Playing to your strengths.
By Roy Spence; Photo by Matt Lankes Photography.
OK, Austin people. My hero is Aristotle, for he was—and probably still is—the most enlightened person that ever existed on the planet. Aristotle wrote extensively on the meaning and purpose of life, and he concluded that, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
He also wrote about the ideal of living life with a goal of doing good. I am all in, but I would like to share with you how knowing and being appreciated for your innate talents and strengths can accelerate one’s happiness and sense of purpose and meaning.
Although I have been blessed to go off and do some interesting and exciting stuff in my life, I am simply still a kid from Brownwood, Texas, who, because of my most amazing mother, Ruth Spence, experienced a thunderous epiphany in that small Central Texas town when I was 14 years old about life and living a life playing to my core strengths.
My mom was a high-school history and civics teacher when I was growing up. She was the best ever. To this day, after more than 30 years of retirement and with her now passed away (God bless you, Mom), I still run in to people who come up to me and say, “Your mom was the best teacher I ever had. She changed my life.”
Anyway, I was in eighth grade and we had to do an in-class essay test on Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom I love. After writing the in-class essay, I turned it in and when I got it back, I had nine misspelled words with big red circles everywhere and a big C on the right side of the paper . Cs were not celebrated in the Spence home, but my mom said nothing. I thought, “Wow! I got away with that one.”
The next year, in ninth grade, we were studying another great American poet and another in- class essay test was required. When test time came around, I said, “Mom, I can’t do this paper! I will get another C!” She said, “Roy, just do the best you can.” So I turned in the paper, and when I got it back, the whole paper was covered with red circles around misspelled words. I looked up, and on the top right side of the page was a very small A-.
I ran home and held the two papers in front of my mom. “Mom, I don’t get it.” She paused and stared at the two papers, each covered with a sea of red circles, and looked me straight in the eye. “Son, you can’t spell.” Long pause. “But you can write. So here is the grand bargain I am going to make with you at 14 years of age. I want you to try hard, study hard and do the very best you can at everything in school. But in life, I do not want you to waste any of your precious time or talent trying to be average at what you are bad at. I want you to spend your life becoming great at what you are good at. Play to your strengths in life, serving others and the gr eater good and you will be happy and fulfilled, and the world will be just a little bit better.”
So, I am passing on the wisdom of my mother, Austin men and women. Play to your strengths. Serve others and the greater good, and you won’t have to spend a lot of y our life searching for purpose, meaning and happiness. You will find that purpose, meaning and happiness will meet you where you are.