What to Do When Your Strengths Fail You

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You’d think that most of the people I encounter come with a serious personal or professional crisis that’s blindsided them — a death, a divorce or family estrangement, or the loss of a job, partnership, or long-term friendship.

That’s actually not the case. More likely the person simply wakes up one day and says, “I can’t do this anymore.”

When I talk with a prospective client about working together, I often find that person’s life is going well in many ways, and they are often accomplished and successful in many areas. But in some important area of life something isn’t working. Here are some ways I often hear it expressed:

“I’ve tried so hard. Why isn’t this working?”
“I’ve tried everything I know to do. What am I missing?”
“I don’t understand why this keeps happening.”
“Am I wrong to be feeling this way?”

You’re At a Crossroads… And You’ve Already Taken The First Step.

What I’ve learned to recognize is that hidden in all that pain is where the hope is. What I mean is that the person sitting in front of me has reached a crossroads, and whether they realize it or not, they have already taken the first, and oftentimes hardest, step.

“It’s just too painful to keep going down this same path. It’s familiar, and at least I know what I’ve got, but somehow I’ve got to find another way — even though I have no idea where it will lead — because there’s got to be something better than this.”

Their reaching out for help tells me that they are already moving in a new direction. I can’t do that for them. My job is to help them keep the momentum going so they get the results they want. That’s where it gets tricky.

Yes, I Want Things To Change… But I Don’t Want To Do Anything Different.

Of course you don’t! I’ve decided it’s a mistake for people in my profession to classify this reaction as client “resistance.” Here’s why: There are some very good reasons why you’ve done things the way you have.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but if we don’t immediately address and factor in this basic truth, I’ve found it’s very hard to get unstuck and move forward.

You Did It Because It Worked.

Whatever you worked out between your DNA and your environment, we can assume it was an intelligent and adaptive response to your life situation. You figured out what you had to do to make yourself lovable enough (or at least acceptable enough) to those around you and keep things safe enough that you made it to adulthood. You survived. Maybe those same behaviors even made you thrive and become the accomplished and successful person you are today.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with those original adaptive behaviors and with who you are as a person. The only problem facing you now is that your strengths and primary approach to life and relationships have some limitations.

But Now It’s Not Working…

It can be distressing to realize that the very same characteristics, traits, and attributes that got you where you are in life and to the degree of success that you’ve experienced – in other words, your strengths – can also be holding you back.

When we overuse and overdevelop certain parts of our personality, we can find ourselves stuck or sidetracked in our relationships or life. Think of your primary self and approach to life as a highly effective software program. For example, QuickBooks is a great software system for accounting, but if you want to write a novel or a love letter or a eulogy, you’re going to have to install some additional software. It seems that the things that aren’t working in our lives are reality’s way of letting us know that it’s time to “up our game.”

Life and relationships are complex and challenging and if we’re going to be successful at them, we need the ability to reassess, adapt, and grow in order to stay relevant, vibrant, and to keep our edge.

How to Get It Working Again.

The trick is working with underdeveloped parts of our personality in a way that doesn’t feel fake, weird, wrong, unsafe, or unwise. Here are three essential components to the process:

No Judgment.

I find it important to remind my client that we’re not trying to get rid of, fix, or change his or her primary self system and its strengths. This isn’t a personality transplant. You just want the freedom, choice, and balance to draw on other additional capabilities when you need them or want them. You still get to be you.

Make It Powerful.

I like to create a feltsense experience that resonates for clients so they can see or feel a shift in their thinking, feeling, or behaving. The experience needs to resonate enough on a sensory level (not just an intellectual level) that it’s powerful, compelling, and empowering.

Keep It Safe.

The goal is a breakthrough, not a breakdown. Although treading into unfamiliar territory is challenging, it needs to not be so unfamiliar or uncomfortable that it feels too vulnerable or fake, or violates your personal code of conduct. We’re not trying to turn you into someone that your friends, family, or coworkers won’t recognize or someone that you won’t like or respect.

That’s why we call it personal growth and professional development. It’s about how you hold on to who you are and become more of what you now want or need.