Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Discovering My Strengths

About a month ago, we had a work project within my sales team to find what each individual's unique talents and strengths were. The book we used, Now, Discover Your Strengths, gives you a code to go online to take a personality and strengths finder test  and from the evaluation shows your Top 5 traits. 

There are 34 traits, what they call themes, and range anywhere from Developer to Futuristic to Restorative. (Click here to see the summary of the themes). I took the test before I read the book, so I had no presumptions of what the themes were and couldn't choose my answers to sway the results one way or the other (if my test results came out with "perfect in every way", I think someone would get suspicious).

The test was tough. I'm not sure what that says about my personality, hopefully that I'm well rounded and not just indecisive. You get about 10 seconds to answer each question, and they're weird questions with multiple answers that you feel all could describe you. But you can only choose one. 

They tell you to not think about it and choose the one that is your first instinct. So I just went with it. If the results turned out that I was irresponsible and disrespectful and an all around unpleasant human being, well, I guess my secret would be out.

At the end of the test, I got my top 5 themes and a detailed explanation of each: 


"Stretch the circle wider". This is the philosophy around which you orient your life. You want to include people and make them feel part of the group. In direct contrast to those who are drawn only to exclusive groups, you actively avoid those groups that exclude others.  You hate the sight of someone on the outside looking in. You want to draw them in so that they can feel the warmth of the group. You are an instinctively accepting person. Regardless of race or sex or nationality or personality or faith, you cast few judgements. Judgements can hurt a person's feelings. Why do that if you don't have to? Your accepting nature does not necessarily rest on a belief that each of us is different and that one should respect these differences. Rather, it rests on your conviction that fundamentally we are all the same. We are all equally important. Thus, no one should be ignored. Each of us should be included. It is the least we all deserve.


You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation.Some call you lighthearted. Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seem to be. But either way, people want to be around you. Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious. Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition, or worse, heavy with pressure. You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit. You inject drama into every project. You celebrate every achievement. you find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital. Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down. Your positivity won't allow it. Somehow you can't quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one's sense of humor.

Someone once bought me a shirt that said "violently happy". It's the perfect phrase for me.


Your achiever theme helps explain your drive. Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by "every day" you mean every single day -- workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. You have an internal fire burning inside you that pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment. Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent. It does have its benefits. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges. It is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the levels of productivity for your work group. It is the theme that keeps you moving.

You look for areas of agreement. In your view there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum. When you know that the people around you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground. You try to steer them away from confrontation and toward harmony. In fact, harmony is one of your guiding values. You can't quite believe how much time is wasted by people trying to impose their views on others. Wouldn't we all be more productive if we kept our opinions in check and instead looked for consensus and support? You believe we would, and you live by that belief. When others are sounding off about their goals, their claims, and their fervently held opinions, you hold your peace. When others strike out in a direction, you will willingly, in the service of harmony, modify your own objectives to merge with theirs (as long as their basic values do not clash with yours). When others start to argue about their pet theory or concept, you steer clear of the debate, preferring to talk about practical, down-to-earth matters on which you can all agree. In your view we are all in the same boat, and we need this boat to get where we are going. It is a good boat. There is no need to rock it just to show that you can.

I avoid drama at all costs, steer clear of debates, and try to find common ground between everyone. It's almost embarrassing. Some may view it as weak, but I view it as why can't everyone just leave everyone else alone and be nice?


Your responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help - and they soon will - you must be selective. Your  willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.

I always take on more than I should. Maybe I'm not so proud of that, but you can at least depend on me and my "impeccable ethics"....cough cough.... (hey they said it, not me!)

Out of the list of themes, which five do you think best describe you? 

If you took the test, were there any themes you were surprised by that you got or didn't get?

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

Throughout my entire teenage and college life, I found myself in quasi-serious relationships. I'm a romantic at heart and the white-picket-fence-babies-minivan mantra was (and is!) what most southern women want whether they would ever admit it or not. 
It's what I wanted at one point, too. Can't deny it. It's embedded into our southern-born DNA.

The Mrs Degree

You go to school. You meet the love of your life. You get married. You move back to your hometown (or somewhere relatively close). You have kids. Those kids grow up. Go to school. Meet the loves of their lives. Get married. Have your grandkids. 

And the cycle continues. That's how it's supposed to work.

It's what makes small towns so close knit and keeps a community strong.

Well me, I was the misfit. 

I followed my heart to Florida in 2005, and by 2007 was stuck in a place I never thought I'd be -- I  wasn't with the love of my life, I wasn't married, I wasn't back home, and I didn't have kids. I remember looking around my very first one bedroom apartment 600 miles away from home thinking well what now

I was alone with no friends, and had a job that was promising for the future but didn't make ends meet.  I had never been single for a long period of time, and had never supported myself without financial help from school loans or someone to share the bills with. 
What to do?

Like the Taurus I am, I stubbornly decided to prove that I could do it on my own. No time to feel sorry for myself -- so I hit the ground running.

In the Sunday paper one morning there was a listing for servers/bartenders needed at a local restaurant. I had waited tables in college and knew how nice awesome it was to walk out with wads of cash in my hand (heck, I'm still jealous even today, who am I kidding)- working two jobs was going to be tough, but it was a good temporary solution and I figured maybe I'd meet some friends there too. 

Done and done. 

Little did I know how many people I would meet and how much self-evaluation I would encounter.

I realized I didn't even know what I wanted for myself. For so long I had been morphing my wants and opinions into whatever everyone else wanted or liked. What does Mary want? What does Mary like? I had no idea. It's very similar to that scene in Runaway Bride, where she doesn't even know how she likes her eggs cooked. 

The group of people I worked with were so open minded that it allowed me to form my own opinion on things without being judged or criticized.There were the goody two-shoes, the alcoholics, the born-again Christians,  and the ones that have a record in the Pinellas County System. You had the mothers and fathers trying to make ends meet for their kids, and you had the college students just trying to make a few extra bucks to pay their cell phone bills. It was one big dysfunctional family, and they carried me through my self awakening while I got my groove back.

At this point in my career, I had gotten promoted with my hotel company and didn't "need" my serving job anymore, but it's where all my friends were and I had fun there. So I kept it going on the weekends.

It was chaotic - it was dramatic - it was long nights and early mornings - but it was family, and that's how families work sometimes.

Thank you to my St Pete family for getting me through what could have been a dark time. Just like the great Whitney Houston, I will always love you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Walking The Plank

During my trip to Calgary last year as we sat at the parade for Stampede, I made mention of the fact that it was similar to Tampa, except for instead of the city turning into cowboys and riding horses, the city turned into pirates and rode in on large ships. 

It started with just Rachel/Hugues. Then Mom said she'd like to come too. Then my brother decided to drive down from his base. And Jackie and Delane, God love them, skipped a trip to New Orleans for the National Championship game so that they could instead spend their time off in Florida with us.

And so began the Malone/Lefebvre/Stallings Gasparilla Weekend 2012.

We got the weekend started with G. Love & Special Sauce. The McFarlands and the Watsons also joined us that night for some funky blues music. 

Good friends and Good Fridays. And the lady in front that totally photo bombed our picture.

Saturday morning it was time to pillage. 

Jadoo got in on the action, too

We all got brunch tickets at the convention center so we could have our own table and watch the invasion up close and personal. Nothing beats coming face to face with sweaty rum-carrying pirates.

Waiting for the pirates to invade

My sister dressed as Tinkerbell, and had mentioned to me that she was "nervous" how people would take it. 
Deep down she secretly knew everyone would love it, and follow her around like paparazzi and get interviewed by a local radio station.
Her husband was Captain Hook.

Best part of the costume? The green chuck taylors.

The pirates invaded, captured the mayor, and stole the key to the city.

It was time to head to the parade route.

This is the part of Gasparilla that always ends up with the best (worst?) stories. Luckily for the Malone/Lefebvre/Stallings clan, it was all good stories since we had reserved seats and had an area to move around with some personal space (Can't say so much for the other side of the street, where debauchery unfolds each year, but let's just say it's not for the kiddos).
It's reported that 400,000 attend Gasparilla festivities each year.  From ages 0 - 100.

Speaking of which.....

Is this your grandmother??
If so, I would like to meet her.

Anyone that can pull off an eyepatch, a nose ring, and a wig with bandana at that age deserves a medal. I want to be like her in 70 years.

The parade began and the beads started flying through the air. It's amazing how little pieces of plastic that probably cost no more than ten cents to make can cause people to hoot and holler and get into fights.

The girls came out with some good loot while the boys were throwing all of theirs to unsuspecting pillagers across the street. 

We can thank the Kraken for that.

It was a long, hot, fun-filled day, and the sun (and the Kraken) got the best of us, so we headed home to rest up.

The rest of the trip we visited with family, went to the beach, scored some great deals at the outlets (Tory Burch dress for $25, what's up!), and went to the Lightning vs Capitals hockey game. 

Sadly, now it's back to the real world. 

But not without a little sunburn. And a little more loot.