Monday, April 9, 2018

PsychoBabble: In Which Rebecca Takes the StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment and is Annoyed By Her Results

Okay, all of my near and far-flung friends and family -- you who have grown up with me, accomplished childhood and adolescent mischief with me, you who work, sing, or worship with me as an adult, and all of you who know me from the torrent of verbiage I've been spewing into the Internet via this blog for the past nine years -- I just took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 personality test, and I want to know if you agree with my results or think it's a load of baloney!

What Does Your Toothpaste Have to Say About You?

No, I'm not talking about the Toothpaste Test (but just for the record, I'm DEFINITELY the second from the left).  Has anyone taken the CliftonStrengths online assessment, formerly known as the StrengthsFinder assessment?  The concept is that we can be happier, more successful, and more productive if we identify and invest most of our energy in developing our natural talents, maximizing our areas of greatest potential, rather than devoting most of our efforts into trying to overcome our weaknesses (our areas of least natural potential).  My friend was telling me about this tool over lunch the other day (thank you, Elizabeth!) and I was intrigued enough to buy one of several books that includes the necessary code for taking the online assessment.  After all, I'm coming up on my 45th birthday in May -- perhaps it's time for me to start thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.  What better place to start than by focusing on my top strengths, right?

I understand that this test is currently in vogue with many corporations, religious organizations, etc. for team building purposes.  If you have already taken this assessment yourself, I would love to know what YOUR Top 5 strengths are.  Please share them with me in the comments and let me know whether you feel like they are accurate.  And if you haven't taken the assessment yet and you're interested in finding out what your CliftonStrengths are, you can get your copy of the book right here -- just make sure you are purchasing a NEW copy rather than used, because the online assessment code in each book is unique and only works for a single use:

As of this writing, Amazon sells the new book including the test code for $17.79, so that's a better deal than going straight to the CliftonStrengths website and paying $19.99 for the Top 5 test with no book.  With Amazon Prime, my copy of the book showed up on my front step the day after I ordered it.  But if you are impatient or you just enjoy paying higher prices, you can go straight to the online assessment right here.   You can also opt to pay $90(?!) to get a report that ranks all 34 strength themes for you, if you're so inclined.  I just went for the Top 5 report that was included in the price of the book.

I must warn you right now that this is bound to be a LONG blog post, even for me.  I think I will divide it into chapters for your convenience, in case you need a bathroom break.  (If you're only interested in what's going on in my sewing room this week, feel free to skip ahead and scroll all the way down to Chapter Two).  

Chapter One: Rebecca Approaches the StrengthsFinder Assessment with a Skeptical Attitude, is Annoyed By Her Results, and Makes Fun Of Her Supposed Strength Themes

And so, with high hopes and expectations that God's unique plan for my life was about to be revealed to me courtesy of the Gallup organization, I entered the secret activation code from my book into the little box on the CliftonStrengths website, hammered through the questions, and eagerly scanned through the computer-generated "personal" reports and recommendations, ready for my life to be transformed...  

Hmmph.  The "personalized" short descriptions of my "unique" talent profile are all vague enough that they could apply to just about anyone, like newspaper horoscopes.  And you'll notice how each theme description talks about being "especially talented" in that area.  Now, how do they know whether I'm actually talented in any of these areas or not?  All I did was answer a bunch of questions in the format "which of these two statements best describes you?"  Remember Meryl Streep's outstanding recent performance as Florence Foster Jenkins, the New York socialite who mistakenly believed she was an opera singer?  In case you missed that film, check out the trailer below:

If Florence Foster Jenkins was taking a test like this and had to choose between "Others admire me for my singing ability" and "I prefer to listen to professional musicians," she might have clicked on the first statement and gotten a "scientific" test result stating that her top talent was singing.  My point is that our own impressions of our strengths and weaknesses are not always in alignment with the way others see us.  Some people's self-perception is WILDLY out of touch with reality (which is why colleges and potential employers want to see references and letters of recommendation rather than just asking the applicant to tell about themselves).  And unfortunately, as was the case with poor Florence, those closest to us, whom we rely upon for honest feedback, may have their own motivations for telling us only what we want to hear.  Pondering all of this, I'm realizing that the folks at Gallup also have a motivation to stroke our egos by telling us things we want to hear -- so that we will recommend their books and assessment to others, and so they can sell us more ancillary products (the full report ranking all 34 themes, coaching packages, T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with one's top strengths, etc.).  So I'm going into this with an open mind tempered by healthy skepticism.  

Okay, without further ado, here's what this pop psychology quiz lauded psychometric assessment spat out for my Top 5 Talents:

My Supposed Top Talents
But come on, man -- my main strength, the biggest talent I possess, and where I should be focusing the majority of my time and energy according to this test is -- CONTEXT?!  What does that even mean?

Okay, so probably not THAT kind of context.  Maybe more like this kind of context:

My Number One Strength: Context
I'm sorry, but "Context" is a really lame Top Strength.  I mean, let's look at this in superhero terms.  How am I supposed to be a superhero when my strongest magical power is CONTEXT?  I know -- I am Verbal Standardized Test-Taking Woman, and I use my amazing power of context clues to figure out the meaning of obscure vocabulary words on multiple choice exams...  Blech!  Reading the longer description of the Context theme is even more annoying, since it includes statements which which I am in strong disagreement, such as:

 "From your vantage point the present is unstable, a confusing clamoring of competing voices... The earlier time was a simpler time."

(In my mind, I can hear my high school Western Civilization teacher telling us over and over again that "EVERY era was just as complicated as our own!")


"Because of your strengths, you are inclined to read about major wars."  

Ah, yes -- I just have to tear myself away from military history if I ever want to get any quilting done...  Not!  And yet, this is my TOP STRENGTH, because I clicked on "I like to read about history" versus "I like to talk about sporting events" or some such nonsense.  And what does this mean for me, and what do the Gallup folks suggest I should do to invest in and further develop this strength?  I'm advised to read more historical fiction, nonfiction, and biographies (that's pretty much ALL I read already).  And I'm supposed to partner with someone who has Futuristic or Strategic strengths to prevent me from being "mired in the past" -- but Strategic was also in my top 5, so...  I'm supposed to partner with myself??

As for the other themes in my Top 5 -- they aren't quite as goofy or as vague as Context, but they're not exactly eye-opening, either.  Individualization, my #2 Strength, is about making an effort to get to know people as individuals rather than treating everyone the same, which is certainly a trait that I value and something I try to do -- doesn't everyone? -- but again, just because I TRY to do this doesn't necessarily mean that I'm particularly good at it.  

My Number 2 Strength is Individualization 
So, I like to find out whether someone is a monkey or a goldfish before I ask them to climb a tree.  And this is another strength theme that I'm not sure how to leverage or develop, or whatever I'm supposed to do with this information...  

On to my #3 strength: Ideation.  This one makes sense, I suppose -- ideation seems to be the psychobabble term for creativity, and considering that today's post is an aberration in a sea of artsy-craftsy-quilting-design posts, there are no surprises here.  Again, I answered questions indicating that I enjoy creative pursuits and that I prefer such activities over activities that do not involve creativity.  This accurately reflects what I like to do with my spare time, but it's not necessarily and indicator that I actually possess creative talent.  Perhaps this test is only revealing that I THINK of myself like this:

My Number 3 Strength: Ideation
...When what OTHERS see in me is something more like THIS:

Does Ideation Belong in my Top 5 Strengths, Even if My Ideas Are Terrible?
As I alluded to earlier, my Number 4 strength is Strategic.  After reading through that description, it seems like that means I am able to make decisions quickly, overcome obstacles creatively, and figure out how to get THERE from HERE.  So...  I am like MacGyver!  Good news -- at least I know how to further develop THIS strength!  I need to increase my investment in duct tape, bubble gum and paperclips!

Was MacGyver's Top Strength Theme "Strategic?"

Chapter Two: Rebecca Reluctantly Realizes that Her StrengthsFinder Profile Explains the Slow Pace of Progress in Her Sewing Studio

And yet, I took this test a couple of days ago.  As I'm  re-reading my the descriptions of my Top 5 Strengths, they are resonating more with me today.  In fact, the total picture presented by my Strengths profile actually explains the way I approach my sewing and quilting projects, why they suck up SO much time, and why I rarely have a finished project to show for myself.

Take my current work in progress, the Tabby Mountain quilt that was supposed to be a "quick and easy" quilt for longarm quilting practice.  This whole longarm adventure is a kick for me primarily because there is so much to learn (#5 Learner).  Every step of the way, with each decision for this quilt, my number one priority is not getting it finished quickly or finding the easiest way to do it, but how can I get as much learning as possible out of this one quilt.  That's why I am not quilting it with a pantograph.  That's why I insisted on stitching in the ditch.  That's why I am using so many different threads in this quilt, including monofilament invisible thread, and why I forced myself to overcome my fear of bobbin winding rather than ordering prewound bobbins in the colors that I need.  I'm using a wool batting with this quilt that is loftier than what I'm used to, so that's a new challenge, too.  Quilting perfectly straight lines with a ruler was a new skill to learn, too.  I LOVE LEARNING NEW THINGS.  And I would much rather spend twice as long learning a new way of doing something instead of doing the same thing over and over again.  

All Done with Ruler Work, Ready For Fancy Feathers!
I completed all of the ruler work, straight line quilting on Tabby Mountain about a week ago, and I haven't taken a single stitch since.  Why?  I have been brainstorming, scouring Pinterest for ideas, and researching techniques for different designs that might look good on the remaining print fabric triangles that need to be quilted.  I have decided that I want to quilt elaborate feather designs (elaborate for me, as a beginner longarm quilter, anyway), and I have spent the last few days mulling my options for marking and executing this quilting design on all 96 print triangles on the quilt.  I have consulted at least 6 different quilting books and three different online forums.  I have been experimenting with making my own stencil and transferring it with pounce chalk, and I woke up this morning with a new idea in mind that I want to try next.  Could that be what #1 Context (research), #3 Ideation, #4 Strategic, and #5 Learner looks like in a quilting studio?

The Strengths Wheel above categorizes the 34 Strength Themes into four major categories.  You'll notice that four of my top five strengths fall under Strategic Thinking, and one of my top strengths was under Relationship Building.  None of my top strengths came from the EXECUTING bucket, so is it any wonder I am wallowing happily in all of my research and development, ideas and experiments, and not actually accomplishing anything?!

I want my mom and my husband to take this assessment now.  I'll bet that both of them have top 5 strengths from the Executing category, because when I really need to get something done on a deadline I am most successful when I enlist one of them to help me stay on track.  I am thinking of my Christmas caroling dress, or putting up/taking down Christmas decorations, or packing household belongings for a move to a new home...  That's why, when I found out that Lars needed a kangaroo costume to perform in a children's play with his theatre class, I bought the pattern and the fabric and asked my mom to make it for him.  I knew that she could dive in and just get it done much more quickly and efficiently than I could, without needing to research and explore and contemplate every single step of the way.

My Son the Kangaroo and His Grandmother, Who Gets Things Done
I think my 17-year-old son should take this assessment, too -- he's in his junior year of high school, starting to visit college campuses and thinking for the first time about what he'd like his life to look like as mom and dad gradually step back and he gains more and more independence.  Perhaps the StrengthsFinder results would help him clarify what he should be looking for in colleges that would be a good fit for him, and what fields of study and career paths might be a good fit for him.

Here's that link again, in case you'd like to take this assessment for yourself and/or foist it upon your loved ones:  

And please DO share your results with me in the comments!  And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a quilt upstairs that needs feathers!


Fred and/or Marlies said...

From the perspective of your Father-in-Law and seeing no other comments here, may I say a few words? You seem to be disappointed in the test results. I would be proud of them, especially #1. I have no idea how valid these things are but to always try to relate to the past to judge the present, seems to me to be that which makes us most human. It is how we learn just about everything. Just imagine if there was no past and you had to start out blank. You would be dismissing what makes us who we are. If your subconscious tells you to always look at what was to make a judgement about the present or future, you are way ahead of the game of life. Congratulations. Not too many people actually do that. They just muddle along and hope for the best.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Oh girl, free form those feathers! Mark? Follow lines?? Ugh. Practice free form on those busy prints and you will have conquered feathers on this quilt.

Janice Holton said...

Very interesting read! I took my Strength Finders test in 2010 so I think some of the categories and descriptions may have changed a bit. They gave us our top five but didn't really rank them for us. My top five were Achiever, Analytical, Intellection, Agreeableness/harmony, and Uniformity/fairness/consistency. I didn't have ANY strengths in the relating category. :( Which is very odd to me, since I get along with just about anybody! Hmm.

peggy t said...

i took the test this year for work. learner was my top followed by context :-), responsibility, consistency and achiever. Based on the descriptions, i think it's pretty much on the mark. I LOVE digging into a subject and reading all i can about it!! Once i feel like i have learned what i need, i dig in and accomplish. I need my husband and kids to take it also!