Viniece Jennings is a Senior Fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program. I met Viniece when I spoke at the NextGen Conference in Washington, was intrigued, and have asked her to guest blog. Enjoy!
Recently, I (Viniece) took the Strengths Finder survey. I was both reassured and surprised by the results. Some of my top strengths included Woo (socially outgoing), Responsibility (someone others trust to get things done), and Relator (genuine and authentic). While I was happy to discover that I am considered emotionally intelligent, my Type A alter-ego was disappointed that qualities such as strategic, analytical or focus weren’t in my lineup.
Wondering if the survey was somehow incomplete, I asked friends and colleagues about my results. They responded ‘yep that’s you’ or ‘that quality really sets you apart.’ Given I have a PhD in environmental science and I'm currently working as a research scientist, I expected myself to be mechanically analytical, inquisitive about everything environmental, and perhaps walking around with a statistics book. After all, I’ve done well in science since I was a kid. Science taught me to systematically explore a body of work and challenge established thought.
Given this seeming disconnect between my training and reported strengths, I reviewed my curriculum vitae looking for my experiences that were not only impressive but fulfilling. For example, during undergrad I initiated a paper recycling program. Granted, I could be considered a tree hugger but there's more to the story. The county where I'm from in Georgia has a lot of landfills and suspected to be an environmental justice case. I later learned that the trash that goes into the landfills in my community maybe brought in from different states, like Delaware. After starting college in Delaware, I was sick inside every time I saw someone waste something because it could be shipped to my community in Georgia. That's when I wrote a mini grant and managed an entire campus program in my spare time. A college friend recently sent me a picture of the new recycling bins at our alma mater and texted ‘all because of you.' It was in this experience, I discovered how science and my empathic strengths intertwined and brought me a great sense of accomplishment.
I then began to review my vision board and upcoming goals. I thought about Whitney Johnson’s article that encouraged us to ‘always, always, always, show up’ by standing in our greatness. As I reflected, I realized that it’s important to ask if you are showing up as your true self or as a mock-up that appeases the expectations of others? This introspective exercise led me to ask if I was trusting myself? According to The Speed of Trust-The One Thing that Changes Everything, having confidence in our abilities and knowing our natural talents are game changers. Owning your strengths involves activating a talent that is an inherent part of your being. When you align your strengths to your passion, you can awaken your innovative genius where the possibilities are endless.
Although I’m still uncovering my professional ‘zone,’ community engagement is a reoccurring theme in my story. Interestingly, it resonates with an education initiative that I recently organized. As I become more willing to own my innate emotional strengths and pair them with my acquired scientific expertise, I realize how this merger is shifting me into a new gear. Sometimes the best way to score in personal and career development is to own what’s already yours. You may be surprised to find out that the personalized key to unlock the door was in your hands all along.
What strengths have you worked for? Which ones comes naturally? How can you pair the two? What are your distinctive strengths — what you do well that others in your sphere don't?