"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Finding your gifts to share with the world

By on April 27, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift; the work of life is to develop it; and the meaning of life is to give your gift away.” 

— David Viscott (psychiatrist, author, media personality)

By June Darling

Though David Viscott is given credit for the quote above many people have said something similar dating back at least to Shakespeare. 

In the last couple of decades, due to vigorous nudging from performance coaches and high-profile psychologists, the quote is finally being taken seriously. 

Today the idea in the quote might be expressed less poetically, in a bit more scientific-sounding way. “To live a full and meaningful life, figure out your strengths, learn how to use them well, then wield them to make the world a better place.” 

Indeed, the science does seem to support the idea that we perform better, are happier, age better, and are healthier if we optimally use our strengths. 

Many systems, questionnaires, books, definitions, coaching and interview protocols have sprung up particularly to help us identify our own and others’ strengths. 

They can be somewhat useful. With a few exceptions, however, I have found these strength finders to be cumbersome, unenlightening, not to mention, no fun.

Before going any further, let’s get on the same page about what strengths are. 

For our purposes, strengths include all the attributes that we (and often others too) think are cool — certain personality traits, specific talents and gifts that seem in-born, useful things we have learned to do with our brains and bodies that we may refer to as our skills. 

Strengths even include our character traits and “virtues” like being compassionate toward the suffering. 

We can spot these strengths everywhere, including in the physical domain, the intellectual or cognitive domain, the psychological domain, the emotional domain; and in the interpersonal, environmental, and spiritual domain. 

To simplify all that, here are two easy questions to help you identify your strengths.

Question one: What’s good about you? Think about the compliments you have received that really resonated with you. 

Your generosity, your kindness, your willingness to help or lead a project, your cheerfulness, your love of reading, your humor, your stimulating conversation, your loyalty, your love of animals and nature — consider it all. 

You can eventually think about what you are good at (rather than what’s good about you). Asking what are you good at (which usually gets at your skills) first, seems to block identifying many other, more widely focused strengths. 

One thing I do, when I am searching around for an answer to that question of what’s good about me, is to drag out old birthday and thank you cards or letters (sure, I keep these cards if they seem sincere and on target). 

In fact, I am looking at a card from last year right now. The person took the time and effort to really think about my good attributes. She lists what she is thankful for in me as a friend. 

Also, there’s nothing stopping you from straight out asking your family and friends, “What’s good about me?” They might need some think time (we all are usually focused on what’s wrong) so send an email. 

Tell them it might seem weird to ask, but it’s some homework you’ve been given to complete.

Question two: What energizes you? Do you feel yourself perk up if someone mentions a good book, wants you to go on a hike, asks you to teach a class, talks about a trip, encourages you to volunteer to help serve meals? 

You may have a love of learning, a strength of curiosity, a bent toward service to others, which undergirds that energy. 

My husband, John, gets energized, believe it or not, by the whole adventure of thinking about what supplies we need, going to Costco, bringing home the loot, and re-stocking. 

Just say the word, “Costco” and his eyes light up. I call the strength that fuels that energy, the skill of “quarter-mastering.” 

I have no worry, like many others, that we will run out of toilet paper during the corona crisis. I am most thankful for that quarter-mastering in him. 

You can browse through many lists of positive traits and strengths to get your brain attuned to catching and naming what’s good in yourself and others. Feel free to be creative and totally make up your own labels for positive traits that you spot.

When our 12-year old granddaughter, Sierra, was two, she completed her first puzzle. It was very hard for her. Afterwards Sierra stood up and hopped around for a couple of minutes. 

Then she tore the puzzle up, completed it again, and resumed hopping. Sierra still gets excited by achieving something challenging. We might label her strength “juicy challenge.”

A strengths-expert once told me that he had the strength of “spot-lighting.” When I asked more about what that was, he explained that he was energized and did his best in front of a group — when the spot-light was on him.

For useful, good fun during the month of May, look for your own and others’ strengths. Capture them with a name. 

If you get off track, remember all those strengths’ benefits. Use those two questions about what’s good about you and what energizes you to guide back your attention.

Be ready for strengths talk, part 2, coming up in the June edition of The Good Life. You’ll find out about an unusual way to identify your strengths. 

Most importantly, you’ll learn more about how to optimally use your strengths so that they don’t backfire or fizzle. You’ll be set to graciously give your gifts away.

How might you use May to move up to The Good Life by discovering your gifts?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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