I believe in love. I also believe in education, so I’m enrolled in a class titled, “Write Better, Faster.” Speed doesn’t interest me–Margaret Mitchell wrote one book, shifted significant discussions, and retired wealthy–but the part about writing better…that caught my eye.
One of the course instructor’s first points is that when we focus on our strengths in addition to our weaknesses (not instead of), we often see astonishing benefits. She cited a study done by the Gallup Institute (of Gallup polls fame), involving reading speed. A group of school children were all given the same instruction on how to improve reading speed. The slow readers doubled their reading speed (from an average of 70 wpm to 140 wpm) which is a fine result. The fast readers increased their reading speeds up to ten times, some of them reaching speeds of 2900 wpm.
To get a sense of how fast that is, those fast readers could zip through a 90,000 word manuscript in about 32 minutes, but because they were already fast readers, the likelihood of them ever being put in the path of speed reading instruction was slim to none.
We don’t teach to our strengths.
One of the realizations I’ve come to early in this course is that I had to stop and think–hard, at length–to even identify my strengths, while my weaknesses are… I have a list right here. I’ve been carrying that list around since childhood, adding to it a lot more frequently than I cross anything off. While we see our weaknesses as susceptible to improvement, we tend to badly underestimate the effort necessary to address them.
This half-empty mindset can make for a lot of frustration. The data is, when we spend our days focused mostly on what we do well, what we love to do, what comes naturally to us, we’re happier, healthier, more productive, more creative, more energetic, more resilient, and better learners. That seems like common sense, but life–in the form of bills that must be paid, children who must be raised, and employment situations beyond our control–has a way of obscuring common sense.
I also think this is a gendered issue. Women are culturally expected to put their own needs behind those of family and co-workers, and thus doing the blah jobs, ignoring our own boredom, and forgetting what a great day feels like, goes with the gender terrain for many of us.
I hope to widen the portion of my life that comes from my strengths. I want to be a happy camper, same as everybody else, but I’ve also learned that when we have that great privilege of playing and working to our strengths, we’re much more likely to make progress tackling the weaknesses.
What’s something you absolutely love to do and do well? Is there a way to do more of it?
To three commenters, I’ll send signed author copies of A Rogue of Her Own.