Finding the words how naming personal strengths helps us grow into ourselves

Finding the Words: How naming personal strengths helps us grow into ourselves

For most of my life I have been fascinated with language. In college I am currently an English Education major with a Writing minor. I’ve spent dedicated time studying linguistics and reading books about the role of language in different relationships, cultures, and contexts. Yet for years I have been unable to find words I feel can truly communicate and explain who I am.


This is a very important thing for all of us, but specifically young people, to develop: vocabulary that articulates and names who we are. When I was younger I could describe myself with big blanket words like writer, extrovert, even Orthodox Christian; but as I get older and find myself trying to integrate with the rest of the world in more complex and intricate ways, I feel once again like a toddler learning to speak: stuck in my brain and heart, knowing desperately what I want to say and not knowing how. 


Going into this internship experience with YES I was expecting to be introduced to new skills I needed to work on and attain in order to grow as a leader within my life and my communities. However, after starting this experience, it became very clear that my mentors had no intention of finding where I lacked but rather hoped to further develop the skills and strengths I already possessed. YES showed me that I was valuable as a leader already, how the skills I have are enough for me to be a leader. I didn’t need to add anything new, rather I simply needed to develop what I already had. 


Originally this concept didn’t make sense to me, because frankly, I didn’t know what skills or strengths I already had. I knew I was good at creating lesson plans and organizing concepts because of my background studying Education. I knew I was proficient in connecting arbitrary ideas and concepts I had learned and heard and observed and how to synthesize them. I knew I believed everything was connected and that for me it was all connected through stories and narratives, both spoken and unspoken. 


What I didn’t know was how to articulate any of this. 


My lack of vocabulary was actually stunting my personal growth in cultivating these natural skills. Since I didn’t have tangible words for these skills I was unable to find tangible resources. I didn’t know what books, people, classes, opportunities to look for that would help me understand myself and develop my talents further. 


During my experience with the YES Internship my pleading prayer for vocabulary was answered. Within the first week or so I completed the Strengths Finder Assessment, a tool to help identify strengths a person naturally possesses. The YES internship takes these results and shows where those skills are present in a leader. I was not entirely surprised with all of my results; skills of communication or being strategic were things I had always known about. The finding that fully impacted me was the skill of Connectedness. 


The Strengthsfinder Assessment describes a person with Connectedness as an individual who believes and understands everything and everyone is connected in some way. One of the practical applications briefly mentioned in the results was that people with Connectedness might be good at being community builders and bringing together groups of people that might not see for themselves how they are connected to each other. The Strengthsfinder gave me validation and beneficial purpose to my natural bubbly and social butterfly personality. My internship project was focused on creating community and connection on my local campus. Because I could now identify what Connectedness and unity were, I was able to notice people were so disconnected from each other. Juniors and seniors who had been in my university community for years were on school Facebook and Instagram pages posting pictures of themselves and saying. “I would really love to make some friends on campus”. I reasoned I would not be able to be every single person’s friend, I could use my natural skill of Connectedness, along with my other identified skills of Communication and Strategy, to create a space where people can learn to connect better. By the end of my internship with YES I will be facilitating a workshop for students on campus that brings to light why our current culture makes us feel so disconnected and isolated from each other, and hopefully creates a space where people can overcome this obstacle of culture to build relationships and connection with others. 


In my reflection of my internship I realize now this is a project and opportunity I was able to create because I knew what skills I had. I knew I had a strength for connecting people, for communicating, and for strategically planning larger events for communities. But before I had taken this small ten minute assessment I didn’t know how to be useful to the world. I knew I wanted to be but I didn’t know where to start.  Finding words and language for the gifts and talents I possess, in the same way we all possess a unique combination of skills, allowed me to find people, resources, opportunities to further cultivate what is already within me. 



Cecelia Olsen, YES Intern

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