What Are Your Strengths (and Your Weaknesses)?

Dear Readers: Today we offer another opportunity for you to get to know yourself better, or at least get to know your elemental personality better. As I mentioned last month, we each have all of the Five Elements in our personality make-up, but there is one of them for which we have a special affinity. I suggested that this elemental affinity can be likened to a primary lens through which we view the world. There are five different options for this lens – one for each of the five elements – and our primary lens affects how we interpret and respond to everything that happens in our environment. What we love, who we love, what we hate, what is easy, what is hard, you name it. The reality is that our primary elemental personality determines more than we realize regarding how we live our life.

Last month I suggested that our primary elemental personality creates predictable priorities and tendencies in our life that can be compared to joining a secret club at birth. For example, all members of the Wood club will have similar tendencies, as will all members of the Metal, Water, Earth or Fire clubs. How members of these different clubs get along in relationships has been the primary focus of this blog for years, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to know yourself and what matters to you. When you do, you not only begin to understand much of what you have done in the past, you will also be able to predict your priorities and tendencies in the future. And as we have said here many times, your relationships will start to make sense, too.

So, without further ado, here’s another up-close comparison across the five primary elemental personalities. This time we’re looking at personality-based strengths and weaknesses.

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Looking Back: A Reader Asks, “What Element Am I?”

Dear Vicki: I find it interesting to read about the elements, but how do I know for sure what element I am? Wants to Know

Dear Wants to Know: The short answer is that you are all of them: We each have all of the elements in us. The real question is what is your primary element? What element determines the filter you use when you’re stressed, reacting instinctively, or just living? This filter affects almost everything in your life: the people you like, the jobs you hate, what you’re good at, and even the physical challenges you might have.

There are many ways to determine your elemental affinity, including questionnaires, comparing yourself to people whose affinity you know (Robin Williams was a Fire, bless him, and Hillary Clinton is a Wood), studying the elements, and even energy tests. And while all of these are excellent tools, because you are the best expert about yourself anywhere on the planet, I personally think that the best way to determine your affinity is to study the elements and recognize yourself in them.

To begin the process of determining your elemental affinity, a quick question I always ask people is how they act when they’re stressed. Take a moment and think about how you react when something doesn’t go well for you. Do you get angry (Wood) or panicked (Fire)? Do you detach from the problematic situation and people (Metal) or quietly go in a different direction to get what you want (Water)? Or do you try to understand why things aren’t going well and look compassionately on anyone involved in the problem (Earth)? Social training aside, since we automatically revert to our “true self” when really stressed, we can usually determine our elemental affinity easiest when in that state. And if you’re not sure how you act when stressed, ask a friend or family member. I guarantee, they will know.

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Metal Employee and Motherhood

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m having trouble with a woman who works for me. I run a small accounting firm where Greta has been a valued employee for eight years. I don’t know as much about the Five Elements as I do about accounting, but I suspect Greta is a Metal. She has been on time, thorough, precise, and steady the whole time she has worked for us. She also remembers birthdays and listens when people have problems, so is well liked in the firm. However, earlier this year Greta had her first child and since returning from maternity leave, she has made several minor mistakes in her work, seems preoccupied, and has allowed her desk to become more messy than usual. She has a major thing for sugar now, too, and actually brings cookies for the office. I’m concerned about this change as it has required me to be much more hands on than I used to be and I don’t like the distraction. I want to focus on innovations for our business. Is this a motherhood thing for Greta or something else? More importantly, will she ever get back to the stellar employee she once was? I’d hate to fire her, but it may come to that. Signed: Responsible in Rochester

Dear Responsible: You are facing a situation that many employers face when an employee becomes a mother: Things change. Greta has a new top priority now, which is her child. She also has hormones flooding her body that reinforce this shift in priorities. She is bound to be different, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remain a valuable employee. You don’t mention how long Greta has been back from maternity leave. If it’s only a few weeks, I suggest you cut her some slack a while longer. She is most likely running on fewer hours sleep than usual since babies wake often during the night. She is also trying to juggle the numerous demands associated with her changed family and still do an excellent job.

Excellence matters to Metals, as you have seen over the past eight years with Greta. And that hasn’t changed for her; she will still do her best for you. But you will need to give her time to make order out of the wonderful chaos her baby has added to her life. As a Metal, Greta will find the process and structure necessary to juggle her work and family life successfully because that’s what Metals do. They excel at creating a hierarchy that allows everything to work smoothly. However, right now Greta isn’t just a pure Metal. She is a Metal with a strong secondary Earth. Let me explain.

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When an Earth isn’t Very Earthy: Is it Her Secondary?

Dear Vicki: Although we don’t see that much of each other, my cousin Esther and I live in the same city. She owns a high-rise condo downtown and I live in the suburbs. She has lots of plants in her condo, is an elementary teacher, and is also a great cook. That makes her an Earth, right? I think living downtown must be hard for Esther, so last Christmas I spontaneously offered for us to garden together this year if she wanted to come out to the burbs on weekends. I’m an Earth, too, and have a large garden so thought it would be great. We’d plan the garden together over tea, have time in the garden together, chat while weeding, and just have tons of fun. But it isn’t turning out that way at all. Esther shows up when it works for her and does an admittedly wonderful job of keeping things much tidier in the garden than I ever have. However, she plants what she thinks will be the most successful without consulting me, and doesn’t really want to hang out for very long when done in the garden. What’s going on? Is she really an Earth? Why isn’t she more like me? Was this a big mistake? Signed: Baffled in Baltimore

Dear Baffled: It’s very possible that Esther is an Earth. Certainly, people who love to cook and garden have a lot of Earth energy. The fact that she’s a teacher also suggests Earth. But remember, no one is a pure representation of any single element. We have all five of the elements in our energetic wiring and the way the elements stack up in our energy field really affects how they express themselves in our personalities. Our primary element does impact us the most and is the filter through which we interact in the world. But the element that follows, what we call our secondary element, will have a significant impact on how we express ourselves, too.

For example, you are definitely an Earth, but the fact that you rather spontaneously invited Esther to garden with you and hoped that the two of you would have fun together while gardening suggest that you have a secondary Fire. This means that connecting with Esther will be very important to you. Your Fire will seek out spontaneous connections with her and your Earth will want to take these connections to a deeper level. The fact that she is a relative also ties into your Earth because family is very important to Earths.

While your Earth/Fire make-up will have this set of priorities, how Esther manifests her Earth will be colored by her secondary. And given that she acts on her own more than you do, keeps things in the garden much tidier than your Earth/Fire normally would, and is focused on what will thrive in your garden conditions, I suspect that she has a secondary Metal. This would also explain why Esther has chosen to live downtown. Metals are often the most urban of the elements.

So how will your Earth/Fire get on with Esther’s Earth/Metal as you spend more time together? It depends on how you approach her. Naturally, your primary Earths will be the basis of the connection. Your common interests in the garden and family will provide a ready foundation for you to build on. However, your secondary elements relate to each on the Controlling Cycle, with your Fire controlling Esther’s Metal. This means you will need to be mindful that Esther’s Metal will want more structure in how she gardens and relates to people than your Fire will. It also means that too much Fire around Esther will feel threatening to her, which may be one reason she leaves right away once done in the garden. On the positive side, if you two can develop a good, deep Earth connection, Esther will certainly come to value the fun and relaxation your Fire brings (as long as it’s balanced) when you’re around. Just go a bit light on the Fire energy until you get a sense of how well her secondary Metal responds to it.

Your connection with Esther highlights why it can be so important to understand someone’s secondary element. Our secondaries really do impact how our primaries act, and interact, with everything. To that point, this seems like an excellent opportunity to share how Earth is affected by each of the other four elements when they step in as a secondary. A fun Earth stereotype to consider for this comparison is a talented interior designer easily able to create beautiful and comfortable homes. Let’s look at how different secondaries will refine this Earth stereotype. In each case, these Earths will still be caring, compassionate, loving individuals who are always ready to offer a hand, lend an ear, and make a difference, but:

  • Earths with Water secondaries will be less interested in being with people all the time and more interested in some quiet time alone. Earths with Water secondaries will also be more desirous of pondering why things are happening and how to make a difference. The stereotype for an Earth with a Water secondary could be: The talented interior designer easily able to create beautiful and comfortable homes because she spent time considering the needs of the families involved.
  • Earths with Wood secondaries will be less inclined to collaborate and more interested in running things alone. Earths with Wood secondaries will also focus on furthering their own success as well as helping others. The stereotype for an Earth with a Wood secondary could be: The talented interior designer easily able to create beautiful and comfortable homes because he’s taken design classes to advance himself.
  • Earths with Fire secondaries will offer their help at the parties or large gatherings they’re attending rather than one-on-one meetings. Earths with Fire secondaries will likely develop a standout style that gets them noticed. The stereotype for an Earth with a Fire secondary could be: The talented interior designer easily able to create beautiful and comfortable homes because she’s developed a flamboyant style all her own.
  • Earths with Metal secondaries will be less inclined to make the needs of others more important than their own all the time. Earths with Metal secondaries will also be a bit more organized, neat, and tidy. The stereotype for an Earth with a Metal secondary could be: The talented interior designer easily able to create beautiful and comfortable homes because he’s so organized.

I hope this helps you better understand Esther. And honestly, I believe if you let yourself, you will come to value her secondary Metal. It will bring structure, something your Earth and Fire lack, and also a sense of energy movement between the two of you that is missing in the pure Earth-to-Earth connection. In truth, same element connections can become boring more easily than other elemental relationships, so it’s really best that Esther isn’t more like you. Enjoy the differences, they keep life interesting and fresh. And Happy Gardening!

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Fire Wonders: Am I Crazy or Just a Secondary Water?

Dear Vicki: I have a question about getting along better with myself. I know I’m a primary Fire. I have a great deal of passion for what I do and can tell that it rubs off on other people. On my good days, I have loads of interests, buckets of energy, and am a fun outgoing person. But on bad days, I have a hard time moving forward, I procrastinate until the whole day is gone, and my passion turns into frustration or indifference. It’s like my Fire has been snuffed out. I do enjoy reading, meditating, and coming up with ideas for my business, so wonder if I might have a secondary Water. This would take down my Fire and make me crazy, right? But maybe I’m not really a secondary Water. How would I know? Signed: Crazy Fire

Dear Crazy Fire: It does sound like you are a primary Fire with a secondary Water. The relationship between the two is that of opposing forces: pure yang and pure yin. You might think that could make you crazy, but in the Five Elements model opposing forces aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they can be a very, very good thing.

Remember that the goal in the Five Elements model is to maintain balance. Too much or too little of any one element is a threat to the whole, so the system is designed with balancing mechanisms built right in. If there’s too little of an element, there’s another element that can be counted on to increase energy for it via the Nurturing Cycle. If there’s too much of an element, there’s another element that can be counted on to decrease its energy via the Controlling Cycle. Your Fire and Water relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle, which means Water stands at the ready to make sure your Fire doesn’t go too wild for too long. That’s important for you because Fires really can burn themselves out. Fires have the least amount of structure or boundaries of any of the Five Elements which means it’s hardest for them to pull back and chill. Without Water, Fires risk depletion, which is a very important point for you.

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