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Finding Strength(s)

Yesterday I returned from Pepperdine's Women in Leadership conference in LA. Two days spent discussing global perspectives on female leadership and the concept of a work/life balance appealed to me for all the reasons I wake up in the morning: opportunities for diverse perspectives, passion-driven people, meaningful work, values-based living, mindfulness, and the like. Most of all, I attend workshops, conferences, festivals, concerts, art shows and other weird little situations (thanks, California) because of the value I find in the "catalyst moments"- those moments in time that provide not just a spark, but a spark that lights a fire and causes an explosion.

A lot resonated with me during the conference as I listened to well-traveled keynote speakers, engaged in dialogue about values with distant strangers and listened to members of my company relay their experiences working abroad.

These stories are so inspiring, I love this.

What an incredible person, how do the rest of us get there?

If I could be half as impactful as she is....

I noticed a yearning to stand where these women were standing (don't we all?), amongst awards and accomplishments and a laundry list of meaningful work they've done for the world. I'm talking female lawyers in Africa facing serious danger during every day they decide to fight for human rights in their country, not an Ivy-leaguer fast-tracking it to the 1%. The yearning for more was a familiar feeling that brought me back to my DC days of being 26 and desperately wanting the career of my 40 year-old superiors. Life was one big struggle, which is inevitable when you have the world's most unrealistic expectations and read too many articles about 22 year-old tech entrepreneurs that make you feel like a total amateur. At that moment, one of the speakers challenged us to focus on our strengths. Ah, timing. I smiled at the irony of my nostalgic career desperation daydream being derailed in such a lovely and helpful manner. Ok, back to the present and positive. So, my strengths....

Radio silence. Crickets. White noise.

Wait...really?! I'm good at what I do, I make a decent living, I've definitely got strengths....

Nothing.

Another one of the profound moments in my life. I know I have strengths. I'm a confident and capable girl. But to have focused the last decade or so only on remedial learning instead of where I was already excelling... yikes. I tried to tell myself that my deficit-based thinking was the reason I ever got to where I wanted to be, but I gave up because it was so untrue. Oddly enough I felt a sense of peace. It was one of those breakthrough moments I'd listened Brene Brown, Carol Dweck, Isebel Allende and countless others talk about for years but never had the life experience to conceptualize, really. I felt armed with knowledge and I needed to do something with it.

So then I went out and conquered the world by using all my strengths!

No I didn't. Know why? Because we take time and thought to evolve, and no one loves to repeatedly see and hear those words more than I :) I wanted to tell this story because it's about one of those hidden catalysts that make critical, mindful thinking so interesting, and that's what sets up our lives. How cool is that? A total stranger's question catalyzed the following:

  1. More wholly understanding the concept and value of "using my strengths" (application in progress)
  2. Learning to identify and source others for their strengths to get a job done instead of forcing tasks on myself
  3. Focusing more time building upon (and owning) my strengths and values and encouraging this in the people I supervise.
  4. Being inspired to re-align my values after my shift in perspective
  5. Ameliorating other parts of my world I was unknowingly making harder or less fun by focusing on the end product and not the experience
  6. Identifying "time" as my most important value and centering myself around how I spend it

I believe this is one of those fun points in adulthood where we just get a little better at navigating life. When I was a kid I loved "Where's Waldo?" and all the fun of searching, noticing everything on the page, being fooled again and again by his girlfriend's oddly similar attire, and now when I leaf through those pages I feel like an Amazing Race contestant. Faster, better, bahh just find him! The "catalyst moments" are everywhere, really, and I've been enough fortunate to have slowed down to catch one once in awhile.