Strengths Finder

I came across a friend’s Strengths Finder results this morning on Facebook. It immediately prompted me to dig up my own results from a year ago. I distinctly remember being awed by the accuracy of the report. It felt like reading about your astrological sign, except with over 95% accuracy. (You know you think that’s fun.)

You need to purchase Strengths Finder 2.0 for the access code to take the test. It’s definitely worth whatever price you pay for the book. Many companies actually offer this as training. Something to look into or prod whomever is in charge of your employee development.

The basic premise is that you gain more ground by focusing on your strengths rather than weaknesses. Before taking the test, I remember being opposed to this premise. When embarking on self-improvement, I always prefer to focus on my shortcomings, not put more energy into something I was already good at.

Lo and behold the results. One of my top five strengths was Restorative, which means to improve deficiencies. I was more receptive to the premise after learning about this implanted loophole.

My top five strengths are:

  1. Deliberative
  2. Relator
  3. Restorative
  4. Intellection
  5. Ideation

I’m curious to look back on this post a few years from now and retake the test.

Direct excerpts from the Strengths Finder report.

1. Deliberative

People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.

Driven by your talents, you have a strong, no-nonsense, sober side to your personality. It explains why you often engage in conversations that delve into weighty or philosophical matters. You like to think deeply and carefully about various issues. Then you want to talk with serious-minded people who can help you explore, expand upon, question, or modify your thinking. By nature, you select your friends with great care. You are comfortable nurturing up-close and personal relationships with these chosen individuals. The quality of your relationships is much more important to you than the number of people who say you are their friend. Chances are good that you are intentional and purposeful about what you do. “Rash” and “impulsive” are not adjectives most people would use to describe you. Typically you think through things thoroughly before speaking or acting. By nature, you tend to be businesslike in your approach to personal and professional issues. Because of your strengths, you may remain silent rather than join conversations that involve the sharing of intimate or personal information. Occasionally you try to change the topic altogether. If your attempts are unsuccessful, you might excuse yourself from discussion about the upbringing, finances, problems, physical conditions, or mental health of yourself or others. It’s very likely that you may be selective about how much you reveal to particular individuals about your history, future intentions, or current affairs. Maybe you are less inclined than some people to launch into chit-chat or discussion. Why? You realize you might be asked or expected to answer some personal questions.

2. Relator

People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

Because of your strengths, you might do your best training after you become well-acquainted with someone. Perhaps you want to discover each individual’s unique talents, work style, goals, motivations, or interests. Maybe these insights tell you what suggestions to make or what tips to offer during coaching sessions. Chances are good that you may be determined to share some of your knowledge, skills, or experiences with people. Perhaps you use this information as a coaching tool if you train someone. By nature, you may be regarded by some individuals as a fine trainer, tutor, or instructor. Occasionally you describe yourself in these terms. It’s very likely that you are occasionally willing to be vulnerable. Perhaps you claim your talents or admit your weaknesses. Your openness may help some people know you better as a person. Your straightforward style may convince others you are honest, dependable, and reliable. Driven by your talents, you welcome the questions and concerns others voice. These afford you an opportunity to listen compassionately and offer counsel. People tend to seek you out because your insights are helpful and often lead them to think in new ways.

3. Restorative

People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.

By nature, you guide people by offering them your advice and suggestions. You probably tell them about areas in which they would be wise to enhance, upgrade, or expand their knowledge or skills. You prefer to point out deficiencies. Then you help individuals eradicate—that is, remove or wipe out—all traces of deficiencies. You probably use this “fix it” approach on yourself, too. It’s very likely that you spend some of your time examining problems, malfunctions, or glitches. If you experience a personal or professional loss, make a mistake, or suffer a defeat, you might investigate. Perhaps you feel restless until you have answers to your basic questions: What? How? When? Where? Who? Why? Because of your strengths, you actually create opportunities to think with forward-looking people. You probably rely on their vivid imaginations to help you figure out how to fix things in your personal or professional life. Driven by your talents, you typically decide what is to be done. You are as comfortable issuing orders as you are making demands. Your bold and confident style allows you to gain and maintain control over people, circumstances, timetables, plans, or material resources. Chances are good that you prefer to register for rigorous courses of study rather than take easy classes. This often satisfies your need to do things that do not come naturally. You trust you can endure the unpleasantness and difficulties that accompany the expansion of your knowledge base, the acquisition of skills, and the conquest of deficiencies.

4. Intellection

People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

Chances are good that you periodically engage in conversations that plumb the depth and breadth of ideas, concepts, possibilities, or the meaning of life. Driven by your talents, you need uninterrupted quiet time to be alone with your thoughts. Seldom do you automatically accept all the ideas of someone who has authored a book, been interviewed by the media, or been invited to address an audience. Instead, you scrutinize the theories and concepts of writers, speakers, and philosophers. You probably are a critical thinker. Instinctively, you may be constantly occupied with your studies, especially when you can concentrate on topics that fascinate you. Perhaps you acquire unexpected knowledge or skills simply by being open-minded rather than close-minded. By nature, you designate a minimum of five hours a week for solitary thinking. You probably have figured out how to eliminate distractions and interruptions. You accept the fact that you have less free time to spend with family, friends, coworkers, teammates, or classmates. Because of your strengths, you gravitate to conversations in which intelligent, unemotional, and reasonable thoughts are freely exchanged. These give-and-take sessions inspire you to consider what you need to upgrade, perfect, or raise to excellence.

5. Ideation

People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

By nature, you may be delighted when you can generate new and innovative ideas for doing certain tasks or projects. Perhaps you lose enthusiasm or become bored when you are forced to follow standard operating procedures. Periodically you wonder if you are in the right job or course of study when your creativity is stifled. Maybe you are frustrated by people who conclude that your inventive suggestions are forms of criticism or insubordination—that is, refusal to submit to authority. Chances are good that you occasionally wonder whether some people view you as aloof or standoffish. Perhaps you give this impression because beginning discussions or engaging in small talk is difficult for you. Driven by your talents, you may assist people by creating innovative ways to perform tasks, solve problems, plan trips, prepare meals, or construct agendas. Because of your strengths, you regard yourself as logical and reasonable. You spontaneously reduce mechanisms, processes, proposals, ideas, or formulas to their basic parts. You figure out how the pieces interrelate. Your discoveries tell you why something does or does not function the way it should. Instinctively, you occasionally scrutinize yourself from the vantage point of an outsider looking in. Somewhat aware of your public persona—that is, the personality you present to the world—you may strive to appear confident and polished. This partially explains why you intentionally strive to be perceived as a talented, skilled, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and accomplished individual.

Toast to my Computer Science degree

Every time I hit a problem or hardship in life, I realize it all connects back to my computer science degree. The toolbox of problem-solving skills that I’ve accumulated can be applied to all aspects of life. I feel so empowered to tackle any problem.

The list of CS skills go on and on. I’d like to mention a couple that I’ve found incredibly applicable.

When I encounter a problem, I try a bottom up (details first) or top down (high-level first) approach.

Sometimes, pattern recognition is important when I want to understand my past actions. Why did I do something in particular? What is the motivation or driving force behind it?

A problem may seem complex, but it can often be abstracted or reduced into a simpler or similar problem that I’ve dealt with before. Once an issue in known territory, I know what to do.

A problem can have multiple parts, so it’s important to understand the whole system and how each component interacts with each other. Because the details can be too distracting, I sometimes need to group these details into black boxes, so I can simplify a hundred piece puzzle into one with only ten pieces. I can do this recursively and treat this ten piece puzzle as one piece, and see how it interacts with its peers.

I strive for simple and efficient solutions, as these are the most elegant. The world is already pretty complicated. I don’t need to try to keep my own life complicated.

I always think about the worst case scenario. Am I okay with it? Even if the worst case scenario happens, I’m already mentally prepared for it. I’m therefore able to keep calm and clearheaded in the case that I must face it.

I’m also not afraid to get my hands dirty and iterate. Sometimes, I need to just make a change just to make progress. I don’t know how effective the change will be, but if it doesn’t work, I scrap it and try something new. How often does any software engineer write one version of a code and expect it to work perfectly? Sometimes, you have to write ten thousand lines of code, delete half of it, and rewrite most of the rest to achieve the final revision.

And all those proofs that professors make students write? It helps to keep me thorough when I analyze.

When I have a goal, I craft something from nothing to get to it. Earning a computer science degree has really helped me practice that. And honestly, some of those problem sets in school are much harder than problems I face in life. At the very least, I can rest assured I’ve surfaced from those hardships.

I used to think my diploma from college was worth $200k. Now I think it’s pretty priceless.

Quitting my first job

I gave my two-week notice this Monday, September 16th. I’ve thought about this several months in advance, and the time’s finally come. I’ve already chatted with multiple coworkers about this, explaining my decision, motivations, and plan moving forward. I’d like to officially document it in writing now, so I can remember what it was like to quit my first fulltime job and moving toward where I’d like to be.

Arriving at my decision

I’m a person with several hobbies. Programming is one of them. I learned it for fun at age sixteen, became more serious about it in college, and eventually made it my profession.

I enjoy the products I build at work, but there are other things I’m interested in building as well. I generally try to do this in my free time. It’s not unusual for me to come home late on weekdays, and on the days I do come home at reasonable hours, I just want to relax for the rest of the night after eating a simple dinner. On average, there are only a few short hours before needing to sleep and restart my day. This really only leaves weekends free. But when I program every weekend, I’ll have programmed for every single day of the week for weeks on end. This is not for me. I get really tired. I need to relax, and I’ll have neglected all my other interests. How can I have enough time to build what I want and then enjoy my other hobbies in my free time?

I work for a big company, and big companies are already overgenerous with taking care of their employees. I need only ask, and most requests are accommodated. I already have a lot of flexibility in terms of controlling my time in the office as compared to employees of smaller companies. They may have to work over twelve hours a day every day, as they more directly impact the success or failure of their company. I’m already in one of the most flexible work scenarios imaginable.

Looking for another job won’t solve my problem either. Because what I want to build is defined solely by me. I enjoy being the PM to what I build. I won’t be able to satisfy that requirement by working for anyone else. The only way I can maximize fulfillment is to do what I want to do during the majority of my day, rather than trying to do what I want to do during my free time.

Fulfillment & being lucky

Right now, my definition of fulfillment is the marriage of my priorities and my passions. And I am so, so, so lucky to even be at a place to consider this.

My parents are first generation immigrants. Their work ethic is unbeatable. They work full time jobs, upkeep several properties, where they often spend most weekends and many weeknights physically laboring away, and they never slack on cooking a single meal to feed their children. They sacrifice themselves every day to keep the household running smoothly. Growing up in the United States was made possible by the hard work off their backs.

For people in my parents’ generation, their career goals were to find a stable, well paying jobs. For my generation and peers who grew up in America, we swapped stability for passion. You aim for it all, but when you can’t have it all, passion often trumps pay.

I’m at that point where passion trumps pay. But even in that respect, I am lucky. I’m a software engineer in the SF bay area in a time where new college grads’ starting compensations are over $100k, up by $5k yearly. I saved up some emergency cash, and easily paid off my student loans within the first year. After my second year of working, I’ve accumulated enough runway to live comfortably unemployed for another year (in one of the most expensive cities in the whole nation). This financial freedom affords me even greater ambition to shoot for my passion. Currently, that passion is creation, mostly using my skills as an engineer.

To achieve this goal, financial freedom and time are key. They are resources that highly restrict when they are limited. To enter a period of creative pursuit, it is necessary to feel unbounded. Exploration requires time. Otherwise, there is pressure to define a concrete destination and take the most efficient path. Much of the business world already operates via this often-trodden efficient path, because they are bounded by time and money. If optimizing time is necessary for creative pursuits, then having enough money in your bank is equally important, for you trade in your time for employment when your funds run low.

Time & other motivations

I couldn’t stress more about the importance of time.

I often feel old, which makes me feel as if I don’t have enough time. That’s one big reason why I’ve always felt time was short. You only really have the years of 18 through, say age 30 (or whenever you get married and have kids), to truly and selfishly own your “own time.” By that standard, I’m already midway through my time.

Time seriously flies. I can’t believe this feeling only accelerates with age. It is absolutely terrifying. This is the major source of my urgency. But feeling old is a hindrance. Too often, I see many adults use it as an excuse to not act out of time shortage. To fight this feeling, I must constantly remind myself that at any given moment, though I am the oldest I have ever been in my life, I am also the youngest I will ever be again.

Time is also a luxury. Think back to society a couple of centuries ago. The majority of the world was composed of serfs and peasants. They toiled from sunrise to sunset to sustain living in itself. After paying their kings’ dues, anything left over was used to survive another week. They had very little free time to squander. Enjoying creative pursuits was not available to them. Compare this lowest class, some 90% of the population, to their opposites on the class spectrum, the nobility and the minority. Their wealth enabled free time, which permitted a lavish life of entertainment and hobbies. Almost the whole population had to struggle and work to enable a small select few to enjoy time. Luxury is difficult to obtain. Time, because only the nobility could enjoy it, was a luxury.

In our modern world, there exists a middle class, people who must mostly work to sustain living, but also have some free time. I identify myself with this class. However, I desire more free time, the type as abundant as the old nobility used to enjoy. I can only afford this for about a year, so I will treat it as a luxury and use it selfishly on my own terms.

Speaking of my own terms, personal productivity and controlling my own time is often sacrificed when working as part of a larger organization. It’s necessary for the larger organization to dictate a direction. Otherwise, each person going every which way because he/she wants to control his/her own time is a huge productivity loss for the company. Personal productivity gains at the cost of your peers is highly selfish, and is something I willingly give up when functioning as a small part to a larger whole. Sometimes though, conforming is just too hard. There are days when I’m easily productive for over twelve hours straight. Other days, I’m so unproductive that my time is better spent binge watching a TV show series. At least that will refresh me for the next day. Once I am on my own, working on my own project, and truly owning my own time, I will relish being selfish with my time, without the guilt.

Having less time simplifies the identification of your priorities. Having more time enables you to focus on your priorities. In the past year, health has shot up to the top of my priority list. I strongly look forward to focusing on this via food and exercise.

Google offer

During the month leading up to my decision to give my two-week notice, I got roped into interviewing at Google by a recruiter. I had decided why not? If I got an offer, I could weigh it against my decision to take a break and gauge how much I wanted to go that route. If I didn’t get the offer, it would serve as a reminder that I would need to keep working hard to stay competitive in the market.

Apparently, I had interviewed well in college, so they put me through a fast track process where I could skip to the onsite interviews. Ultimately, I got the offer, and I was really interested in the team that extended the offer. The technology they were building (especially coupled with Google’s big data) was a reminder of why I was so interested in the technology sector in the first place. I think I would’ve felt very excited with the products the team was building. I wouldn’t have minded putting the things I wanted to build on hold. Software engineers mature fast, but I still have much to learn. Working with another team would’ve been a huge opportunity to pick up more skills and improve in general. However interesting the offer was, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on my other priorities. The job would’ve sucked an additional two or more hours out of the day due to commuting. And I would’ve been back to square one with my original problem: lack of time to focus on my priorities and wants.

I rejected the offer. I think I would’ve given anything to work at Google back in college. It’s interesting how priorities and wants change.

Telling my family & team

The next step was to take the final action of telling my manager about my resignation. I put a stake in the ground for September 9th. Given my team’s schedule, I wanted to help wrap up the project before our freeze date, and two weeks from that Monday seemed perfect. Before telling my manager though, I wanted to inform my family first. I also needed to sort out some logistics, such as getting added back to my dad’s insurance.

So the Sunday before I told my manager, I called my parents. I spoke with my dad first. He took it calmly, but he was definitely disgruntled. I could tell he disagreed with my action, but he listened to what I had to say. He cautioned that it would be hard to get a job after being unemployed for so long. I agreed, but it should help that I have so many friends employed by tech companies. I would probably need their help to land the initial phone screens, as employers would probably be suspicious of my year off.

My mom took the news better. It helped that I communicated with her more frequently over the year by phone. She started with a better understanding of where I was coming from. She told me that she was happy with my choice of priorities and that I was going to work hard to achieve what I wanted. She said it didn’t matter if I fell. It’s just important that I know how to get back up. I was really surprised she felt this way and was so supportive of me. It really touched my heart to have her blessing. I asked her to placate my dad in place of my poor communication skills in Cantonese.

And then Monday came. I was anxious and excited to enter the next phase of my life. When I finally told my manager during our one on one, he was definitely shocked. After taking the day to digest my news, he eventually told me he understood that I thought long and hard about my decision, that I had made up my mind. Over the course of the week, we hashed out the details. I would inform the team in one week’s time, and my last day would be the end of September.

That Monday to inform my team came all too quickly. Again, it was shock all over. Which makes sense. I really like my team, and I like the product we’re building. I don’t think I showed many signs of my decision to resign, if any. I spent the rest of the day and the next few days having over hour-long one on ones with my coworkers. They were all sad to see me go, but many of them were able to understand me and were supportive. At the very least, they recognized I made up my mind and there was not much they could do, so they just accepted it. I really appreciated that.

Something amazing also happened. My problem of being a working professional without enough time for hobbies is hardly unique. Thus, many of my coworkers praised me for being bold and brave, even inspirational for taking the actions I did. All in all, we had really good conversations, some a little more upbeat, and some a little more sad.

Goal moving forward

In the simplest of terms, my goal is to do what I want to do, whenever I want to. The want yields much more effective results. Rather than telling myself I must go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays, I just go whenever I want to. As a result, I enjoy it so much more. When I enjoy the experience, I’m much more likely to do it again. I would even be eager for the next time.

My actual goals are much more concrete, such as reading a minimum of x books a month. This allows me to better measure my pace and progress, and consequently tweak my benchmarks month to month to better set myself up for success. However, I’d like to keep mum on the specifics at this moment.

Ever since I was a kid, my piano teacher always called me a temperamental pianist. He said I was good at what I enjoyed playing, and not so good at what I didn’t enjoy. He told me I can’t just neglect the things I don’t want to play. I understand his lesson. It makes you more balanced, capable, patient, and tolerant. However, if there’s one thing I learned in software engineering, it’s that nothing goes exactly according to plan. So while I’m planning to take control of my time, I expect the unexpected.

And that’s life, too. There will always be elements outside of my control. These elements will naturally give balance to doing the things I want and doing the things I don’t want.

This moment in life is my first real step of being fearless and pursuing something I want outside of any conventional structure. I don’t care about failure, falling, bleeding, and bruising. There is no loss in this direction I am taking. Even if I set myself back professionally, I imagine I can only be a stronger developer by the end of the year by virtue of expanding my comfort zone out of the necessity to complete tasks that I do not want to do but are required for progress. So long as I am always learning, I will be okay.

This is another step of doing something hard. Hard things really do become easier the more you do them. I feel stronger already.

PS. Let this post speak to the power of doing what you want to do. I hated writing essays in school. But look at how much I wrote. I willingly spent hours on this.

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