The Art of Strengths Coaching

W is for Balancing Your Work Time And Wandering Time


There are many approaches to doing fine work. One approach is to get the right balance between your work time and wandering time.

You may become deeply engaged in your work, for example, and go into a state that resembles deep play. You may then be able to flow, focus and finish.

Creative people love their work time, but they also love their wandering time. This comes in different forms, but it serves the function of opening their minds.

They may enjoy the physical process of wandering – such as walking, exploring or having new experiences. They may also enjoy other forms of wandering – such as thinking, learning, creating and imagining.

During the past decade it has become more acceptable to switch off and let your mind wander. Carl Honoré popularised many of these ideas with his book In Praise of Slow.

Good decision makers often set aside time to do some slow thinking. Fast thinking often generates the pieces of the jigsaw, but slow thinking may be needed to make sense of the whole picture. Our epiphanies sometimes emerge when doing some slow thinking.

Many people now recognise the importance of balancing what seem to be polar opposites. The mindfulness movement, for example, encourages people to be fully present in the moment. But it is also recognised that mind wandering can lead to creative breakthroughs.

Looking at your own life, what are the kinds of wandering that you enjoy? You may enjoy letting your mind drift when walking, gardening, exploring the web or doing other activities. You may also find that new ideas emerge when you are simply pottering around.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific kinds of wandering that you like to do.

Describe the specific benefits of wandering in these ways.

The way you balance your work time and wandering time can change during different times of your life. This can happen during what some call the First Age, Second Age and Third Age.

The First Age

This is sometimes seen as the time from birth until the early twenties. Childhood, for example, is a time for learning about the world. Many children are encouraged to explore during this time.

One person I worked with described how their parents had helped them to take this path. Here is what they said.

“My parents always encouraged me. Even when I was in a wheelchair for a year, they focused on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do.

“When I began walking again, it was hard for me to do sports. So my parents spent time and money on us learning to sail together.

“This helped me to grow in confidence. Now I use my skills to create opportunities for others.”

George Dennison, the educator, wrote a book about his experiences running the First Street School in The Lower East Side of New York. Writing in The Lives Of Children, which was published in 1969, he describes how the school he ran followed Rousseau’s old policy of losing time.

The most useful rule of education is this: do not save time, but lose it.

George and his colleagues made a lot of time to get to know the children, many of whom came from difficult backgrounds. Here is an excerpt from the book, which you can also download via the following link. 

The Lives Of Children

The first few weeks of school were extremely pleasant. With nine children and four adults, it seemed like a family gathering or a picnic, or perhaps a clubhouse of some sort.  

In the range of educational endeavors, it must certainly have represented, for teachers and children alike, an extraordinary luxury.  

Within this period many of the children’s faces took on that glow of 23 eagerness that we associate with childhood. And we launched out immediately on the business of losing time.

That is to say, we got to know the children really well, held long conversations with them, not on school topics, but on whatever occupied their minds: details of family life, neighborhood events, personal worries and personal interests.

George goes on the describe how he balanced this wandering time with then moving into work time. This called for showing the children that they were cared for, which also involved equipping them to shape their future lives.

Jose Portillo was present at this time, as was his sister Elena, and the relationship I established with him was absolutely essential to our later lessons in reading.  

He was thirteen years old, and after five years in the public schools still could not read, though he was of normal intelligence.  

Now given this background, what must Jose have thought about my wanting to teach him to read? For I did want to, and I made no bones about it.

The fact is, he took it for granted. It was the right and proper relationship, not of teacher and student, but of adult and child … and so I did not wait for Jose to decide for himself.

When I thought the time was ripe, I insisted that we begin our lessons. My insistence carried a great deal of weight with him.

My own demands were an important part of Jose’s experience. They were not simply the demands of a teacher, nor of an adult, but belonged to my own way of caring about Jose. And he sensed this.

There was something he prized in the fact that I made demands on him. This became all the more evident once he realized that I wasn’t simply processing him, that is, grading, measuring, etc. 

And when he learned that he could refuse – could refuse altogether, could terminate the lesson, could change its direction, could insist on something else.

We became collaborators in the business of life.

Many people devote the First Age of their lives to learning, exploring and wandering. Different people do this in different ways.

Some may pursue a hobby, study it deeply and learn how to learn. Later on in life they may apply these transferable learning skills to other activities.

Looking at my own life, for example, I was not good at school, but I loved learning. Despite working in a factory for six years from 15 to 21, I threw myself into reading, exploring different spiritual faiths and travelling around the country.

From the age of 17 onwards I went to night school to study and find a way out of the factory. I also spent ages at the local reference library and loved discovering a lot about many different fields.

Some individuals may travel the country going to music festivals. Some may do a gap year and discover more about what they really want to do in life. Those who do not wander may regret it in later years.

Looking at your own life, what did you do to wander during your First Age? You may have explored interests, travelled to countries, embarked on different experiences or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the things you did to explore and enjoy various kinds of wandering time during your First Age.

The Second Age

This is often seen as the years when a person aims to put down roots, focus on their career and build more stability into their lives. At least, that is what used to be supposed to happen.

Today’s world is more volatile, however, so people are taking different approaches during this Second Age. People still want to feel in control, however, so they may devote much of their week to work time.

This can be rewarding, but it can also come at a price. The hours spent devoting themselves to hitting targets and getting promotion can have side effects.

People who are achievers, for example, often go through a process of striving, surviving and then thriving. Some people get stuck at the surviving stage, however, and this can affect their personal and professional lives.

They may then enter a questioning period for their lives. Sitting in a traffic jam one day, the person may say:

“I am successful, but I am not happy. What can I do about it?”

Failing to see an immediate answer, they may numb themselves and work to gain another promotion. One day another wake-up call arrives. They hear about a school friend who has died.

Reflecting on the shock, they embark on the existential journey travelled by many people over the years. They explore what they want to do in the rest of their life.

A savvy person may stay in their job, but also begin pursuing a parallel strategy. They explore how they can do satisfying work and get a reasonable salary.

At this point they begin to strike a new balance between their work time and wandering time. They still throw themselves into doing good work, but they adopt a new mantra.

The person becomes more selective to be effective. Realising they have only so much energy, they become more careful about the work they commit themselves to doing.

They do their due diligence before taking on new jobs. They also make clear contracts with their stakeholders to make sure they get the support they need to deliver success.

Such people organise their time to balance work time and wandering time. They may organise their time in blocks, for example, and make sure there are few distractions. They can then immerse themselves fully in a piece of work.

At a certain point they switch to taking time to wander. This can take different forms. When at work, they may simply go for a walk or relax. This can enable them to reflect, make better decisions and explore ideas.

Looking at the rest of their life, however, the person may build in more time to develop. They may return to a former passion – such as playing music – or embark on physical tests, such as running marathons.

Such adventures do more than satisfy the soul. They also provide the person with an opportunity to think, see things in perspective and chart their future path in life.

People can experience ups and downs during the Second Age. They may build and lose relationships. They may pursue a career path but then find it is not satisfying.

Some people then reassess their lives. Looking ahead, a person may explore some of the following themes.

What do I want to do with the rest of my life? How can I continue to have a sense of purpose? What can I do to give my best to other people during my time on the planet? 

This can lead to them making certain life decisions. They will then take practical steps to pursue their chosen path in life.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine that you are now in your Second Age. What are the things you do to try to get the right balance between work time and wandering time?

You may, of course, be beyond this stage. If so, describe some of the things you did to try to get the right balance during your Second Age.

The Third Age

The Third Age was originally seen as the years of active retirement. Some people now see it as from the age of 50 onwards. Sometimes it is referred to at The Golden Years, but this may depend on a person’s physical and psychological circumstances.

Maggie Kuhn, for example, reacted to being released from her job at the age of 65 by founding the Gray Panthers. She threw herself into encouraging older people to pass on their knowledge and help others. Here are some things she said about getting older.

I enjoy my wrinkles and regard them as badges of distinction. I’ve worked hard for them.

Old age is not a disease. It is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses. 

Being sixty-five became a crossroads. We said, we have nothing to lose, so we can raise hell. Old age is an excellent time for outrage. Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. 

A healthy community is one in which the elderly protect, care for, love and assist the younger ones to provide continuity and hope. 

During the past few decades many organisations have sprung up to help people to make the most of their Third Age. Some provide practical help that enables people to take more charge of their lives.

Some encourage older people to use their talents to help others. has such a mission. Its strapline is: ‘Second acts for the greater good.’ Marc Freedman, the founder, said:

“We are a movement of millions of people who are using our passions, skills and decades of experience to make a difference in our communities and the world.”

Here are excerpts from the organisation’s website and a video that explains some of its activities. You can discover more via the following link.

What We Do is spearheading efforts to engage millions of people in later life as a vital source of talent to benefit society. Our ultimate goal is to create a better future for young people and future generations.

How We Do It 

We use the power of personal stories and other communications techniques to challenge conventional thinking about aging and create a new narrative for later life, characterized by individual renewal and social impact. 

We create and support pathways to connect people in later life with opportunities for work that benefits society.

We serve as a hub and resource for leaders in various sectors and geographies who share the encore vision. 

We create and operate innovative programs to showcase the encore vision.

Many people see the Third Age as a new chance to wander as well as do work they love. They may embark on learning new things, travelling or finding ways to follow their vocation.

They may also see it as a time to pass on knowledge to other people. Life is often about gathering experience, making sense of experience and passing on experience.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, how can you get the right balance between work time and wandering time? You don’t have to wait until the Third Age to make this happen.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to get the right balance between work time and wandering time in the future. 

Describe the specific benefits – for yourself and for other people – of doing these things.


    S is for Sages Who Are Both Skipping And Serious  

    Some sages seem to be skipping with joy and yet can also be serious. As they get older, they seem more able to have a sense of perspective about life.

    They can be a bit mischievous and also have a generous sense of humour. Whilst sometimes switching to being serious, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

    Such people seem to recognise both their significance and insignificance in the great order of things. They recognise the need to be kind, encouraging and generous during their time on Earth.

    At the same time, they recognise their own life is short. There have been billions of people before them and there will be billions after them. All they can do is try to contribute to life during their time on the planet.

    The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, show some of these qualities. Here is a video they made when launching their book The Book Of Joy.

    Sage-like people often balance characteristics that may appear to be opposites. They balance serenity with steel. They can be calm yet also display massive commitment.

    Maya Angelou demonstrated many of these qualities. She had wisdom, charm and mischievousness. Below are some of the things she said. These are followed by her reciting her famous poem And Still I Rise.

    I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

    Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.

    Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. 

    You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. 

    My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

    Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet. 

    Sage-like people try to demonstrate humility rather than hubris. Jim Collins, who writes about great leaders, says that such leaders often embody an interesting combination. They demonstrate personal humility and professional will.

    Such people often serve something greater than themselves. They may pursue a set of values, a sense of vocation or a compelling cause. They use their strengths to do superb work that serves the overall mission.

    Looking at my own life, I have been fortunate to have several mentors who had a great sense of humour along with a sense of service. Alec Dickson, the founder of Voluntary Service Overseas and Community Service Volunteers, embodied these qualities.

    Totally dedicated to improving society, he aimed to marry to idealism of young people with the unmet needs in society. Here is one example of his dedication yet sense of mischief.

    Alec was due to visit the House of Commons to ask a Parliamentary Committee to provide funding for an initiative in which young people would help older people. Before the session he arranged to meet a journalist from The Times afterwards to tell them the outcome.

    Appearing before the Committee, Alec outlined the plan in a matter of fact and gracious way. Towards the end one of the Members of Parliament had the following exchange with Alec.

    MP: “What you are saying is laudable, Mr Dickson. But I am afraid that we do not have the funding for such an initiative.”

    Alec: “I thank you for your time and understanding. I am now going to an interview with a journalist from The Times. I will tell them that, in the view of this Committee, there are no unmet needs in society.”

    MP: “No, wait a moment, Mr Dickson. This is not what we are saying. We will look into the matter further. It may be possible to find a way forward.”

    Alec got the funding. He was steely, but often had a twinkle in his eye.

    Jenny Joseph encouraged many people to enjoy the equivalent of skipping in life with her poem Warning. She later described it as embodying a woman who has a twinkle in her eye.

    Below is an excerpt from what she wrote about the poem for The Lancet. This is followed by a video of her reading the poem. You can read the whole article via the following link.

    Jenny Joseph

    Although older people do enjoy the poem, perhaps because an older person is portrayed as an interesting and likeable individual, not as a member of a separate species, and children like it “because it’s funny and the woman in it reminds me of my Gran”, it is the ones in the middle – not so old yet, but … who have felt the poem speak especially to them.

    Of course they have all said that what they liked (apart from the sausages and the red hat) was the spirit and happiness of the old woman.

    Many people who enthuse about it know no more than a line or two, get even the first line wrong, and ask me, if they meet me, why I’m not wearing a purple hat. (Others have recognised all its levels.)

    But somehow all sorts of people have laughed, been enlivened, brightened up, “been moved by” the poem, have felt a real live encounter with something zestful and comforting, and occupied it in their own way.

    Why? What’s the trick? I’m grateful for the luck of having produced something that pleases. I have explored some possibilities above.

    I’m happy to leave it at the portals of that magic of which we shall never entirely know the workings: the extraordinary phenomenon of language that can create so specific a world by a combination of sounds; and human beings’ most astounding invention whereby, by these marks on paper, we can bring the voices back again.

    Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed her reading the poem in Ledbury, Herefordshire, in July 2008, during Ledbury Poetry Festival.

    Looking to the future, how can you continue to get the right blend in your life? How can you continue to balance the skipping and seriousness?

    How can you enjoy your equivalent of skipping? You may want to continue walking, gardening, listening to music, being with your loved ones, cooking or doing creative activities. What will be the benefits of doing these things?

    How can you, when appropriate, be serious? You may want to continue encouraging people, following your principles, doing satisfying work or giving positive things to people during your time on the planet. What will be the benefits of doing these things?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to focus on how you can get the right blend. Enjoy the journey.

    Describe the specific things you can do to continue to enjoy your equivalent of skipping. 

    Describe the specific things you can do to, when appropriate, be serious.

    Describe the specific benefits of getting the right blend between enjoying your equivalent of skipping and also being serious.


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