that has a job still live at 200% below the poverty line. The systems that cause poverty and promote injustice are multi-faceted and have spanned generations. There is no simple fix inside or outside of the government. Yet we see throughout history and in modern day that as the income gap rises (Gini coefficient approaches 1), tensions in society also rise. I am NOT advocating against capitalism or making money. I am challenging that we need to re-asses our values and our systems that are causing injustice. My apologies for that brief interruption. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Katniss is the ultimate survivor; providing for her family after the death of her father, surviving 2 Hunger Games and waging war against the Capitol, beating the odds at whatever she does. She is often confronted with the raw, base instincts of human nature, which are all ugly. There is no truly pure character portrayed, save perhaps Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. All characters fail morally and ethically at some point. It is here that Collins draws her final conclusions about human nature and society.

As the districts topple the Capitol in the hopes to bring about true change for the good of the citizens, the idea is broached as to whether or not to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol (Capitol children were exempt from previous games). Give them a taste of their own medicine, is the basic argument. The irony is almost too thick to handle. Here is a society that has just endured 75 years of forced murder by and against children yet they almost instantaneously turn around to do the same to another group of people. Katniss and her mentor are left to cast the final votes and surprisingly (to me) they vote yes. I expected Collins to wrap around to a storybook ending, with each character redeeming themselves and society in the end. While this occurs to an extent, the message is clear: at our base, we are all no better than the Capitolists. We would all willingly sacrifice another’s child for our own twisted sense of justice.

I am constantly amazed by the many people who believe at their core, human beings are good. Perhaps I am overly cynical, but the world today screams to me that we are NOT good. In fact, we are the opposite of good. I am glad that Collins did not gloss over this fact. Katniss does not get everything she wants. Her sister dies, she is estranged from her mother, she is torn between 2 people she loves and the memories from her times in the Hunger Games haunt her for the rest of her life. Yet, despite all of this, we feel she has won. The book turns out as it should. Despite the tragedies in her life, the story ends well.