Best LifeInsightful Interview With Lead Through Strengths Facilitator Strother Gaines On How To Live Your Best Life

What’s your idea of the best life and how exactly do you get there?

Is it a vision that is so fixed in your consciousness that you have laid the path towards it with such clarity, laser-sharp focus and solid determination? Or is it something that you have planned with flexibility and openness to change? Or did you hear someone like Oprah, telling you to live your best life, but you have no idea where to start because it seems far away and tough to achieve?

As we navigate through life and towards our definition of the best life, things can happen that can throw us off our path and force us to reroute or arrange new ones. 

When this happens, do we stress out to see a dichotomy out of our old plans and the realities of the present moment, or do we embrace life as a constantly dynamic process?

Join Lisa Cummings and Strother Gaines again in another important discussion.

Lisa:  You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. 

I'm your host, Lisa Cummings and you know, I'm always telling you

“Oh, it's so energizing, using your strengths every day at work.” 

It is one of those ways to feel like you're living “your best life,” to grab Oprah's phrase. And to grab a phrase from someone else that everyone has heard of, I always hear people using that funny line from Tony Robbins. It's something like

“Are you should-ing all over yourself?” 

And like

“I shouldn't do this... I shouldn’t do that... I should do this...”

A lot of us do that when it comes to trying to live our best lives. We wish for things or we think we should have made other choices to align ourselves to whatever it is we wish we could be experiencing in life. 

Well today, in this conversation with Strother Gaines, one of our CliftonStrengths facilitators, he gives you some ways of thinking about this. 

So instead of staying in conflict in your mind about it and lamenting all of the things you're not doing, he'll give you some ideas for genuinely stepping into the best person you can be in that moment, being a little more graceful with yourself so you're not looking back over the last rest of your life, looking at all of those choices and trying to deem whether those were good or bad, but moving forward from where you are right now.

To Live Your Best Life, Know Your Intention And Be Clear With What You Want 

Lisa: What about the conflicts you have in your head as well? You know that conflicts aren't just with other people? You know, you fight the personal things that you wish you would do, maybe when you're not aligned with the personal leadership you want to demonstrate, or the life you say you want to live (like the ideal "best life" you've imagined), but then you think

I have big-kid bills, or I have to be more practical, or I need to get this deliverable done. 

So I'm just going to work 14 hours a day, just as an interval, I'm just gonna do it for a couple of weeks. 

But then it becomes your life. 

So when you battle that sort of thing, you're facing burnout, and really, you're battling *you* and the baggage that you bring with you role after role after role, it's the same stuff. 

What do you do to get inside of your head and let your strengths out in those situations?

Strother: It's back to that planning piece. 

Again, knowing the intention and being super clear. I think a lot of the times we have these visions of what we want our job to be like or our best life to be like, but we're not crystal clear. It's a hazy, blurry... something like that. And we hesitate to be very specific because life is dynamic and things change all the time. 

What if you suddenly have a kid? OR,

What if there's a giant divorce? OR,

What if there's something that changes? 

So we don't want to put something down. We don't want to plant a flag in the ground and say, that's where I'm going. Because it could change. Or you wouldn't dare plant a "best life" flag when you're in the middle of a crisis. It would seem selfish or out of place.

It's actually really valuable to plant flags, even if you're going to uproot them later and move the goalposts because it gives you something to go towards. It gives you a filter. 

I love the metaphor of filters in our lives. And again, from a non-emotional place putting these filters in so anytime you have a choice to make, anytime you run into a problem where you keep doing the same thing, you pour it into the top and you let it run through all the filters. 

It has to meet this requirement. It'd be really nice if it met this requirement. This is the very specific thing that I definitely want to go towards. 

And once you let everything sort of filter through you go  

“Does this serve my goal or not?”

And hopefully those filters will be able to knock out any behaviors that aren't serving that longer goal or that larger goal. But if you're unclear in where you want to go, then every time you make a new decision has to be a completely new process. 

So being really clear what you want and where you're going helps you when those types of conflicts come up.

Got Goals That Are At Odds With Each Other? Renegotiate Rules And Discover New Options

Lisa: So now if I get really tough with it, here's a situation: This is the kind of thing that people come up to me to talk about after the StrengthsFinder training event. And I'm sure they do this to you too.

Strother: Yeah, I love it. But...

Lisa: Like, “Yeah, okay, I have a clear vision of the ideal life. Here's that flag you told me about it. And I think I know what that "best life flag" is. I want to have this role. And in five years, I think I could have that role. I could get the promotion. I could go start that company. I could do that thing. It would genuinely feel like the best version of my life that I can envision.

Let's say it's a specific promotion, specific role they want. And they believe that in order to get it, it also requires a certain level of workaholism or  other things that would then go against a family value that they say they have as well. And these two things seem at odds with each other and they're like,

I want this but I don't want to leave behind my family or these other things?” 

How do I figure out how to prioritize or what to do with that when my goals almost seem at odds with each other? Can I have my best life without leaving everyone else in the dust?

Strother: I feel like it's the real question because that's the hard piece. It's so wonderful in the conceptual world where we're like

“Oh, we'll just leverage your strengths and everything's just gonna shake out great.” 

But then you bump up against that. And I think that the first piece in unpacking it is, one of the phrases that I use all the time is  

“Have you set up an unwinnable game for yourself?” 

And I think that helps people see, like, if you're saying, 

“Well, this is the outcome or best life that I desire, and also this, this and this are in place…”

Well, you've set up an unwinnable game, there's no-win scenario for you in this because you're already setting up. 

I will be unhappy in some areas, whether it's usually the workaholic side of things. I'll just spend tons and tons of time here and fall on that sword. 

And I think that when you've set up an unwinnable game, it's time to just renegotiate the rules of it. And I think when you have it, the challenge here is that this is the thing I hate about personal development, I bet you've found this too personal development always kind of defaults back to that feeling of like, 

“Be big, but not too big, small, but not too small. Do this…” 

But it's never a clear “this is how this works every time.” 

And we all want a clear version of our best life with a direct roadmap. We want that clarity. But when it comes to this situation, when you're in that unwinnable game, oftentimes you have that clear picture, you also have preordained the path, and you have a hard time letting go of what you see as the way to get there. 

And there may be all sorts of different offshoots. And if you do have these tension points, there's both the ability to triage like, 

“Is one slightly more important?”

“Is there a lean here that I can lean into so I won’t default to this most of the time”

“And if not, how can I restructure the entirety of the concept of what I'm doing to make it work? What would I need to do to do that?”

“Does that mean I have to change an hourly rate? Do I need to get a new skill? Do I need to pick up something, bring in some type of support structure, someone who takes care of the house while I'm doing this thing? Can I live a slightly better life every day on the way to my best life out in the future? "

There are always options. And a lot of times they feel like they're inaccessible for one reason or another. But it's usually because we're holding on too tightly to the first vision of how it should go. And anytime you, or I was….. the phrase I love is, “should-ing all over yourself.” 

Like if you feel like you should do something that's a red flag for me as a coach to look and be like, 

“So why should you do that? What's going on there?”

And there's usually a way that you haven't thought of that you can pivot and try something new.

The ‘This Or That’ Dilemma Vs. Embracing Life’s Gray Areas

Lisa: Yeah, there's another thing that you do as a coach that I think is so good, which is about making things mutually exclusive where if I've already decided that if I want this path, it has to be like this. And if I have this, I can't have that. It's either-or. It's one or the other.

And then you lock yourself into it's “this or that,” right? And I don't know why humans do this, but we're so drawn to “this or that” kind of thinking and you are so good at catching people on that. This is not mutually exclusive, of that. They could actually live...

Strother: ….exist together. Yeah.

We live in that... we crave... let's back to that. Don't tell me “do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” 

We want a clear boundary. We live in a binary mindset. And it's really actually difficult for us to move into that shades of gray, because our brains naturally crave, 

“Well, pick one!”

“Which one?” 

“That one.” And then the tension ramps up and we get emotional about them. We're like -  

“That one!” 

It's like “you have to turn this off!”

And so I think that, the more you can just acknowledge the duality of the world, and that things are constantly evolving, it helps you get closer to a best life without getting so frustrated. A friend of mine said it really well: 

“Life is just so dynamic.” 

It was almost a sad because he sounded so exasperated… He was like, “It’s just so dynamic right now.” 

And I was like  

Lisa: “That should be good!” 

Strother: I was like, “that's a brilliant way to put that though.” Like when life is challenging and things are unclear and there is all of this gray area in your life. It's just your life is being really dynamic right now. 

And that's sometimes hard to be with, but it also usually has the highest payoff, is that you can live in that dynamic place for a little while. You usually create some type of result that's so much better than “this or that."

Which would you like?

You're going to get something that encompasses all of your wants and all of your best-life-desires and all of your intentions, as opposed to... 

“Well, I pick that one. That one is good.”

Your Best Life Starts Where You Align With The Best Version Of Yourself

Lisa: This is one of my favorite things that Strother brings to coaching to StrengthsFinder training events. He is always catching people in a moment where they get into “this or that” mode, where, if this then not that, and we get into this mutually exclusive kind of thing in our head, and we do it around lots of scenarios. 

“Oh, if I pick this role, well, I'm not living that passion.” 

Or, “If I change course this way, that I'm not going to have that thing.” 

And we try to narrow it down and simplify it so much that we actually get stuck. And Strother is so good at helping people become unstuck and helping people see that you can take small steps in many directions, to really feel like you are aligned with the best version of you and those small actions over time add up and add up and add up. And one day you look up. If you're setting the intention to do this over time, and you notice a year later, “Wow, I feel really good. I'm living a good life.” It won't be an instant best life. But it's a good life, over time. And it's a best life, eventually with small actions that stack up.

Want More Of These Conversations? Consider Strother For Your Strengths Events 

So, just to give another shout out to Strother for doing this episode, I really appreciate you Strother if you're listening, that you bring this conversation to me, to our clients, and to the concept of StrengthsFinder (CliftonStrengths), because it really is one where people wrap themselves around the axle about not yet achieving their best life.

So if you are a listener, who has been in that mode with yourself where you're like, “Oh, I don't really know what my passion is,” or “I made the wrong choice when I started my career,” give yourself some grace. Apply some of the things that Strother mentioned in this episode about stepping into who you are in those smaller ways. 

With that, thanks for listening to Lead Through Strengths. If you've been adoring these concepts that Strother has been bringing to you, feel free to request him when you do your training events with us whether that's an in-person event or a virtual event, depending on the time that you're listening to this, Strother does them all. Note: this was originally published during the Covid-era, so that's why we have a caveat about in-person.

Coming up, we have two more episodes where he is my guest. And the next go-round, we're talking about how to figure out how to talk to your manager and the team around you when you need some things from them or from your environment so that you can show up at your best but you don't want to sound like a brat who is needy and entitled. 

So we will see you over there in the next episode. Bye for now.

More On Letting Your Natural Talents Lead You To Your Best Life

The next time you catch yourself in the “this or that” predicament, remember you can always dial up your strengths to get you unstuck. If you lead through Adaptability and Arranger, most likely you can easily adjust to detours and unexpected changes around you because you thrive in a dynamic environment. As simple as tuning in to your top 5 talents can direct you to meaningful life choices.

You’ll definitely pick up some gems from Lisa’s conversation with Scott Barlow, where he guides listeners who find themselves asking that familiar question: should I stay or go now? Learn why your best life is worth the risks, as long as they are aligned with your dreams. As a plus, you can get his eBook on What Career Fits You for free.

About Carmie Carpio

Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she's home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents "CLIPS" (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)--you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She'd like to think she's one.