Written by: Dr. Alan Bernstein
I am writing this month as a cheerleader: it’s time, finally, to enjoy our personalities. Let us leave the idea of improvement behind for the moment and bask in the notion that we are good enough.
What do we gain through this? We can concentrate on knowing our strengths and employing them to full advantage. And as cheerleader, my task is to heighten your energy in three directions:
1. Be clear about your strengths; what do you like to do, how do you like to do it, and what do you get out of doing it–i.e. what are the motivations behind your strengths?
As many of our readers know, we favor memories of “flow” as a way to clarify our interests, working style and motivational needs. Our flow memories recall times when we were so engaged in tasks that we lost all track of clock time and entered a state of “timeless time”.
Our objective is to create a psychological base by examining how and when we have thrived, in order to give us the confidence and momentum to address our future. We can start by remembering two or three situations where we were performing at our best, using all our talents and were so involved in what we were doing that we lost all sense of time. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? Were you directing the effort or were you part of a team responding to a challenge? Or were you singularly addressing and resolving a problem?
These “memory exercises” will give you important insights regarding our “motivational needs.” From these memories, you can also deconstruct what your interests are and your style for pursuing them. If you want to go even deeper, you can also use an in-depth “personality profile,” such as the Birkman Method, available through Birkman International (800 215 2760).
2. Having clarified our strengths, we can use them in the direction of a Vision for our future. Quoting Frederic Hudson, from LifeLaunch: A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (The Hudson Institute Press):
“Whenever you consult your life’s compass within you, it points toward the current purpose…Your values, deep energy, and passionate destinations are all wrapped up into one profound sense of purpose, pulling you ahead into more of yourself, through the chapters of your life. That sense of purpose is like a vibrant channel, an illuminated path, a personal calling.”
As John and I have worked with people in transition we have found that peoples’ Vision statements for themselves are actually supported by three systems that we have identified as:
Structure is the way we organize our lives to use our strengths. For example, I wake up each morning filled with energy but frequently without a clear direction. I have found that if I work out each morning for about an hour my energy is still high but I am able to direct myself more easily into channels. This structure for my day helps me organize my life into periods of high energy and creativity, lower energy and contemplative time, and finally winding down and restorative time.
In addition, structure works as a way to organize larger blocks of time: by the day, the week, the year. We can predict Thanksgiving and seasonal holidays as markers, for example, punctuating the year . Similarly, structure helps us look at our life plans, morphing from post-collegiate to mid-career to post career with a sense of time passing and, at its best, a sense of ripening. So, as a component of vision, structure supports our sense of timeliness: is this the moment in my life to choose a transition and how can I plan the structure of my life to support it? What changes will I have to make to organize my day? Or my year?
Community is our support system for our social needs: how do we organize recognition for goals? Who shares our world view? Or our desire to get a new traffic light at the corner? A community responds to our need for contact, that as social creatures, our strengths thrive when we have others to share with. So when we think about leveraging our strengths, we consider places and people who mirror back to us shared ideas, values and social abilites.
Purpose supports our place in the world. Why are we here, why do we do what we do? Purpose can have a theological quality ( God’s will) or a pragmatic one ( I wish to give my children benefits I didn’t have). Or both. At its most fulfilling, we find a way to answer the question: what is the meaning of my life? How will my stay on earth make a difference?
As we combine structure, community and purpose, we create a support system for our vision– where, how and why do we wish to live? Concretely, are there things we wish to accomplish– a legacy–as a marker to our lives? What are our social needs and how will they be met? As we think about exploring our strengths without the fettering of “improvement” what new opportunities can we envision? Does our sense of purpose gain clarity and force.
3. In our research on transition, we have found that a key component of leveraging strengths lies in creating workable time schedules.
As we explore in Your Retirement, Your Way, (McGraw-Hill,2006), time can be structured so that it aids our meeting our dreams, or “dreams with deadlines”, as John calls them. So, writing as a cheerleader, we have found that clarifying our purpose, supporting ourselves through a social community and structuring ourselves through a renewed sense of purpose allows us to create effectively, diminishing our anxious need to perfect ourselves first. In addition, setting timelines encourages a participation in our transitions as we effectively create workable goals.
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