Relying on your dependable strength allows you to live a happier and fuller life—take it from a 78-year-old expert on living better.
An arm-wrestling match with my ten-year-old granddaughter convinced me that I’m not as strong as I used to be. But that’s not surprising, as I turned 78 on my last birthday. I realize that, with aging, the loss of muscle strength can be a concern. With this in mind, I practice yoga and make a point of getting some physical exercise every day. But I also look to another type of strength to make my aging years the best they can be.
I became aware of the dependable strength concept a number of years ago during a faculty retreat at the beginning of a new school year. The goal of the retreat was to help us identify and learn how to capitalize on our individual personal and professional strengths. The retreat included a process developed by the Center for Dependable Strengths.
Knowing my strengths helped me during my teaching career. It continues to be a valuable asset in my daily life, possibly more so as I get older. A dependable strength, as the name suggests, is a strength you can count on. Dependable strengths show up in childhood but stay with you throughout your life.
One way to identify your own dependable strength (or strengths) is to think back to good experiences you had during childhood. Think back to when you achieved a goal or accomplished something. You probably enjoyed that experience. Even small triumphs count. Picking that first ripe tomato off of a vine you planted can give you a feeling of accomplishment. This doesn’t mean that growing tomatoes is a personal strength. It could be something larger, like love of nature or connectedness with nature.
I was a nature lover as a child. I loved being outside and was fascinated with the workings of the natural world. I found joy in watching birds build their nests, planting peas and carrots in our garden, and playing in the woods. Reflecting on these experiences helped me identify nature connectedness as one of my dependable strengths. While nature connectedness enriched my childhood and contributed to some of my personal and professional accomplishments, it continues to be a source of strength for me in my senior years. I often look to nature for inspiration and solace.
A bit of luck and support from others often play a role in our accomplishments; personal strengths also come into play. Identifying one or more of your dependable strengths can be empowering. You’ll know where to go when faced with challenging situations. I think of a dependable strength as water in a well that never runs dry.
I recognize that the muscles in my arm, and in the rest of my body, are weakening with age. My nature connectedness, however, is something I continue to depend on. It has stuck with me over the years. I find it getting even stronger with intentional use.
Materials I received during the Dependable Strengths workshop included a list of 52 possible strengths. These were listed alphabetically from “analysis” and “artistic” to “words” and “writing.” “Nature connectedness” was not on the list; yet that’s the strength I identified after reflecting on the good experiences in my earlier life. Other strengths on that list included creative, leader, memory, observation, organizer, people, and problem-solving. Many of us would like to claim any or all of these strengths for ourselves. Yet they may or may not apply to how we really function. Your dependable strength may be on that list, but may not be. What works for you is unique to you.
Identifying your personal strength (or strengths) shouldn’t start with a potential list. The process should start with an analysis of your good experiences. What hobbies or activities have you enjoyed and been good at over the years? Look for core strengths that you might have used while engaged in these activities? Remember that a core strength and a skill are not the same.
I identified nature connectedness as a dependable strength, not a skill. Nature-related skills include bird identification, living off the land, and organic farming. I don’t have any of these skills. What I do have is a strong affinity for plants and animals and the rest of the natural world. You might be good at entertaining people in your home, but your dependable strength might be kindness and love of people.
Zeroing in on a strength versus a skill allows you to attribute achievement to yourself, not to your actions. It allows you to recognize value in who you are, not just in what you do. Your dependable strength can help you get through difficult times, but it’s also something you can enjoy.
Now that I’m older I may give up arm wrestling, but I plan to hold on to a different type of strength—a strength I find within myself and one that seems especially important as I age. Finding your dependable strength is like finding a jewel that never loses its luster.
Ruth Wilson discusses topics from living well to dealing with pain to staying resilient while aging. Read more from Ruth.