Perhaps some of you are fans of the X-Men comics or movies. If you don’t know them, the story is not hard to understand. The X-Men are humans who have mutated or are mutating. Most of them come into the story after starting normal lives, thinking they were humans just like everyone else.
But then it happens: they sprout wings or grow scales or shoot fire out of their fingertips. They think the abilities are cool, at first, but then others see them as freaks or weirdos who need to be rounded up or killed or have their mutations “cured.” No mutant seems to have the same powers as another mutant and in that way they are unique. It makes for interesting stories and the fight scenes and bad guy/good guy match-ups are super cool.
The thing I notice, probably because I am a geeky teacher and I think like this, is that many of us are like this. We have our own mutations that make us unique. When we are young, we marvel in the things we can do or that we care about. We are “experts” with the names of our family members and how they are related to us or the way we color or the things we know about who lives in each house on our streets. But then we go to school.
In grade school, we all learn pretty quickly that some people are better at things than others. We also learn that some of the things we are good at may or may not be valued at school. School tends to force all students to value the same skills which works great for some and not for others. One very unfortunate thing that often happens to people as they pass through school is that they tend to define themselves by the skills and knowledge they lack and not by the positive skills or knowledge that they have.
That causes many of us to think about ourselves in the negative. Education becomes a battle to overcome our deficits rather than us learning and in our strengths. While this comic is meant to be humorous, it points out the way our education system often deals with people. It is one of the main reason many people learn to hate school and formal learning; they know they will be asked to do things or know things that they don’t know or have a difficult time doing.
Schools don’t do a great job either defining strengths or working to develop them in people who don’t already lean in that direction. In fact, I went looking for a definition of strength and I found one that applies. It is taken from the Journal of College and Character:
“According to Rath(2007), a strength is consistent and near perfect performance on an activity. This definition is comprised of three factors: talents or naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior; knowledge, which consists of facts and lessons learned; and skills, or the steps of an activity. These combine to create strengths.” (Bowers & Lopez, 2010)
So your strengths are:
1) Talents or things you do naturally
2) Knowledge that you have about something
3) Skills you possess
Here is the deal. We all have things that we know and can do that makes us an expert with that particular thing. There are things that we gravitate towards partially because we have those strengths. Some of us like to meet new people or we like figuring out how machines work. Some of us like taking care of babies and others like tending a garden. Some of us love studying history and others love the precision of math.
Alternatively, things you don’t do well and you don’t gravitate towards are weaknesses. These are the things you would rather not do. We all have them. Some of us hate to cook and others hate to clean. Some people don’t like to read while others don’t like sitting and watching a movie. Some people hate physical activities and other people cannot stand being cooped up indoors.
1) Lack of Talent like not being good at spelling or reading aloud or feeling unsure of where to stand when playing sports or an no eye for art and no ear for music or lack of sensitivity to the emotional states of others.
2) Lack of Knowledge: like the History of the Kings and Queens of England or the Civil War or how many Pokemon characters were derived from Pikachu or the correct present-perfect tense of a verb.
3) Lack of Skill: like the fact that you cannot kick-flip a skateboard or Eskimo roll a kayak or talk comfortably with members of the opposite sex or you don’t know how to write a college entrance essay or apply for a home loan.
If you sit down and think about it, you could probably make a list of your strengths. You could think of things that you lean toward. You could also make a list of your weaknesses that trouble you and vex you.
If you are having a hard time coming up with things, people around you are great sources of information about this stuff. They see you being happy or sad or joyful or frustrated in all kinds of situations in ways you don’t even know about. Talk to them. They will surprise you with their observations when you come out and ask them. They can validate some of the things you probably already know about yourself and they can surprise you with some things you didn’t know.
Bowers, Kelly M., & Lopez, Shane J.. (February 2010). Capitalizing on Personal Strengths in College. Journal of College & Character,VOLUME 11(Issue NO. 1), pp. 1-11.
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