My top five strengths- Strategic, Relator, Input, Intellection, and Responsibility- have helped me in the various roles I’ve carried out in my time at the University of Florida since I began here as an undergraduate studying psychology from 2007 to 2011.
I was first exposed to the strengths philosophy through the Department of Housing and Residence Education where I worked as a Resident Assistant for several years, and as a Graduate Hall Director starting in 2011. After wondering for some time about what the different terms meant about my professional staff colleagues who displayed their strengths on their desks and nametags- and after some speculation with my supervisor in several one-on-one meetings about what my strengths might be- I finally read StrengthsQuest and took the test to find out what it meant for me.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked the words that were applied to me in my results- they weren’t entirely what I expected and I wasn’t sure I could relate to all of them. But as I read each description again, I realized that they in fact described threads that have run throughout my life, and I began to recognize their importance. Since learning my strengths, I have continued to notice how they are key elements of some of my favorite experiences as a student and UF employee.
In my work with Housing, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of following my strength of Responsibility to a supervisory position, where my other strengths shined as I sought competency and effectiveness in my work by forming helpful relationships and developing professionally through a combination of my other four top strengths. I followed my Relator strength in the style of supervision I embodied which centered on developing a caring connection with a focus on the overall growth of my undergraduate staff members. I learned through my Input strength as I consumed professional learning opportunities like readings and workshops. And my Intellection strength helped me to apply this input as I connected it with other areas of my life such as my counseling training in my graduate program. In all of this, I was Strategic, seeking the most beneficial opportunities, and squeezing the worth out of each in every way.
By intuitively following my passions of working with others in ways that used my strengths, I have been fortunate to find my way into various student affairs positions at UF through which I have grown immensely. By following my strengths and passions I am approaching my career goal of becoming a college counselor and helping students grow towards fulfilling adult lives.
As a graduate student in the UF Counselor Education program’s mental health track, my Input-Intellection strength combination drove me to take in more learning and experiences in my field, which included going to my first national conference held by the American College Counseling Association, ripe with techniques and perspectives to learn from.
I also recognize how important my strengths are to me as a developing professional as I see my theoretical orientation connecting with my top strengths. Although I have not solidly settled on a theory to call my own, those I connect with most tend to be strengths-oriented, relatively strategic, and definitely relationship-focused theories of counseling. In my practicum work at the Disability Resource Center, echoed in my experiences as a Hall Director, I began to discover my orientation through a natural process of seeking what I can offer in my counseling that works best for students. This is the beginning of what will become a continuously-developing and important basis for my future therapeutic work as a counselor. Even as my theory of choice changes (as tends to happen for new counselors), I expect that my strengths will always be a core and supportive aspect of my work.
Having these important opportunities to work with students and relying on my strengths throughout them has been incredibly rewarding. This is particularly true with my Resident Assistant staff in Housing. I loved supporting them by strategically considering how to apply their diverse and unique strengths to move through barriers in their work. After developing my supervision style for two years as a Graduate Hall Director, my staff’s warm goodbyes and thanks confirmed that living and working from my strengths helped make that year’s work and that staff connection something very special. I’m grateful to have been a part of it with them, and believe they will go on to live out their own individual strengths in important ways.
What I love most about the strengths philosophy is how it empowers each person to recognize their unique abilities and to rely on them in a world where we are persistently urged to focus on our deficiencies and lack of worth. By relying on what we are great at, I believe we can more easily see where we can continue to succeed, to contribute our best to the world, and to feel rewarded in our work.
I know that for me, the strengths philosophy goes beyond my top five strengths. It helps me to remember that it’s okay to be who I am, and for others to be who they are- this is important for me as a counselor and as a person. In working with Housing in particular, co-directing a residence area with a colleague with quite different strengths than mine was a wonderful experience of recognizing my own strengths and also counting on the strengths of him and others on my team. In doing that, together we could accomplish the work and serve our residents in the best way possible.
As a person, I remember this value continuously as I strive to live more authentically in my relationships with others, and similarly as I seek to be genuine as a growing counselor. Following my strengths to live authentically can be a challenge at times- sometimes the world appears to want something other than who I am- but I recognize and value what I can offer, and continue to seek opportunities that will nurture and benefit from what I bring. I believe that as before, staying aligned with my strengths and values can bring me to wonderful places in life.
Eventually, my work with UF and educational path as a counselor entwined. As of this summer, I now support the mental health of on-campus residents and staff as a Crisis Intervention Consultant for Housing. So far, this has been a wonderful experience where my strengths are well-used and are growing already. As I also anticipate a counseling internship on campus at the Career Resource Center next year, I look forward to supporting students in identifying their strengths and related fulfilling career goals to suit their lives. I feel very excited to look back and recognize that I have been following a genuine path that has lead me through many wonderful experiences, and to realize that what took me there- my strengths- will continue to be with and drive me even after I graduate with my Master’s and Specialist’s degrees in counseling next year.