I am a process
Chris Messina

I love Carol Dweck’s work too and her Mindset book saved my life during a very difficult yet important time a few years back, helping to reduce my self-judgement and overly critical inner voices by treating difficulties as learning experiences. The Pixar book by Ed Catmull also helped me scale up that approach to teams and management at a startup last year, by learning to be thankful for crises because they’re the only real opportunities to learn and apply core values across an organization.

But there was always something missing in the “anyone can learn anything” approach, something beyond simple pessimism, a deeper kind of key ingredient that made me be “me”, if that makes sense. While personality can be fluid (tools like Myers-Brigg are only snapshots in time, not the full picture) and positivity is situational (the core lesson from the recent Invisibilia episode on NPR— e.g. the same people high-fiving at a growing company can be at each other’s throats when there’s no momentum) there’s still some kind of unique take on life that you bring everywhere. A core set of skills that feel like they’ve been there forever. Things that you’re so good at that they seem innate, as well as things that are so draining that you can’t imagine ever putting in enough hours to fully master.

That’s when a friend’s recommendation for a book clicked in place as the missing piece of the mental toolkit: Strengthsfinder by the Gallup organization. Yep, the same ones that do polls.

The book is a culmination of 30 years of research and the main insight is that most people try to improve their weaknesses, which can only ever lead to average results because they’re starting at a lower baseline by definition. In contrast, the highest performing individuals are statistical outliers that focus on making their strengths even better, as well as partnering with people that have complimentary skills.

E.g. I’m someone that values momentum and learns via putting things in action, so I’m great at getting the ball rolling when turning ideas into reality. Unfortunately, that also means that I’m likely to run roughshod over people in my haste to keep everything moving, so I do best when I balance out my drive by partnering with patient empathetic types that can intuitively read situations and personalities to see if everything’s copacetic. Also, I’m a product guy that sucks at fundraising, so I partner well with hustler biz dev types.

It’s a great book and it comes with a free online assessment to find out what your key strengths are. I found the book to be a little redundant to the test because it doesn’t do you much good to read about the dozens of personality types that don’t apply to you, but it’s $5 cheaper than just buying the test by itself, so why not get the book and save some bucks at the same time.

Strengthsfinder has really helped me. I feel like I’ve been humming along on all cylinders ever since learning about my specific strengths and have seen a marked change in my life, both professionally and personally. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with who I am, the strengths and drawbacks of my approach, and a more tempered appreciation for people that aren’t like me at all. So now I pick and choose my battles on when to apply a growth mindset to master a challenge, versus when to quickly accept “defeat” and either look for help from differing and complimentary personalities, or to even just leave situations altogether if they don’t suit me and my life goals.

I highly recommend it!

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