True confession: I am a cat living with dogs.
They're puppy dogs to be more precise.
And I'm kind of an old cat.
I like to find my spot in the sun and fall asleep midday.
They like to run and pounce and lick and bark and nip.
Dealing with my boys' high energy is not one of my strengths. In fact, I am quite weak when it comes to tolerating and directing their loud-fast-hard-ness.
On many days, their energy causes me physical pain. Too much noise, too much high-velocity full-contact play and my nerves explode. It feels like a metal fork scraping the bottom of a metal bowl lodged between my ears.
I'm a cat. I want to go under the bed and stay there until everyone is asleep.
For a while I thought this had to be a problem. That I was a bad fit for them as a mother. So I pushed myself and tried harder to hang with their energy, and my bandwidth has gotten an eensy-weensy bit broader. But it still drains me and is mostly not my favorite thing about motherhood.
Fortunately, I read Beth Cabrera's new book, Beyond Happy: Women, Work and Well-Being and found the a-ha! I needed to think about this cat-dog dilemma differently.
Dr. Cabrera (a psychologist and mom of 2 - fancy that!), explained that a key ingredient for being really, deeply happy in a big-picture way is developing and applying our Natural Strengths on a daily basis.
According to the research, a Strength is something you are Naturally Good At and brings you Enjoyment, Ease & Energy.
People who use their natural strengths experience more joy, fulfillment, pride, self-confidence, are more successful, and have a greater positive impact through their actions. When you use your strengths you feel good while you're doing it, and energized afterward.
When we aren't using our strengths, we are either drawing on:
Learned Behaviors - things we are good at but drain us over the long haul - or -
Weaknesses - things we are not good at and will always drain us, relatively quickly.
Cabrera's recommendation is that women
1) Figure out what their strengths are,
2) Apply them on a regular basis.
Doing so improves mood, energy and a sense of creating a meaningful contribution by being authentically you. Awesome. This helps explain why so many of us are so depleted and demoralized so much of the time.
Over time, people who spend too much time using Learned Behaviors and Weaknesses end up having lower self-confidence, feeling burnt-out, and losing faith in their Natural Strengths.
We are using Learned Behaviors and Weaknesses way too much, and our Natural Strengths way too little.
Let's get back to my cat-dog problem and see how this applies.
Being with and directing my boys' totally healthy energy is a natural Weakness for me. I am not good at it and doing it drains my energy really quickly. Okay, I accept that. So I can recruit others who are stronger in this area and can give my boys the gift of more loving adults in their daily lives.
In order to counter-balance the depletion I experience in this area of my life, I need to cultivate my Natural Strengths and fill my bucket with joy, ease and energy.
My Natural Strengths are yoga, dance, writing, learning, engaging in analytic conversations and finding novel ways to make personal changes. When I am in yoga class or talking with a client, I am enjoying myself, it feels easy even when it's hard, and I leave feeling energized.
And when I'm in my Mom role, I need to make sure I'm using my Strengths there, too.
I am good with tantrums, difficult conversations, reading books, doing homework. I feel confident and competent as a parent when doing these things, which is nice to remember when I'm called upon to use my weaknesses so many times a day.
I am entitled to a life where I feel good and do good things, in my private and professional life and knowing my Natural Strengths and Weaknesses helps make that life possible.
I want to show my boys what it looks like to know yourself, to honor your natural talents, and accept your limitations without shame. Those puppies can play outside while Mommy closes her eyes.
So how does this apply to you? What can you do with this insight?
If you are feeling Depleted, Burnt-Out, Low Self-Confidence, or Like Your Life is a Long List of Meaningless Tasks, stop and ask yourself
"What are my natural strengths and talents?
How often am I using them?
What lights me up, feels effortless, and leaves me energized?
How can I do more of those things in my daily life?"
Look at your daily life and examine how much you are using your Strengths, Learned Behaviors and Weaknesses.
Find ways to do more things that draw upon your Strengths, and partner with others who can take some of the load off where you feel Weakest.
We have the freedom to craft lives where our authentic happiness and fulfillment matters. You can find your strengths and make it a priority to use them today, and every day.
With love and optimism,