Using Character Strengths Every Day

You all know I’m a big fan of looking at people through a strengths-based lens.  I can’t help it.  Once you understand what the strengths are, you just can’t help but to see how incredibly amazing every single one of us are.  It’s addictive to see everyone in such a positive light.

But the Clifton StrengthsFinders is not the only strengths assessment.  The University of Pennsylvania Center for Positive Psychology has their own strengths test based on character strengths (VIA Survey, free on   Though the test is constructed similarly to CSF, the VIA is based on the characteristics that cultivate well-being.  CSF was constructed to help people be engaged and successful.  In my opinion, they’re both two sides of the same coin, just coming at the same thing from different angles.

Since I’ve been trained as a Gallup CSF coach, that has tended to be my angle, but I’m interested in also developing and exploring my VIA strengths.   My top five VIA strengths are forgiveness/mercy, capacity to love and be loved, gratitude, industry/diligence/perseverance, honesty/authenticity/genuineness.   Just for reference, my CSF strengths are input, intellection, relator, ideation and strategic.    Both are equally valid in my mind.

But I haven’t really focused on my VIA strengths.  They seem to be more oriented to my personal life, but are they?  Does that mean my CSF is oriented to my work life?

I will argue that both sets of strengths apply to all parts of my life.  After all, I don’t divide myself into my work-self and my home-self.  They’re one and the same and I’m the same person regardless of the setting I’m in (thus my “genuineness”… but that’s true for all of us).

How can I use forgiveness and love at work?  Interestingly, I feel the Arbinger Institute philosophy of treating others as I would like to be treated applies.   My forgiveness allows me to treat others as people, not obstacles, pains-in-the…neck, or problems.    My reluctance to objectify them to something sub-human allows me to overlook small grievances that might otherwise interfere in a smooth working or professional relationship.

Perhaps finding ways to use love at work is less obvious.  I think most of my colleagues would recoil a bit if they were told that they had to use love at work to be engaged and successful.  I say that because I recoiled a bit when I first thought about it, and I’m a pretty touchy-feely person, don’t you think?  It may not surprise you to know, however, that my personal mission is to use active love to help people and organizations in my life become the best possible versions of themselves (click here to learn more about active love).  Shortly after I identified my mission, I was able to identify my passion:  developing people and thus the organizations they serve.

I think academics are drawn to teaching and research because of that service mentality.  We are serving mankind via our scholarship and research.  We’re serving our students through education and learning.  Every organization, really, has to have some type of meaningful mission to be successful, and that meaning tends to relate back to serving people or some aspect of our planet.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!



Imposter Syndrome and Not Measuring Up

Sometimes I wonder what it would take for some people to decide they’re enough, they’re lovable, they’re valuable to the world.  You probably know these folks too – they’re the fantastically talented, successful, kind, beautiful ones.  That pretty much encompasses almost everyone I know!  Yes, I know some pretty amazing people.

So why are they the last to know how amazing they are?

I truly believe every single one of us is full of talent and potential.  It’s simply up to each of us to find and cultivate that talent to be our best selves and apply that to our mission and purpose in life.    And we don’t have to have the same traditional yardsticks for success:  salary, job status, popularity, GPA, or level of education.    There are many criteria for being a successful human being, including contribution to society, kindness, wisdom, well-being or other such virtues.

The people who I know who feel inadequate feel that way even despite success by traditional measures.  These are highly educated, successful, and nice people!   The US Department of Education website is down because of the government is shut down (errrrr!!  No comment!) but what I can gather is that a vanishing small percentage of the population have graduate degrees.  These Ph.D. and professional degree holders/pursuers are the ones that I am referring to.

I believe it has something to do with our explanatory style, an important component of optimism.  These incredibly talented, smart and nice people compare themselves to the others who are more successful, smarter, more attractive, more hair, or whatever.    Why not instead compare yourself to those who are less smart, successful, attractive?  Or, how about don’t compare yourself at all?  I know in some areas I’m “more” but in other areas I’m “less.”  There will always be something that I can point to and feel like I’m not measuring up.

I’m not saying I never have those feelings.  I spent too many years feeling inadequate to completely let go of that bad habit.  Instead now I focus on what I’m grateful for and trying to improve in the areas that I have some growth potential.  Ironically, when I quit judging myself and others, I have been able to feel like “enough” since I am now not wasting my time and energy on something so counterproductive.

What areas of your life can you change your mind and decide you’re actually “enough”?  Or even “pretty darn good!”?

All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

Rediscovering Your Authenticity

Have you ever thought: “Who am I and what have I become?”  I had this identity crisis when one day I had this sinking feeling that I turned into my mother (with all due respect, Mom).  It’s not every day that we really stop to ask “Who am I” and “Who am I becoming?”  Maybe if we did stop and ask those questions more frequently we wouldn’t be so surprised when we find out who we have become.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that, after spending so much time blindly charging forward, I didn’t like where I ended up.  When I finally awoke to that reality, I had to re-orient myself.  Who am I?  What do I want?  What do I need?  Who or what am I trying to become?

To help me look forward, I felt I needed to start with my past.   I believe that, when we are young, we hide parts of ourselves that we decide are somehow undesirable: that rebellious girl; that scared girl; that sad girl; that outspoken, opinionated girl. The problem is, when we pack away those parts of ourselves we also pack away pieces that we might otherwise have chosen to keep.  In other words, it’s hard to surgically remove only some parts without also taking out other pieces with it.  For me, I unwittingly packed away my vulnerable girl, my joyous girl, my creative girl, and my accepting girl, when those “bad” parts were ordered away.

It was scary to uncover those parts that I gave away, but  simultaneously liberating to reunite with those lost parts of myself , both good and bad.  It was also hard to know how to begin the uncovering process.  I went on an  expedition to uncover my authentic self (Excavating Your Authentic Self, Ban Breathnach), the person I was before the hiding began.  Ban Breathnach recommends you go back to your memories, mementos, photos, videos, family stories, recollections of friends, meaningful places, or anything else that will help jog your memory of your former self.  When you gather your treasures, you can reconstruct who you were, what you dreamed about, and the things that used to bring you joy.

Interestingly, I dreamed of being a teacher one day.  I loved to read, cook and dance (all still true).  I had much wonder and love, and a vivid imagination.  Though the girl Susanna is much less complex than the woman I am now, recommitting to those things that I loved helped me to ground myself so I could reconsider the direction of my life from more solid and joyful ground.  Instead of asking myself, “Who should I be?”, I asked, “Who do I want to be?” The latter question led me in a direction such that I can now ask “Who will I be?” since my own passions and interests (instead of someone else’s expectations or needs) are now dictating my direction.  I don’t know where this passion will lead me, but I do know that by approaching my life with openness and courage is leading me down my authentic path.


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

digging for buried treasure

digging for buried treasure

Contempt and Miley Cyrus

The public tends to be fascinated with celebrities, their personalities and activities.  I know it has something to do with living vicariously through their beauty, success, talent, or whatever.    If I wish to adopt those qualities, I can mentally associate with that celebrity or sports team.  It’s not just a sports team.  It’s my sports team. Their victory is my victory.  OK, harmless enough.

It’s interesting then when a celebrity has a coup de grace.  The celeb du jour on the falling star (or rising, as some may argue) is Miley Cyrus.   Seems she’s the gal that we love to criticize, despise, scold, or feel contempt for this month.  Similarly in our personal lives, there is often a person we love to gossip about.  It’s deliciously sinful and indulgent.  It’s so much fun to focus on someone else’s bad judgment, mistakes, and faux pas.

Scandal is so much fun because it elicits our feelings of contempt.  Contempt is so gratifying because it allows us to feel morally superior without any responsibility (Jonathan Haidt, Happiness Hypothesis).  For example, if I criticize someone at work, then I have some sense of responsibility to do something about it – either fix the problem or elicit constructive discussions about the problem so that we can fix it together.  The same is true in my personal life.  Any problems are my responsibility, either directly or indirectly.

Have you ever been the subject of scandal or criticism?  When we’re criticized, we feel it is unfair, unfounded, and they just don’t understand.  Yes, it’s easier to judge than to try to understand or empathize with someone else.  So when we are feeling contempt for others it’s because we are indulging in a gratuitous exercise in judging, failing to empathize or understand.

In addition, we’ve probably made similar kinds of mistakes in our own past, since we’re more likely to be bothered by the things we hate about ourselves when we see them in others.  We are, in fact, hard wired for hypocrisy (Haidt).

I know, I hate to be a killjoy.  All the fun we’ve had gossiping and feeling contempt truly reflects more poorly on ourselves than it does the person we’re complaining about.  For me, it’s a lot like eating a bag of French fries.  I can’t really enjoy them since I know they’re so bad for me and will likely make me feel sick later.  Feeling contempt for others is pretty much the same thing for me.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach to be such a judgmental hypocrite. Now when I eat French fries or gossip, I indulge in one or two bites, then move on.  I’m human, after all.

Good thing there are so many other ways to have good, clean fun. How about complimenting someone or expressing gratitude for one of their good qualities or good deeds?  Their reaction, especially if the compliment is unexpected, is way more fun than even complaining about Miley Cyrus and her growing pains.

All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

What if Courage Is a Muscle?

Out of shape

Out of shape

If courage is a muscle, would you want to strengthen it?  Is courage something that you use only when you have no other choice?  When you do need it, is it weak and flaccid, unable to do the job properly?

Maybe it’s not courage, but maybe it’s something else that you’re not exercising enough.   Humility, patience, advocacy, forgiveness, moderation, being present or acceptance?  We all have something we should work on, whether we admit it or not.

So if courage or virtue X were a muscle, how would you strengthen it?   The muscle analogy is not a bad one.  After all, we’re not born with strong and toned muscles.  Even if we were, if we did not use them regularly, they would get smaller and weaker with time, just like my abs right now.  When we want to get back in shape, it’s hard work.  It’s not easy.   It hurts.

Yep, that’s pretty much how it goes, right?

But we can do it.  It just takes practice and commitment.  We set aside time intentionally for our workouts and practice.  We commit to doing it in that time period and for the length of time required.  We mix it up, doing different types of exercises to work those muscles instead of the same type of repetitions every time.  We seek trainers or coaches if needed.  We stretch afterwards.  That muscle becomes more powerful, more resilient if injured, and just more effective in general when we make the effort to develop and grow them.

We don’t assume that we should just be able to have a strong muscle without exercise and practie.  Magical thinking doesn’t work with muscles, and it doesn’t work with courage or patience either.   I would argue it’s harder to change an emotional habit, but the rewards are long lasting and pervasive, which is something I cannot say about toning my abs.

We also don’t assume it’s going to be perfect.  That muscle will not always work the way we want it to work,  or when we want it to work, especially when in the learning stages.   We will sometimes also miss a session or two, but we get back into our routine if meaningful change is important to us.

What if, instead of circuit training at the gym, we exercise a circuit of strengths and virtues we wish to cultivate?  Today I’m going to do rounds in humility, patience and serenity.  Tomorrow I’m going to do serenity, inspiration and joy.  What would my emotional muscles look like 6 months from now?


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at,  or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!