One lovely Saturday evening a few weeks ago, I promised my daughter I would make brownies as a treat for her doing all of her chores. She was so excited. While she brought her step stool, took out the necessary utensils, and washed her hands, I went to the pantry only to discover that we ran out of our stash of brownie mix. I knew she would be devastated- not because she wouldn’t get brownies, but because I would have broken a promise to her if she didn’t get brownies.
So- I decided that we would play a game. She and I researched fun brownie recipes online. Brownies from scratch often call for different ingredients- some, like cocoa powder, that people may not have on hand at home. So our challenge was to find a recipe that had ingredients that we already had. Mind you, I am not a baker, so I was not feeling optimistic about this. Much to my relief, we found a nutella brownie recipe which called for only 3 ingredients- nutella (a staple in our house), flour, and eggs. I WAS SAVED.
Since then, we have made this recipe three times, and I will probably never buy brownie mix again. And now that I have you all craving chocolate… I share this story to lead into reflecting on strengths.
At Rollins, our first year students are reading about and learning about Strengths. Since I came to learn about strengths, I have been able to understand myself more fully, and recognize my own unique gifts and talents and how they might play out in real life… and there is nothing more real than facing the disappointment of the world’s most awesome 6-year-old.
One of my top 5 strengths is restorative. I like to solve problems. I am really good at solving problems. I never recognized that my entire life- people (my family, my friends, my student leader roles, my jobs) sought me out because I solve problems really well! In the great brownie caper, I didn’t panic- my first thought was, “I know there is an answer here, I just need a moment for it to reveal itself.”
Combining my strength of solving problems, with another strength, learner, I researched all possible brownie making options online. I love researching things. I am the person who comes into a room with comprehensive research on whatever the issue is, whether I am familiar with the topic or not. I get so excited about learning new things- it brings me joy! And, in the great brownie caper, I was able to combine the joy of spending time with my daughter, the joy of researching everything about chocolate, and the joy of (hopefully) all of that resulting in edible brownies.
In case you are wondering- there are many recipes for nutella brownies. Some have different baking temperatures, some vary in length of bake time, amount of nutella vs. flour ratio. These reflections bring me to another strength- achiever. I love to accomplish goals. The goal on this day, was happy 6-year-old, which meant edible brownies, which subsequently meant having to think about the interplay of the ingredients, bake time and temperature, and how those variations impacted the brownies. Quality and excellence are important to me- and I really wanted to get this right! So, after much more additional research on impact of flour amount on brownie texture, and impact of bake times and temperatures, I found the perfect recipe.
In our lives, we are often taught to work on only improving our weaknesses. Improving our weaknesses is not a bad thing. But what could we accomplish if we continued to elevate our strengths? What would it feel like if we could live and be our best selves, and contribute based on qualities for which we already had a base level of affinity and excellence? I cherish learning about my strengths, because I am able to see how I apply those strengths in my career, personal life, and beyond. I am also able to see when others are at their best, and support them in being their best selves.
I look at my strengths, and it is no surprise that I am an educator and an administrator. I support the thriving of students by showing my own love of learning (learner) and achieving goals (achiever), I help solve problems (restorative) and imagine new ways of doing things (ideation), and I get to engage in intellectual conversation along the way (intellection). I love what I do even on my worst days, because I am leveraging my strengths to serve others and fulfill my own purpose… and make brownies.
For the 2015-16 academic year, Rollins has chosen StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in Academics, Career, and Beyond as the first-year reading. Building off of this book, Rollins is integrating strengths-based dialogues, programs, and opportunities to help students gain an awareness of their strengths and develop their talents. To learn more, click here!