QUIZ: Discover Your Signature Strengths

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Do you wake up in the morning excited to start your day – or do you feel dread, avoidance, apathy?

We tend to think of these reactions as fixed personality styles, but that’s wrong.  The emotions you experience as you get out of bed are often a function of whether you spend your days using your signature strengths — or trying frantically to correct your weaknesses.

I’ve long been fascinated by the Strengths Revolution — the idea, advanced by people like Marcus Buckingham and Martin Seligman, that we should play to our strengths, especially when it comes to work and career.  This principle seems so simple and self-evident, yet it runs against powerful currents in our culture, especially the philosophy of “no pain, no gain.” There’s nothing painful about using one’s strengths. Gain does take work, but the effort is pleasant.

If you’re curious about your own strengths (and weaknesses), you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths here, issued by the University of Pennsylvania. Of 24 possible strengths, it will rank yours in order.  (If you don’t want to take the full test of 240 questions, you can go here to rank yourself.)

I just took the official test, and three of my top strengths were:

— “Appreciation of beauty and excellence,”

-“Forgiveness and mercy,” and

-“Love of learning.”

I wasn’t too surprised by this – I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of character strengths — but I found it interesting to see which test questions I could answer without hesitation. With these questions,  my personal tendencies and self-knowledge were both very strong. For example, it was was very easy for me to answer “I have no trouble eating healthy foods” (Not true, unfortunately) and “I get chills when I hear about acts of generosity” and “I’m always busy with something interesting” (Yup and Yup). I could also say with confidence that I do not “work at my very best when I am a group member.” (And indeed, one of my weakest areas is something called “Citizenship,” which involves being a dedicated teammate, working hard for the success of the group, and valuing group goals and purposes even when they differ from your own.)

I was just about to write I need to work on that— and I do. But still I adhere to the test’s core principle: that “your top strengths are the ones to pay attention to and find ways to use more often.”

Back when I was a corporate lawyer (and often got out of bed experiencing the unpleasant cocktail of emotions mentioned above), I wasn’t using any of my core strengths, except perhaps love of learning — but even that was directed toward learning things I didn’t much care about. I loved many of the incidentals of the job — my colleagues, the sweeping view from my office window, the steady salary — but these very important things still were not enough. I found myself living for vacations.

Now, in contrast, I use my strengths most every day, and as a result I love to work.

What are your core strengths, and are you using them consistently? It seems to me that this is as good a definition as any of living “the good life.”


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14 Comments

  1. Catherine on 22.04.2011 at 07:04 (Reply)

    Usually I’m on the same page as you, because we’ve read a lot of the same stuff (or at the very least, the same categories), but today you’re introducing me to something I’ve never heard of and I’m so excited! I can imagine diving into “strength revolution” lit just like I obsessed over positive psychology books and then creativity books and then motivation books. Off to take the test, and then I’ve got some exploring to do! Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Catherine on 22.04.2011 at 07:39 (Reply)

    My core strengths are “Fairness, equity and justice;” “Love of learning;” and “Judgement, critical thinking and open-mindedness.” I’ll have to give more thought about whether I’m currently using them consistently. Thanks for suggesting the quiz!

    1. Susan Cain on 23.04.2011 at 12:06 (Reply)

      Sure, Catherine — critical thinking/open-mindedness was one of mine too — not surprised there is some overlap there!

  3. Rush on 22.04.2011 at 10:40 (Reply)

    If you play to your strengths, how is that different from avoiding difficulty and challenge? Sure it feels good to do something that comes easy for you. Yes, it is potentially painful to spend most of your time working from weakness, especially if that path has been undertaken without awareness. But working from weakness can also provide some of the most interesting challenges in life, if it has been undertaken deliberately, with relish for the challenge. And, if you have, at a minimum, a love of learning, developing your weak areas will never disappoint.

  4. Susan Cain on 23.04.2011 at 12:15 (Reply)

    Hi, Rush, that’s an excellent point. I think that one answer is not that we should avoid developing our weak areas but that we should meet all our challenges from the perspective of who we are/where our strengths lie. So, for example, I have long been afraid of public speaking, but that doesn’t mean I never speak publicly. On the contrary, I do it quite a bit. But I try to speak from my areas of strength — instead of acting like a “motivational speaker” in the classic sense of that term, I try to share with my audiences interesting ideas (thus tapping into my love of learning) and unusual (and I hope mind-opening) views of human nature.

    Interestingly, one of the 24 items that the Strengths Survey measures is exactly the character trait you mention — the willingness to embrace difficulty and challenge!

  5. Zach on 23.04.2011 at 22:41 (Reply)

    Mine:
    Modesty and humility
    Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
    Caution, prudence, and discretion
    Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
    Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness

    My weaknesses:
    18. Capacity to love and be loved
    19. Gratitude
    20. Industry, diligence, and perseverance
    Kindness and generosity
    Social intelligence
    Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
    Appreciation of beauty and excellence

    Yikes!

  6. Christy on 24.04.2011 at 14:08 (Reply)

    What a fascinating quiz (once I got there [your links don’t quite work properly] and registered). My top strengths are:
    1. Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
    2. Love of learning
    3. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
    4. Curiosity and interest in the world
    and (personal choice, because I believe this one is more true than what they gave me for my #5)
    5. Perspective (wisdom)

    I entirely agree with these.
    My five weaknesses as given are very interesting:
    1. Modesty and humility
    2. Kindness and generosity
    3. Bravery and valor
    4. Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty
    5. Industry, diligence, and perseverance

    I’d probably put them in a different order and replace a couple, such as putting in Leadership as more of a weakness than Industry/diligence/perseverance.

  7. Susan Cain on 24.04.2011 at 21:12 (Reply)

    Thanks to those of you who’ve been posting your strengths and weaknesses. I’m curious whether the exercise prompted you to think differently about your daily or lifetime choices, esp of how you spend your time. Any thoughts?

    1. Zach on 27.04.2011 at 21:23 (Reply)

      It shows what I need to work on. I always thought I wasn’t a mean person, but some may perceive it that way because I’m more quiet. It always shows that I need to be more gracious to people.

      I was doing this on Saturday night when I was alone and feeling little down, so maybe that played a role in my poor results.

      1. Susan Cain on 27.04.2011 at 21:28 (Reply)

        I’m pretty sure that if you don’t think you’re mean, you are not. It strikes me as hyper-mature, and caring too, that you’re so willing to accept that you could be more outwardly gracious, and to work on that.

        Also: why are you calling your results poor? You had five signature strengths, just like everybody else!

        1. Zach on 27.04.2011 at 21:35 (Reply)

          My weaknesses just tend to glare out more:

          18. Capacity to love and be loved
          19. Gratitude
          20. Industry, diligence, and perseverance
          Kindness and generosity
          Social intelligence
          Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
          Appreciation of beauty and excellence

          I know I need to work on being more resilient, that’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life. I tend to give up too quickly. Also, I’m not a very spiritual person, I don’t think that’ll change.

  8. Marni on 27.04.2011 at 20:44 (Reply)

    Strengths
    1. Love of Learning; 2. Fairness, Equity and Justice; 3. Curiosity and Interest in the World; 4. Creativity, Ingenuity and Originality; 5. Kindness and Generosity

    Weakness
    1. (24) Spirituality, sense of purpose, faith; 2. (23) Self-control and self-regulation; 3. (22) Industry, diligence, and perseverance

    Well, I guess this shows me why I’m miserable as an event coordinator - I’m not using any of my strengths - but live for my writing hobby! Hopefully this will change when I get back to school for healthcare. This is also making me reconsider going into research and education - it may be more important to me than I realized.

    1. Susan Cain on 27.04.2011 at 20:47 (Reply)

      I’m so glad this quiz was helpful in a concrete way!

      I’ve noticed that a lot of people who read this blog list “Love of Learning” as one of their top strengths, by the way.

      1. Marni on 28.04.2011 at 10:05 (Reply)

        It makes a lot of sense that readers of this blog would have “Love of Learning” as a top strength. These are the people who constantly seek out new information to read!

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