“But still like dust I’ll rise” (Drawing on my Strengths during National Lockdown)

The Quiet Strength of the Ambitious Introvert

That great philosopher, Bob Marley, once said, ‘You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.’

If ever we needed to be strong, it is now, during a national and global time of crisis caused by something we cannot see, and find so difficult to fathom because of its invisibility.

We have no choice but to to be resilient; to be creative; to find our inner Wonder Woman and go to war.

At my school this year we did a whole-staff workshop on finding and developing our strengths, based on the CliftonStrengths34 Test. Who would have thought that this would be most opportune?!

https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/252137/home.aspx

How useful I am finding what I learned about myself – especially the fact that actually I am STRONG to start with in particular areas.

Just to summarise the concept: the test identifies 34 strengths we possess in varying degrees (which are clustered around how we execute, relate, strategize, or influence in our world) and guides one to amplify your top five, as opposed to highlighting weak areas. It presumes that one’s strengths can also be deficiencies, but prefers to focus on magnifying our talents, rather than dwelling on limitations.

So the big reveal: my top strengths are:

  1. Achiever (Executing) – this girl is no shrinking violet!
  2. Positivity (Relating) – yeah I’m one of those annoying ‘let’s make lemonade out of them lemons’ kinda gal
  3. Input (Strategizing) – I am a collector – of information, ideas, facts – fortunately this has not devolved into collecting dodgy figurines or stuff! There is no stamp, or spoon hoarding for me – I collect thoughts (and children, but that’s another story entirely!) – I research.
  4. Connectedness (Relating) – I see links between people, like puzzle pieces and dominoes.
  5. Communication (Influencing) – step aside Instagram influencers, copywriters and politicians, here I come.

Apparently because I have strengths across the clusters, I am well-rounded – and we’re not speaking about my hips for once. So I can do stuff; I’m good with people; I study and research well; and I can influence others (if only I could influence my offspring to have a deep, abiding love to replace the bin liner, I could rule the world!

The big question is: how am I going to utilise these superpowers during the quarantine which has been extended for another 24 days (see I used my research drive to check the actual number!). It’s hard when the goalposts are moved, but there are things we can do to cope.

A colleague sent me a list of how folk with my skills respond to this lockdown and it’s scarily accurate for me. I don’t know the source so apologies to the original author. The comment are mine:

Things people like me say:

  • Achiever – “There goes my to-do list, at least working from home can be more productive.”

I’m always trying to ringfence admin time to get through things so to be honest I was pleased to have the time to get to my To Do List. My problem is that a whole of other minor things were added – like risking my life along the venomous aisles of supermarkets, sidestepping mask-clad aliens who despite covering their faces, have NO idea of social distancing, wondering where the nasty Corona critters are lurking: if I die, just remember it was a tall, elderly man called Mike with thinning grey hair, who kept creeping too close behind me in the trolley queue, despite my actually jumping like a pre-schooler onto the large circles on the floor to draw his attention to the demarcation of safe distancing. (More aerobic exercise than I have had since my last disastrous dance class with Caitlin.) I can’t add anymore distinguishing features because he was wearing a mask – I did consider coughing loudly over my shoulder to frighten him, but I am much too polite.

 Then there are the chores that have found their way onto the list (and I am not speaking of daily chores like sweeping or laundry) – I had to wash my windows before I made a video for my staff; every time I walk down the stairs I remind myself that I must remove all the dusty lamp fittings and wash them; I’m scrubbing light switches with the fervour of a nun; Jikking the shower and rehanging curtains that have bothered me for years because some idiot didn’t use the correct hooks, not to mention having tidied every shelf in my cupboard. Mind you, some sanity has prevailed because I have not yet been sucked into the vortex of the maestro’s cupboard, but… 24 more days…

So the To Do List is still there, stood up like a Tinder date…

  • Positivity – “It will all turn out for the best! This is an opportunity for some great new things!”

The closet Pollyanna in me is secretly enjoying the freedom of the lockdown and finding many bright sides to the gloom of being trapped with 4 other family members. If anything kept me going through all the years of single-parenting five children all two years apart, it was an ability to be cheerful and have fun.

As a leader, it is vital that I now encourage and support my staff and parents and I must say, my school, Curro Century City, is producing enormously creative teaching and learning at this time, by educators who have overnight transformed the manner in which they deliver the curriculum; our estate manager is teaching his community via video to make masks and one of our admin staff is hosting Watch Parties to inspire us with her haunting soprano voice, accompanied by her husband on the trumpet. Curro schools have stepped up to assist in the production of face masks for medical personnel, using our 3-D printers. The learners are having fun and learning to work steadily at their own pace. I had to chuckle at Grade 8s who, when given some teacher-mic-off time to socialise (a sort of digital break time), refused to turn on their cameras because of bed-hair…but there is so much to be positive about.

This crisis has forever changed the way we shall teach in the future and I am so proud of my team. We have taken the threat and turned it into an opportunity.

In our home, Shannon is writing a novel, publishing it serially like Charles Dickens, on an app called Wattpad (I’ll hide my grammarian cringe for now at that spelling). It’s called All the Colours of Light if you’re running out of reading material. And now I have learned something new about publishing – and it’s free.

  • Input – “What else can I read and research on this, so I can share it with others?”

I must confess to doing some searching online about this virus that has brought the modern world to a standstill. It’s quite beautiful really, this little microscopic fellow earthling: the models make it look like a soft, fuzzy felt pincushion, or one of those kitsch, crocheted toilet roll holders found in tannies’ loos. It’s hard to believe that this odd-looking structure has laid waste to centuries old civilizations in Europe and threatens us all.  Move over asteroids and volcanoes; Armageddon is in the microscopic detail. Those Spike Glycoproteins promote entry into cells and love the environment of our lungs. Like millions of medieval horsemen with their spiked flails, the virus army soldiers into war with our antibodies. And it is clear that it is winning in many cases. Poor tuberculoid lungs weakened from battle with the advance army of the TB virus, or the body desperately using the rear guard of antiretrovirals to stay off the onslaught of the HIV virus, quickly succumb.

These things may look like your grandmother’s doilies, but they are lethal. So. Stay. The. Hell. At. Home!

  • Connectedness – “This all makes sense, we are all connected.”
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Standing in a queue at the supermarket, glaring at mask-clad strangers who dare to step forward closer than their allotted line on the floor, it is possible to see there is a crisis in the world; having the imagination to truly appreciate how a microbe from his hand, which has scratched his rheumy eye can fly to my shopping basket can move from the handle to the food item to the cashier’s hand, to her mouth, to her lover’s hand, to his mouth, down his oesophagus and into his TB compromised lungs, takes some imagination. And we just don’t know, do we – whether is me or you who passes that virus on?

To be honest the not-hugging thing is hard. I saw my son at the shop yesterday. Couldn’t hug him. Wanted to – really badly, and will again fiercely, but it could be me who visits this on him and his flatmate. It was the most frustrating thing for a mother – but far preferable to not being able to visit him in a hospital ICU.

The knock-on effect is also so evident in the economies around the world: as containers lie fully laden outside closed ports, importers cannot access their products to sell, to pay employees who cannot sell it and so now have no income to feed their children, or pay their school fees… I am so grateful for the altruism of the parents at my school that those who can are paying their school fees so that the school can continue to educate their children and those whose parents are suddenly impoverished and so we shall still have a school to return to when this is all over.

In pipes Positive Me: “It will be over. We shall emerge victorious from this. We have a warrior leader to look up to – ‘cometh the hour; cometh the man:’”

President Cyril Ramaphosa is our superperson! Captain South Africa!

Keep the emotional connectedness with people – check in regularly.

  • Communication – “Who else can I talk to about this?”
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Well this is me generally. Not for no reason did almost all of my school reports say, ‘Colleen talks too much in class.’ Clever me, I picked a profession which allows me to speak a lot.

But in this time, I am making sure I call my sister (connectedness) and talk things through. I have to say that I always thought I was her person, but am seeing now when I cannot see her, how much she is my person too. Fortunately, I am surrounded by children I can make listen to me too and occasionally my husband comes to snuggle close. I have always been one of those people who needs a sounding board and someone to discuss things with. How fortunate to live with a fellow educator with whom I can unpack some of the challenges our educational system is facing now, someone who gets it. Our dinner table often hosts heated debates and we laugh our way through most things

The Mad Lab makes a good listener too, although her theories on how to do strategic planning accurately in a time of great flux are a trifle elementary.

As leaders, it is vital that we communicate clearly with staff and learners.

Illustration by Catherine Song. © The Balance, 2018

Even though we do not all have electron microscopes to magnify this cursed virus so we know it’s real and an obvious threat, we do have the ability to magnify our strengths – then we shall feel we are winning in lockdown… well the competitor in me who wants to win would feel that (but that’s a story for another day…)

“Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.

Lao Tzu