There have been so many times in my life where I wish I’d behaved differently. I wish I was smarter or had been more patient or compassionate in the moment. It’s almost always when I compare myself to someone else and most of the time it just makes me feel a bit shit. As I get older, I’ve been able to take these moments of self-doubt and flip them into learning opportunities. What was it that the other person did that I wish I’d thought to do? What do I admire about their reaction to the situation and can I learn to do that as well. 

When we compare ourselves to others we tend to have a negative lens on it. We focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do because we’re humans with a built in negative bias. Looking for the threat in a situation makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because we are more likely to survive if we notice sabre tooth tigers hunting us than the stunning sunset. We are programmed to access our surroundings for threats, we’re constantly in low level ‘fight or flight’ mode and despite the fact we’re no longer being hunted, it’s hard to shift the focus from the negative to the positive.

One of the ways we can actively try and shift the needle is to have a strengths based approach and fortunately this is what we worked on last week with Ellen Jackson from Positive Psychology as part of the Future Shapers program day. 

Before we met we were asked to fill out the VIA Character Strengths Survey which resulted in a list of 24 strengths ranked in order from strongest to least so. My top five strengths are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Gratitude
  3. Hope
  4. Curiosity
  5. Zest

The top five strengths are pretty much what others would say about you and I would agree that these five strengths are pretty spot on. This blog alone is a very public exercise in honesty. It’s pretty much a platform to practise gratitude and by proxy, hope. I like to think that I’ve always been a curious person and if you’ve ever met me in real life, zest is a good word to describe my overall vibe. 

Funnily enough of the 5 or so years Ellen has been doing the strength profile with the Future Shapers, this was the first year there were any top five “zest” people. Coincidentally me and another woman, who are both zesty, both run our own businesses. Perhaps ‘approaching life with excitement and energy’ is easier when you're own arse that’s on the line. Maybe working for someone else takes a bit of zest out of life? Just a thought…

Another observation about the top five strengths is that using them should be Essential, Effortless and Energising (the 3 E’s). This again is true of my top five. I’m at my best when able to be myself. I decided quite a few years ago now that I was only going to be me. There wasn’t going to be a “professional” Jess, a “parent” Jess, a “going out” Jess - there was just going to be Jess. I decided this for two reasons. Number one was authenticity. When I’m representing any of my businesses, talking to the kids or hanging out with friends it has to be from the heart and number two, I’m lazy… being myself is a no brainer. There is no pre-reading, no worrying about continuity of character. What you see is what you get and the alignment of my personal and professional life has brought more joy and fulfilment to both. 

Interestingly there were a few people who felt their questionnaire results were more attune to their behaviour at home rather than work, or vice versa. They’re different people when they’re in the office compared to home. This makes sense because lots of people have to be different at work - their role requires a level of professionalism or skill that isn’t required at home. It gets interesting when you start to examine which of your top five strengths are present at work. Maybe this is why (some) people find work hard. If we’re not leaning into at least some of our strengths then we’re missing out on those 3 E’s

Our strengths come quite naturally to us. That is why doing a survey like this is always quite surprising because it pulls out traits that you don’t normally have to think about. I never think about being grateful for example because I just am. The benefit of knowing your strengths (which can morph and change slightly over time) is that we can start to look at the flip side. 

If ‘honesty’ is one of your top five strengths then not being able to ‘be truthful’ could be really awful for you (which it is). Matt and I often argue about my oversharing, especially here... I’m one for the whole truth and nothing but the truth while Matts often is trying to protect our reputation (thank goodness).  Obviously the opposite of honesty isn’t just being dishonest. These strengths aren’t binary. There is a scale and often the lesser strengths are in fact positives in various circumstances.

Gratitude is my number 2 strength but being grateful all the time can lead to you becoming a doormat. There have been many, many times in my life where I should’ve said no and didn’t because I was grateful for the opportunity. The flip side of being zesty is that I often feel like I’m not meeting my full potential if I’m resting. Very rarely do I sit still and that is something I need to get better at. I need to rest more. Especially after big group and networking events. Being Zesty is exhausting. Just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean I’m immune to its effects.

The best we can hope for is to live congruently with our strengths as much as possible. I’m fortunate that I’ve managed to create an existence where being myself is accepted, celebrated and is a positive asset to our businesses. Interestingly, my lowest rank strength (number 24) was ‘prudence’ which means I’m not very careful, cautious or risk adverse. This probably comes as no shock at all to my parents. 

When working in a group, starting with a strengths based survey like this is a great opportunity to see where people’s strengths align and where they don’t. Simply understanding where people fall on the spectrum gives you the best chance to set each other up for success. It’s the equivalent of using the right tool for the job. 

I’m desperate to get Matt to do the survey because I’m interested to see where we align and where we don’t. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be quite strongly opposite on a majority of the strengths (which is why we make a good team) but there will be a few important ones that we share including but not limited to ‘prudence’ at number 24.

Video of the week
Jess Bowen Hears Rage Against The Machine For The First Time
Podcast of the week
Smartless: Kirsten Stewart
Font of the week
Raybeam: Font of the week by Brandon Nickerson

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