The Amazing, Wonderful You

I’ve always had the gift of being able to see the best in others. Call me too trusting, naïve, whatever. I don’t care. I love this talent of mine.

Since becoming a StrengthsFinders coach, I realize now that this talent is developed in me even more. Now, instead of just noticing, I can actually use my training to help people develop those assets.

Sure, that’s fun and gratifying. More importantly, this ability to see the best of others really, truly inspires awe in me.

  • I see so much kindness and compassion. Not just from loved ones, but from stranger to stranger.   A kind word. A helping hand. A joke to break up a tense moment.
  • I see so much talent and excellence. People who naturally do the impossible with ease, and oftentimes unknowingly. The results can range from a perfect serve to the tiny wonders of technology like our cell phones.
  • I see so much love. Not only the sacrifices we make for those we love, but the deep connections we can form with each other, even if we don’t know each other.
  • I see so much faith. Faith in the goodness of others, in the connection we share, and our ability to make positive change in the world.
  • I see so much generosity. Those who give their money, yes, but also those who give of their time, their wisdom, their talent, their spirit.

I know that every single one of us has one or more of these awe-inspiring qualities. It’s our challenge, and thus our opportunity, to discover these qualities in ourselves and each other regardless of our pre-existing beliefs, biases and stereotypes.   It’s worth the effort: imagine walking through the world literally surrounded by one phenomenal person after another. Imagine.

More Self-Limiting Beliefs

A while back I read a news blurb in The Week that talked about how the military has a gizmo that, when worn by soldiers, removes all self-doubt.  Soldiers wearing the device have an incredibly rapid learning curve – learning new languages or becoming proficient in shooting in days or weeks instead of months or years.

Like so many things, I read that and processed it cognitively and in relation to others.  I failed to look at myself to see where myself-limiting beliefs are holding me back.

In fairness to me (get ready for a justification), I have broken down many self-limiting beliefs about who I am, what my value to the world is, what my place in the world is, etc.  Yes those are important and wonderful steps to take and, in my opinion, have transformed me into a much happier and effective person.  Not only have those changes changed my life on a personal level, they also motivate me to help others do the same.

But I stopped too soon.  And if history is any indicator, which it usually is, I still probably have a long ways to go into that unexplored territory.

If you read my recent blog about my art experiment, you may have already guessed where I still have many self-limiting beliefs.  I believe myself to be pretty much devoid of artistic creativity or ability, with the possible exception of dance where I possess a modicum of ability. As a result, I have never really pursued any of the artistic or creative pursuits with any real interest or commitment.  This is confounded by my impatience for the creative process; ironically I believe it’s my intellectual creativity (vis a vis boredom) and desire to get things done that stand in the way of my trying to develop any nascent artistic creativity.   But art is about the process, not the quality of the end product, a lesson I am trying to teach others about our life’s journeys.

So who’s the hypocrite here?

I’m not proud of it.

I had an aha moment of self-awareness as I was protesting my lack of artistic ability and finally was able to hear myself talk.  That hypocrisy was all over me, like white on rice.  Not that I’m saying I’m some latent Van Gogh, but rather that my lack of talent has been an excuse for me to not explore this side of me.

An old girlfriend used to always tell me how creative I am and I’m starting to agree with her.  No, it’s not in the visual arts per se but I’m actually pretty proud of the ability to decorate my home respectably, that I’ve been a decent seamstress in the past, and I’ve taken pride in the presentation of food I’ve prepared.  I’ve enjoyed playing the piano and dancing as I’ve mentioned, and it turns out I love to write.  Whodda thunk?

Given that I am now acknowledging a fair amount of cognitive dissonance up until this point, I now wish to explore my artistic side a bit more intentionally.  Time to take up the piano and dancing again, for sure.  I have also been longing for years, for example, to learn the taiko drums (anyone know anyone around here?).  But for the other things (remember I’m still scarred by the C I made in art in middle school) I am going to recruit my girlfriends to join me in this exploration over wine and cheese.  We will take turns leading an exploration of a different side of our creative selves.  We can try stand up, singing, playing music, decorating, arranging music with other activities, physical expression, cooking, ceramics, painting, dance, sewing/quilting, creative writing, you name it.  We can be creative about being creative.  And we’ll do it together.

I have heard story after story of people in mid-life discovering their creative side and uncovering a bit of talent.  I don’t think I feel the need to be good at any of these things.  I will pursue them because they bring me pleasure and  are an outlet for creative expression.  Furthermore, doing them with friends will mean a bonding experience and fellowship.  What else could I ask for?

Exploring the Nature of Flow

Flow

Flow

I have been contemplating the nature of flow from both my scientific background and my emerging spirituality.  The flow I’m talking about is when you’re in that sweet spot where your talent and passion collide and actions and events seem to fall into place smoothly and easily.  During flow, you lose track of time, and people say to you, “wow, how did you do that?”, or “you should do that for a living.”  Don’t dismiss those comments.  Just because it’s a no-brainer for you doesn’t mean it’s that way for others.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the metaphors around flow have to do with water:  go with the flow, in with the tide, versus swimming upstream, going against the tide.

I suspect that if you asked 100 people if they’ve had the positive flow experience, the vast majority of them would say that they had.  If you asked the same 100 people if they had experienced the swimming upstream metaphor, all 100 people would reply in the affirmative.

So what is it in our life that provides this shared experience of flow?  Is it something spiritual (the will of the universe?) or something that can be explained logically?

Given my recent obsession with StrengthsFinders, I am inclined to approach a logical inquiry by starting with our strengths.  The positive psychology literature shows that when people work with their strengths, they are happier, more productive, engaged and creative.   I would also surmise that they are likely to be more present and in the moment.  The net result is that they will also have greater access to their intuition (probably why they have a strength there to begin with), are more observant, are able to convert that information that others may completely miss and rapidly channel that into a fascinating opportunity.  Others take note of that talent and doors begin to open.  An obvious and logical path emerges as one moves towards a goal.  Success builds upon success in an upward spiral.

Conversely, if we’re working in an area of relative weakness, then we are struggling and must work harder to accomplish the same task.  We may fail to note what may seem obvious to others, and will have difficulty putting the pieces together in a useful and meaningful way.  Others may simply view us as clueless,  incompetent or not trying.  Continuing to pursue areas of weakness may feel like we’re constantly swimming upstream as we find that doors fail to open for us.  Resisting the flow and fighting the directionality of our lives is exhausting, depressing and discouraging.  All of the above makes it harder to succeed, resulting in a downward spiral.

I am not sure the above explanation accounts for all the pieces that often seem to fall into place when we’re in flow.    Sometimes when in flow, factors that seem completely unrelated may have a role, subtle or conspicuous,  in shaping the outcome of a situation.  When we’re in flow, perhaps we’re less likely to allow hurdles to deter us and more likely to take advantage of an opportune event.  Or perhaps this is where the universe steps in.

Regardless of whether the reason for flow can be explained or proven with scientific inquiry or logic, I believe that being in flow is an indicator that we are engaged in our life’s purpose.  Since we all have strengths (as described in a previous blog), then it follows that everyone, from the biggest screw-up to the most successful billionaire, all have unique talents and strengths that can be channeled into their own version of genius!  We are all savants in some way, and that discovery is ours to uncover.  Should we be so willing.

Sometimes it seems we are all too willing to discover our failures as a person.  What about our successes?  Where are you looking?

Your Passion is Right Under Your Nose

Find your passion (thepastonaplate.com)

Find your passion (thepastonaplate.com)

We’re supposed to find and pursue our passion, our sort of personal Holy Grail.  But that’s easier said than done.  How does one find their passion?

When your passion is combined with aptitude, or natural ability, then you are in what Ken Robinson calls the Element (in his book, The Element).  Positive psychologists refer to it as “flow”.  You will catch glimpses of your natural ability or talent when you yearn to do or learn something, when you are a quick learner, if you are intuitive about a subject, if you lose time  because you become engrossed in what you are doing, if you are showing glimpses of excellence, are very satisfied by your activity, and if you receive positive feedback from what you do.

It’s possible your passion is an activity that you do all the time, but since it comes so easily to you, like breathing or walking, you may not even notice it.  You take it for granted that, since this activity is effortless, it must be easy for everyone.

I found my passion when I realized something that I’ve been doing all my life, that I love doing, that I do naturally and effortlessly, that people have told me for years that I am so good at and I should do for a living, was right under my nose.  Like Dorothy, I had the ability already within myself to pursue my passion.  I just had yet to recognize it.

For someone who considers herself high on the self-knowledge scale, it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that it took me this long to figure it out.  A friend must’ve seen my potential and so nominated me to coordinate a leadership development program.  Though I love my job, until I participated in this activity, I never really understood when people said, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”  That is how it feels to be in the Element.  Yes, the leadership component is awesome and cool, but the part that I absolutely love, and feel I have some ability for, is the personal development piece. I would do it all day for free (if I could).

So, this was always just right under my nose, there for my discovery.  Therefore, I believe an important element of finding your passion is to be open to the possibilities.  This passion is not exactly aligned with my training as a scientist and job teaching in a STEM subject, so I had to be willing to part with a portion of my self-conception of what I do and who I am.  Also, I had to be willing to try something new.  Fortunately for me, this opportunity was offered to me because someone else saw my potential, and I was willing to take the chance when offered.   So, try to identify those talents that maybe you are taking for granted.  Ask others what they think your talents are.  Don’t be afraid to explore and release any self-limiting thoughts about who you are and what you can do!

In the absence of opportunity coming to knock on your door, I also recommend being proactive in trying things you’ve always wanted to try.  Our passions were there in abundance when we were young, but because of the demands of real life, and the focus of the educational system on traditional academic subjects, many of us hid or forgot those passions.  Some years ago, when trying to re-invent myself, I used as a guide a book entitled Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  The author takes you on a journey exploring your past with the aim of re-discovering your lost passions.  One of my lost passions is dancing.  I used to fantasize about becoming a ballet or Broadway dancer, but my practical side put the kabosh on that idea. The kabosh never extinguished my yearning, and so a few years ago I signed up for Highland dance, tap dance and ballroom dance.  Now I’m interested in learning hip hop.  I will look ridiculous at my age doing it, and I’ll never make a dime at it, but who cares?  I’m going to have a blast.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” 

— Joseph Campbell in Reflections in the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion