Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

by Marcus Buckingham

ISBN: 9781400202362

Publisher Thomas Nelson

Published in Self-Help/Happiness, Self-Help/Success, Business & Investing/Women & Business, Religion & Spirituality

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Book Description

Have you given up on "having it all"? Or maybe you're so busy having it all that you can't figure out how to enjoy it? Maybe, you don't even know what "all" you're supposed to have anymore?

You are not alone.

Women today are working, juggling, achieving, succeeding, and beating expectations at every turn - and they are less happy than ever. Which is why they're turning to the expert who has helped millions of people find, focus on, and benefit from their strengths. From his decades of research at the Gallup Organization to years of walking business executives through the "strengths revolution," Marcus has gained an international reputation for practical, realistic, and life-changing advice.

Find Your Strongest Life helps women apply this expertise to their own lives, marrying success and happiness in ways that prove women really can "have it all."


Sample Chapter


What do all women want to know?

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. -EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886), American poet

I'm the odd man out, standing on a Chicago street corner staring at a long line of people snaking down the block. It's early and it's cold, the wind tearing off the lake and through my hopeless cotton coat. I was in Puerto Vallarta the day before, squeezing in a quick vacation with my wife and kids, and the coat had been a waste of space in my suitcase, as bulky and unnecessary as a snowsuit. Today, I'm wishing I'd packed the snowsuit.

I go through the motions of turning up my flimsy collar against the wind and keep staring at the line of people.

I hadn't realized it would be like this, that people would be so excited, showing up hours before the show, laughing with delight, and bobbing about on the balls of their feet. It reminds me of a line outside a rock concert. A line of women, all ages and races, daughters and mothers, sisters together, dressed to the nines, blown-out hair, sleek skirts and shiny pumps, all waiting to be part of the show, their show, the Oprah Winfrey Show.

I'm here to be part of the show too-more specifically, I'm here to tape a three-hour workshop titled "Career Intervention." The producers at the Oprah Winfrey Show recently learned that many of their viewers don't watch the show live; they record it. This means that most of these viewers must be working during the day and then coming home and watching their favorite shows in the evening. And if most of them are working, so the producers' thinking went, then they will want to know how to find fulfilling work, exciting work, work they're passionate about. So the producers put out a call through for any unhappy working women-not, it turns out, a rare breed. They sifted through the avalanche of responses, selected a short list of one hundred talented but unfulfilled women, interviewed those one hundred, narrowed the list to thirty, and invited them to a workshop with Oprah herself. And then they called me.

This is my expertise. I'm a strength strategist. I help companies and individuals identify their strengths and devise the right strategies to put those strengths to work. I've been doing this for twenty years now, ever since I up and left my home in the UK and joined the Gallup Organization.

During my time at Gallup I learned the art and the science of designing questions to measure a person's unique strengths. And by "strengths" I don't mean the ability to play the violin or paint a portrait or run the hundred meters in less than ten seconds. Instead, I mean abilities like empathy, patience, assertiveness, or courage. If you want to know whether a person is truly courageous, what questions would you ask? Would you ask, "Are you ever aggressive and challenge people more than you should?" Or how about, "Tell me about a time when you overcame resistance to your ideas?" Or maybe something really simple: "On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 high, how courageous are you?" Or maybe all of the above.

This sort of stuff is riveting to me. That you can sort through all the possible "courage" questions and identify the most powerful ones, and that you can do the same for questions to predict a person's talent to be charming, responsible, or empathetic, and that you can ask the questions in such a way that the person will reveal herself even when she knows that this is precisely what you are trying to get her to do-all of this is, for me, well, gobsmacking. It's awesome and exciting and mystifying and cool, all at once.

Driven by this fascination with personal strengths, I've written three books on how you can identify and apply your own, the first titled Now, Discover Your Strengths, Its follow-up Go Put Your Strengths to Work, and a DVD/book tool kit called The Truth about You.

I've even founded my own company-TMBC-to help leaders and managers capitalize on the strengths of their people. So many of us wander through life unaware of what our true strengths are, or, though we might know what they are, we struggle to play to our strengths at home or at work. In fact, in polls asking, "What percentage of a typical day do you get to play your strengths?" only 14 percent of us say "Most of the time."

My life's mission is to increase this number. This mission has taken different forms at different times in my career-I've written books, given speeches, produced films, coached executives, and consulted with large organizations-but the mission itself has remained constant. And I have no doubt it will remain constant for the rest of my working life. It's not an intellectual thing-though devising the questions and figuring out the strength strategies is intellectual. But the mission itself is instinctive; it's what my heart seeks out when I reach for purpose and what my mind naturally returns to when all else is quiet.

I see it in my visceral fascination with why two people of the same gender and race and age can be so different in terms of how well they remember names or how impatient they are or how organized. I feel it in my need to involve myself in someone else's life and tell her what she should do to capitalize on her unique gifts. I wouldn't necessarily call myself an altruistic person in all aspects of my life-I'm neither a natural caregiver nor a warm shoulder to cry on-but when it comes to advising someone on how to make the most of herself, I just can't stop myself. I dive in, dig around, prod, push, and cajole. It's an irresistible compulsion, telling me, Each person is born different. You must do everything in your power to help her capitalize on this difference.

I imagine that somewhere, deep inside one of my chromosomes, you would find this mission written in the language of DNA code. I choose to write it this way:

My mission is to help each person identify her strengths, take them seriously, and offer them to the world.

I began my career focusing this mission in the world of work, not least Because the most successful working people are so effective at it. However, over the last twenty years, it's become increasingly clear to me that I needed to extend this strengths-based approach to life beyond work.

First, simply because the working world led me there. When I am coaching senior executives on how to leverage their own strengths, or how to build an entire strengths-based organization, inevitably the conversation broadens beyond the competencies one needs to get a job done. In our knowledge/service economy, where the value of most jobs now lies in the employee's talents and relationships, organizations need to understand and appreciate the full authenticity of each human being that works for them, not just to keep employees engaged, but, more importantly, to tap into each person's creativity, innovation, and insights. The worlds of work and home and friends and hobbies and special interests are now so interwoven, both technologically and practically, that all high performing organizations must reach beyond the workplace and address the whole person.

And second, I'm reaching beyond the working world because a growing body of evidence reveals that finding and applying your strengths is the key to living a happy and successful life. The young discipline of Positive Psychology has already yielded healthy disagreements about the causes of happiness-is it driven by good health, or companionship, or purchasing power, or a match between what you want and what you actually get-, about whether your level of happiness is changeable-some assert that we each have our own happiness 'set-point' and that nothing, no matter how tragic or wonderful, can move the dial, while others take a less fatalistic view-, and even about whether total happiness is the right goal-some recent research suggests that people who rate themselves 8 or 9 on a happiness scale wind up being more successful than people who give themselves a full 10 out of 10.

However, when it comes to making people both happy and effective, all agree-from the 'psychologists' such Albert Bandura, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Martin Seligman to the 'economists' such as Richard Easterlin and the Nobel prize winning Daniel Kahneman-about the awesome power of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is not merely a general sense of self-esteem, of being a worthy person. Rather it is a feeling tied to a specific task, or activity, or situation. You feel it when you assess a specific task or activity or situation and you know, you just know, that you are in control-that you have what it takes to tackle the task, to perform the activity, to be powerful within the situation. This is not to say that you feel you have complete mastery. On the contrary, you are aware that you still have additional skills to learn. It's more that, for this specific task, for this specific activity, within this specific situation, you are thrilled by this need to learn more, to refine your technique, to experiment, to get better. Self-efficacy, then, is you at your most assured, engaged, wise and yet still inquisitive. It's the feeling you get when you are in your strengths-zone. And whether the research is conducted inside the workplace or outside, at school or at home, with students or with adults, this strength-zone feeling is always highly correlated to both happiness and effectiveness.

Spurred by this linking of strengths to happiness and effectiveness in all aspects of life, I've found myself sitting down to begin writing this "strong-life" book many times over the last twenty years. But other projects always seemed to rise up and pull my attention elsewhere. And then something happened in Chicago-an overwhelming response, an unexpected outpouring of questions-and I knew instinctively that I had to put everything else aside and write it right then.

Outside Harpo Studios the doors opened, and in we all marched, I to the stage, the well-dressed line of women to their seats in the studio-some to watch a taping of an Oprah show, some to participate in our workshop-and then, after Oprah made the introductions, we did the workshop together: thirty talented but unfulfilled women searching for direction and purpose, one monumentally successful media executive sitting in the front row, and me.

What was supposed to happen next was this: my coaches and I were supposed to counsel each of the participants over the next few months, helping them rediscover the passion in their work or to take action to find other work, talking them through the beliefs, the people, and the obstacles that were holding them back. Then, after following the participants for six months, we were to come back together and see the changes they'd made. And we'd capture it all-the before, the journey, the after-in one hour-long show.

Indeed, this is what happened. It was a good show. I enjoyed it, Oprah seemed to enjoy it also, and, most important, the women in the workshop made significant and positive changes in their lives. And if this had been all that happened, it would have been plenty-thirty women, whose lives were stuck, had become unstuck and were now striding forward again.

But this isn't all that happened. In the weeks following the show, more than one and a half million people logged on to and downloaded the three-hour workshop. And then the message boards lit up like an Olympic fireworks display. More than a hundred thousand (mostly) women posted messages online, some craving help, others offering support and advice.

Here's Alijay1030, a wife and mother who is terrified of making the wrong decision:

I am scared to leave a profession that provides our family with good benefits and a paycheck that allows us to live a comfortable life while still being able to save for college, retirement, etc. Still, I ask myself if I'm "living my best life," and the answer is a resounding no. I need more. I need a purpose. I need to feel passionate about what I do. Deep down inside I know that I need to do something, I just don't know what that something is. Where do I start? I have been doing a job that I hate for so long, I have lost touch with myself. I have forgotten what I'm good at and what I enjoy doing. What do you do when you feel completely lost?

Here's Kelly, a teacher:

I should be grateful for what I have. I'm paid very handsomely for what I do, receive a great benefits package, and get the summers off. But I am tormented about my future. I know I just have to leave my job, but to do what? A faith in doing what you love is theoretically wonderful, but what if you don't know what to do? And then when you find the answer, how do you find the courage to go for it?

Here's Karlene:

If my strengths are in areas that I'm unqualified in and that will likely not pay well anyway, should I just forget it and work in an area that doesn't complement me?

Teresa asked the same thing:

What do you suggest as a place to start to those of us who need time to get into our new career but are without a current source of income and may not have that needed time? Do we trudge through taking another job in our current industry in the meantime?

Then there was Kaykel, a forty-eight-year-old flight attendant, who asked:

Can you help me not be afraid of change and help me find and follow my passion? The career was great for a long time, but I have outgrown the job and have other desires at this stage. I have a bachelor's degree from 1982, but where will that get me today?

Liz was at a different stage in life than Kaykel, but she felt the same fear:

I have been reading through many of the posts and doing a lot of soul searching myself after taking Marcus's course, and I have finally admitted to myself that I need to make a change. Now the hard part, convincing my husband and family that it is the right thing to do for all of us. I do have a great job, with a great paycheck, and great flexibility-but that I am finding is not enough. The job satisfaction is 0. Also I am not moving out of my industry, but I am methodically planning a shift of how I can use my strengths in that industry that will require leaving my secure job (set paycheck, benefits) for a less secure (commission based) income. Admittedly I am scared-what if I fail? What if things don't work out? My children are still very young-should I wait? These are all the questions that I have been asking myself and trying to overcome. Has anyone here addressed their fears of life change, and how have you overcome it?

And then there was Caroline, a wife and mother who turned down a job that would have meant sacrificing time with her family, and then questioned her decision:

I am the mother of beautiful twin boys who are nearly five, and, even though me and my husband do OK, of course we worry about what will happen and if we're going to put them through college if this economy keeps getting worse. Now I don't know if I've done the right thing.... I work in the services industry and was recently offered a position that would have given me more money in my pocket and the chance to rise higher in the company and more quickly. And I said no. I would like to have the money to save for the boys but the extra hours I would have worked would have meant me seeing them much less. And I would have not been at home two nights a week to put them to bed. My husband is good around the house, no real complaints there, but I definitely do the lion's share of the work and I think my boys like having me there. Also, I don't want to miss out on these precious years. What do people think? We're always told to put our priorities first and I'm doing that, but I would have been using my strengths with my promotion and I would have earned more, too. I just don't know if I'm totally cut out for being a rat in the rat race. Was I being lazy and selfish not taking the new job? Has anyone else had these concerns?

And then, of course, this one from Kelly21:

How do other women get everything done that needs to be done in the day without sacrificing their family and/or work relationships and their sense of self? Is it unrealistic to believe we can do it all?


Excerpted from "Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently" by Marcus Buckingham. Copyright © 0 by Marcus Buckingham. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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