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Put Your Strengths to Work

How are you doing, my darlings? Are we having fun yet?

I don't know about you, but last week, I was deteriorating into frazzled and crabby. Crisis alert! It was time to use my strengths.

I have a heart for research. Life doesn't get any better, for me, than pouring over primary source documents in a musty old library. Utter bliss. Pure contentment. Time evaporates. Thinking about those days makes me happy.

Second, this ancient art history major loves beautiful design. My research-loving heart is aching to jump into a car and explore America, but, right now, I'll have to settle for a more accessible, and gratifying, design project - a garden.

Third, I have a passion for sharing my interests. So here we are.

Are you putting your strengths to work - full throttle - at this challenging time? Are you encouraging those around you - staff, family, friends - to harness, polish, and use their strengths?

Shackleton did.

After abandoning Endurance, Shackleton used his journal to reinforce his innate optimism and to reframe his thinking about his most exasperating crew-members.

Trapped on an ice-floe, he wrote in his journal, day after day, that the crew was "all doing well." He particularly noted the contributions made by his most trying crew-members - Harry McNeish, the grumpy but brilliant carpenter; Thomas Orde-Lees, the lazy "motor expert;" and photographer Frank Hurley who tried to undermine Shackleton's leadership.

By reminding himself of their positive contributions, Shackleton avoided getting bogged down in their short-comings. In doing so, Shackleton got the best performance out of every member of his crew, not just a favored few.

Through the repairs he made to the 22-foot sailboat James Caird, McNeish made it possible for Shackleton and a team of five to sail to South Georgia through 700 miles of stormy, ice-choked ocean and save everyone's life.

Orde-Lees was a failure as the expedition's motor-expert - Hurley took over that job - but, along the way, Orde-Lees asked Shackleton to put him in charge of their rapidly-dwindling stores. Orde-Lees had a genius for managing their food supply and eked out enough for them to survive on Elephant Island. Ninety years later, his meticulously kept expedition journal - which he began as a letter to his wife - became the basis for Shackleton's Way.

On a dark winter night aboard Endurance, Orde-Lees wrote in his journal, "I know that in reading all the other books on polar exploration nothing interests me more than the character of the leaders... Naturally, one cannot always form a very concise opinion from the narrative written by the leader. I hope, therefore, that this impression of Sir Ernest by an intimate acquaintance will be of some interest to those who read it." It certainly has.

Frank Hurley had a difficult childhood. He left home when he was ten and was something of a prima-donna, but he did the best work of his life for Shackleton, and his film and photographs were the only valuable assets salvaged from the expedition.

Meditating on this, I finally completed a long-in-the-works PowerPoint essay on the life of my family's first ancestor born in Manhattan in 1839. It felt frivolous, but, on the other hand, it's a legacy project. Plus, I got to put my strengths to work - research, design, and sharing - all in one project.

Your turn!

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April 12, 1916 - Orde-Lees' Journal - excerpt As we and the day advanced, the weather deteriorated but the sun's disc was sufficiently visible through the haze for Captain Worsley to get the much desi


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