Last year, our team at Thought Ensemble participated in the foundational session of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training led by Dr. Nika White, IOM, CDE (she/her/hers). One of the most meaningful moments for me was the focus on authenticity, uniqueness, and belongingness as they relate to inclusion. Dr. White shared with us that, in an organization that values uniqueness and belongingness, individuals are treated as insiders and are allowed/encouraged to retain uniqueness within their workgroup. Following that discussion, we watched this video.
Wow! I just watched it again, and that video gets me every time.
Later that same day, we participated in an employee development session facilitated by Bert Robinson, the president at Inpowering People, Inc. During that session, we talked about each of our unique talents and aptitudes as measured by CliftonStrengths — formerly known as Clifton StrengthsFinder — and how we all bring our own strengths, or gifts, to the work that we do. Our awareness of our own and each other’s unique strengths has helped us see how we all belong, in our own unique ways, as we work together and with our clients, to empower and support each other in our efforts to help our clients’ companies run better while also making our careers more satisfying and making the world a better place. And isn’t that — working together to make the world a better place — what we are ALL here to do?
I think about the journey I have been on throughout not just my career but my life working to gain self-awareness and a stronger understanding of how I belong, and where I fit, in this world. Growing up, I prioritized my family and friends as I worked to build strong relationships. I worked hard to earn a meaningful education in school. I have worked hard in all phases of my career as I strived to achieve meaningful outcomes with my teammates, for whatever company I worked for at the time, and for our clients. But, it was not until recently that I really started to gain the self-awareness I have been seeking and the clarity regarding how I belong as part of humanity.
In the late 1990s, I was considering a career change, so I participated in the Aptitude Inventory Measurement Service (AIMS) program. AIMS is designed to help individuals understand their natural aptitudes so that they may find a successful career that capitalizes on their abilities while also keeping them personally interested. For what it’s worth, it was suggested to me that I should consider a career in which I could focus on “selling” ideas, concepts, or products that I truly believe in.
In the aughts, I learned that my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is ESFP and that I tend to be an outgoing, adaptable realist who is not necessarily blocked by rules. For those of you who know me well, you are probably saying, “Of course you are an ESFP.”
In 2011, I learned my top five strengths per CliftonStrengths are Arranger, Belief, Adaptability, Activator, and Maximizer. For what it’s worth, I just went back and reread my 2011 Strengths-Based Leadership Report as part of our activity in August of this year, and the detailed descriptions of those five strengths still fit me perfectly. Remember what AIMS told me about “selling” ideas in which I truly believe?
Finally, in 2019, as a result of the encouragement of a close friend, I started studying the Enneagram and learned what “number” I am and the good things, as well as the not-so-good things, that go with that number. Perhaps the details of this one will be included in a future blog.
I share the above data points about myself because it is a deeper understanding of those data points, in combination with all of my life experiences to date, that has given me the sense of self-awareness I have been craving and the relative peace of mind that comes with knowing where I “belong” relative to my family, my friends, my teammates at work, and humanity. I absolutely feel a stronger sense of belonging when I am in situations where I believe my personality and strengths are valued.
One of my passions, if not my professional mission, is to coach others in an effort to help them enjoy more satisfying careers and lives. I had the amazing opportunity to coach both of my sons during their soccer careers, and that opportunity meant the world to me. I have also had many opportunities to wear a “coaching hat” with many of my co-workers over the years, and I hope that they would all say I have played at least some small role in helping them make the most out of their careers. Most of all, I want to continue to work hard to do all that I can to help others gain self-awareness and help them find a path that puts them in a position where they feel their unique gifts are valued and that they belong.
I believe we are all here to understand and appreciate each other’s differences and unique strengths and work together to make the world better. I believe we will all be best equipped to do that if we bring our authentic selves to our lives every day, value our own and each other’s uniqueness, work together to coach/develop each other to enable us to turn our natural strengths into true talents, and strive to create a culture of belongingness. I know we at times don’t want to acknowledge we need one another, but we are all in this together.
Every time I watch the video I mentioned above, I struggle emotionally with the reality that so many in this world don’t truly feel like they belong. These are the things I want for the world:
1. For all human beings to have a strong sense of awareness of the unique gifts they offer
2. For all human beings to understand and appreciate each other’s unique gifts and how we all need to work together and utilize each of our unique gifts to make the world better
3. For all human beings to feel a sense of belonging within their family, within their group of friends, at work, and as part of humanity
I believe it is important for leaders to create an environment within their community or their team that enables everyone to feel empowered and supported and that they ultimately belong to that community or team. We will ALL benefit to the degree that we can support one another in each of our quests for self-awareness.
Gaining self-awareness requires hard work, endurance, and grace — for yourself and for others. However, I believe gaining a deeper appreciation for how you belong will make it worth your focus and effort.