Most everyone can think of someone they love who they would consider to be a strong person, but what makes that person strong? Is it their self-sacrificial nature? Is it their ability to push through hardship? Often times, the strongest people in our lives are those who overcome their weaknesses, who seek to make a change even when it’s least convenient to do so.
So, though it’s difficult to put a finger on inner strength and what personal weaknesses are, perhaps some context for when particular strengths arise in real situations would make it easier to discover our own strengths and weaknesses.
This article contains:
- A Definition & 5 Symbols of Mental Strength
- The Fortitude Of Character: Key Strengths
- Why You Should List Your Strengths
- Personal Strengths: What Makes You Stronger?
- Professional Strengths: “Your Greatest Strength” In A Job Interview
- List of 92 Strengths For Resumes & Cover Letters
- A Take Home Message
A Definition & 5 Symbols of Mental Strength
When summoning the image of mental strength, you may think of a movie character like William Wallace who, after fighting for the freedom of his Scottish countrymen and facing the betrayal of a friend, refused to surrender to the English king to save his own life. William Wallace is the spitting image of a strong man and historical hero, but mental strength is even more than this picture. Mental strength isn’t some abstract concept only seen in the heroes of old; it’s something each of us has and, with the right focus, can train and hone to accomplish and endure great trials.
To have mental strength, one must have:
- effectiveness/sense of efficiency (What Is Your Definition Of Mental Strength?, n.d.)
But, there is a danger in each of these character traits:
- Adaptability can be easily turned to fickleness
- Endurance to self-induced martyrdom/victimization
- Steadfastness to inflexibility
- Dependability to predictability
- Effectiveness to laziness/short-cut taking
Describing mental strength may not be as effective as showing what it looks like. Everyday people with passion and a desire for change can embody mental strength, and these everyday, inspirational people encapsulate that image.
1. Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa (1994-1999)
Before sentenced to life in prison for “sabotage” in the Rivonia trial, Mandela held steadfastly to his beliefs saying:
“I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (Timeline, n.d.).
Mandela lead with gentleness, hope, and grit, persevering through great persecution and many years in prison refusing to denounce his goal for the sake of those he helped to liberate.
2. Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education
After the Taliban come into Malala’s home in Swat Valley, they shut down schools for women. Malala writes to BBC to discuss her feelings about the school being closed.
When the school opens again, Malala fearlessly continues to be an advocate for female education and is targeted by the Taliban. She is shot several times while on her way to school.
Malala still advocates for female education despite almost being killed for it, and she continues to speak out and study for herself at the University of Oxford. She is brave, persistent, and dependable to women around the world who need a voice. (Malala’s Story, n.d.).
3. Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
In 1970, Maya Angelou published her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she talks about the sexual abuse that she suffered. Angelou was a spokesperson for sexual abuse survivors, women, and African Americans (Blog, n.d.).
Her famous quote from the poem “Still I Rise” bespeaks a willfulness to survive, thrive, and ignore negativity. In the poem she writes:
“You may shoot me with your words, / You may cut me with your eyes, / You may kill me with your hatefulness, / But still, like air, I’ll rise” (Still I Rise, 1978).
4. Helen Keller, first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree
Keller’s persistence in learning to communicate and obtain an education along with her determination to give a voice to people with disabilities inspired change in the laws that allowed people with disabilities to participate in mainstream education and employment (Helen Keller Biography and Chronology, n.d.).
5. Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle
In her memoir, Jeanette Walls recalls a childhood of fun, adventure, and playfulness, but also of heartbreak, abandonment, poverty, and neglect. Walls dreamed of being a professional writer, and so from a young age, she worked with her school publications, saved up money, and when she thought the time was right, moved to New York City by herself to begin writing for New York Magazine.
Walls’ inability to give up, the love of her career, and her willingness to create a better life for herself brought her through radical life changes and into her dream career as a writer and later, a New York Times bestselling writer for seven consecutive years.
The Fortitude Of Character: Key Strengths
When something has “character” that generally means it has something unique about it, something that pulls you to it. Sometimes that means it has lasted through years and years of use or neglect. It stands a chance of being something amazing if someone would give it a little love and care.
Humans are like that, too. We’ve all got that “thing” that makes us unique, lovable, attention-grabbing, but there are some kinks that need smoothing over to make us really shine. Most of us learn as we go, as the tumultuous times come and we adapt to overcome them, and that’s when it’s easiest to see the strengths of a human character.
Key strengths are the most important of our many, shiniest characteristics. Think of your key strengths as the literal keys to the doors that house the grandest opportunities. These are the things that help you advance yourself and get through rocky areas of life. Perhaps the last time you were out of a job your wife noticed that your resilience uplifted the whole family and gave them hope. That’s a key strength, and it’s one that must be dearly held on to and cultivated because it will be needed again.
Why You Should List Your Strengths
Self-awareness is an advantage in many situations, and it can be fostered by taking account of your strengths. Focusing your attention inward and being introspective can actually help you take someone else’s perspective into consideration and reduce self-seeking, self-gratifying mentalities (Hass, 179, 1984; Stephenson & Wicklund, 1983, 1984 qtd. in Abbate, C.S., Boca, S., Gendolla, G.H.E., 2016).
When you do things like listing your strengths, you’re actually bringing awareness to your distinctiveness from other people which is an essential part of taking other people’s perspective and considering what it’s like to be in another person’s situation (Stephenson & Wicklund, 1983 qtd. in Abbate, C.S., Boca, S., Gendolla, G.H.E. 2016).
Indulging in exercises like listing your strengths can make you a more self-aware and less self-consumed person, but there are other reasons to take the time to turn inward and think about what you’re best at.
- You can see for yourself where you need to improve. Being honest with yourself about what you struggle with can help you resolve to get better. Just like any kind of improvement, self-improvement requires practice.
- Listing can be a form of brainstorming. Don’t know what your strengths are? Just start writing and narrow it down later.
- Lists get rid of excuses. Once you write it down, now you have to think about it, practice it, and use it. You can use your list as a reminder to work hard at changing what you want to change.
Personal Strengths: What Makes You Stronger?
Personal strength seems like this elusive, intangible part of the human experience that rests in the heart and soul. It might be difficult to quantify, but we know it when we see it. If someone has mental strength, they learn and adapt to their environments, they persist in their desires and ambitions, they persevere through hardship. Personal strengths are part of that.
The specific things about you that enable you to keep your chin high and persist are those personal strengths that cling to you in every difficult situation. Things like:
- Optimism or Realism
- Commitment and Loyalty
- Sense of direction
Think of it like this: If mental strength is the self-containing, hard chocolate outside of a truffle, then personal strengths are the ooey-gooey insides that come out once the receptacle is broken.
Professional Strengths: “Your Greatest Strength” In A Job Interview
Professional strengths are where the General funnels down into the Specific. Take what you know about yourself through your mental and personal strengths, and, if you’ve listed them, try writing down the list of strengths you think would be needed for the job you’re applying to. Circle the ones that correspond with your own list of strengths and elaborate on them.
People with mental strengths like adaptability and personal strengths like open-mindedness would be great case workers, lawyers, teachers, and researchers, so find the areas where you overlap with the ideal candidate and list those in the interview.
When you’re in the interview and they ask that dreaded question, you should be prepared.
To get you started, here are some things to consider when writing down your key strengths:
Is it relevant to the job?
Sometimes it’s necessary to apply for a job where your current work history and skills don’t have any relation to the position, but most of the time when you’re applying for a job that’s relevant to you, you want to make yourself seem like the best person for the job. If applying for a job in marketing, you would need key strengths such as: creative problem solver.
Is it true?
It’s become a running joke for people to exaggerate on their resume, get hired for the position, and then get fired from that position because they didn’t have the necessary skills for the job. It’s better to take stock of your strengths and be honest, so when it comes to the interview, you’ll be prepared to wow your interviewers with your true talents.
Is it adaptable?
Perhaps you’ve been in programming for twenty years now, and you’re applying for an up-and-coming tech company. Most likely it wouldn’t help to list that you are an experienced programmer for an operating system that hasn’t been in use since 2001, rather, list that you’re a diversified programmer who has worked on seventeen different operating systems since your start in the industry. In other words, your key strengths are: experienced and adaptable.
When you bring your resume, application, and list of strengths and weaknesses, there are some things to keep in mind to make the right impression on your interviewer:
- Don’t drone on. Prepare the top three to five most relevant traits, and make sure you know which one you would single out as your greatest.
- Have a real-life example ready. When they ask about your greatest strength, they may want to know about a time when you exemplified it. Prepare the most poignant and relevant example beforehand.
- If your real greatest strength doesn’t seem to coincide with the ideal candidate, then pitch it like it does. Are you sensitive but you’re wanting to apply as a police officer? Tell your interviewer exactly why your sensitivity makes you the best candidate for the job.
- Be honest with yourself about what you can handle and what may be beyond you. You don’t want to end up in a job that breaks you down as a person. Be honest and up front with yourself and your interviewer (without handicapping yourself and talking yourself out of the job), because when they ask for your weaknesses, you must seem like you’re willing to work on them. If you aren’t willing to work on them, then you’d probably better go back to the Classifieds.
List of 92 Strengths For Resumes & Cover Letters
It’s time to organize your mental, personal, and professional strengths into a streamlined list. Using your head, heart, and passions, make your own list of strengths (using only the best and most applicable) to get the attention of your future employer.
To get you started, take a look at this list of strengths. Maybe even print it off and highlight ones that you feel apply to you. Use it as a jumping off point and really wow your hiring agent and interviewers with your preparation and can-do attitude.
(Examples of Strengths and Weaknesses, n.d.)
A Take Home Message
It’s not as easy to know yourself as you may think. No one really knows what the backs of their own hands look like, contrary to the popular phrase, because they don’t spend any time studying the backs of their hands. Similarly, a lot of people don’t know themselves well enough to give a proper description, they aren’t aware of the things they could utilize, cultivate, and improve. That’s okay because it’s easy to change that.
It will come time for most to have to be introspective when looking for a job that fits them. Don’t let the blank application or the invitation to interview for a job intimidate you. There are plenty of things about you that employers want and need, and all you have to do is dig deep and figure out what you’re best at.
About the Author
Taylor Leasure is a graduate of Harding University with degrees in English and Psychology. She is a published poet, short fiction writer, blogger, and novelist. She loves to make things with her hands and use her degrees to better understand people and great works of literature.
- Abbate, C.S., Boca, S., Gendolla, G.H.E. (2016) Self-awareness, Perspective-taking, and Egocentrism. Self and Identity (15)4, pp. 371-380. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2015.1134638
- Angelou, Maya. (1978) Still I Rise. And Still I Rise. Retrieved from https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/still-i-rise/
- Blog. (n.d.) Maya Angelou. Retrieved from https://www.mayaangelou.com/blog/
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- Malala’s Story. (n.d.) Malala Fund. Retrieved from https://www.malala.org/malalas-story/
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- Timeline. (n.d.) Nelson Mandela Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.nelsonmandela.org/timeline
- What Is Your Definition Of Mental Strength? (n.d.). Mental Strength. Retrieved from https://www.mentalstrength.com/what-is-your-definition-of-mental-strength/
- 638 Primary Personality Traits. (n.d.) Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html