The Art of Strengths Coaching

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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    E is for Enjoying Giving Everything In Experiences That Have An Edge

    “I feel most alive in situations when there is something at stake,” said one person. “I can perform well in other activities, but even in those I try to keep improving.

    “Sometimes I need to rest and simply enjoy life, which I have now managed to do. But I feel most motivated when there is something hanging on the result.”

    Some people love to give everything in experiences that have an edge. The edge may involve a sense of excitement, a competition or something else that boosts their adrenaline.

    This approach has both upsides and downsides. The pluses involve a person feeling alive, learning through experience and continually improving. The minuses can involve tiredness, danger and worrying about things they cannot control – such as whether or not they win the prize.

    Some people therefore reframe success in a different way. They define it as: “Did I give everything? Did I do my best in the situation?” Rather than: “Did I win?”

    Why? Because this is the only thing they can control. They cannot control whether they win the sale, the prize or fame.

    Some people do not need experiences to have an edge in order to give everything. They may simply love doing certain activities in which they enjoy following the process as much as reaching the prize.

    Looking back on your life, when have you enjoyed giving everything in a situation? The experience may or may not have had an edge, but you still enjoyed giving your best.

    You may have taken this path when encouraging a person, renovating a house or singing in choir. You may have done it when playing a sport, pitching for a piece of business or doing another activity.

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

    Describe a specific situation in the past when you enjoyed giving everything – whether or not the experience had an edge. 

    Describe the specific things you did then to give everything in the situation. 

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

    People who enjoy experiences that have an edge may be adrenaline driven. They are often turned on by adrenaline, adventure and achievement. Let’s consider these themes.

    Adrenalin

    They love getting their adrenaline juices flowing. They may be attracted to sporting activities, skydiving, stage performances, fire fighting, troubleshooting, keynote speaking or whatever.

    Adventure

    They love doing projects that provide a sense of adventure. Stretching themselves, they enjoy learning and gathering new experiences. Frequently turned-on by the highs, they may also experience deep lows. Such people want to feel alive and hate being bored. They like to have drama in their lives.

    Achievement

    Striving hard, they love to reach a goal. They get an enormous kick from reaching a summit, accomplishing the almost impossible or performing superbly in front of an audience. Some like applause and adulation.

    People who enjoy experiences with an edge are sometimes looking for more than thrills. Mike Levenhagen, from Santa Clara University, has described what he learned from studying serious climbers.

    He outlined the following themes in his paper. This was called A Stage Model of Why Climbers Climb And How It Frames the Discussions of Recent Climbing Controversies.

    Serious climbers climb for reasons of achievement and for the attainment of flow.

    Serious climbers climb to build or define character.

    Serious climbers climb to experience a sense of deep spiritual self-realisation.

    Mike explains that serious climbers often set out to achieve certain targets. They may aim to scale a number of summits or achieve a certain grade of climbing.

    As in many other fields, the initial focus is on learning technical skills that enable them to progress. Putting these skills into action can lead to experiencing a feeling of being in the zone. This can lead to the next stage.

    Serious climbers begin putting themselves into more high-stress climbing situations. This enables them to hone their discipline and test their mettle.

    Mike says that such climbers venture more into ‘the head game’. They want to develop as practitioners of climbing and also as people. They enjoy the process of testing themselves at the edge. Mike writes:

    They do so to prove their worth to self and others in more and more difficult, high-stress situations. The deeper the pressure, the more their character is revealed.

    As they do so, another shift in consciousness begins to unfold as their individual personalities get in the way of their learning and growth.  

    It is likely that repeated, voluntary, high-stress experiences engender far-reaching new perspectives on life.

    In the last stage of climbing, a climber transitions from the mundane everyday world into a more sublime and heroic world. 

    The great majority of climbers’ insights, reflections, and recollections in the writings – when they occurred – look to be about self-realization, about spiritual growth and expansion of the self, and about the meaning of life itself. 

    Most extreme climbers are looking for an ascent to show them one more thing about life or themselves.

    Serious climbers sometimes experience a sense of spiritual transformation. Seeing things in perspective, they feel part of something greater than themselves.

    Different Views About Competition

    There are many different views about how people can motivate themselves. Some involve different views about competition.

    Some people aim to make the best use of their talents and become the best they can be. They do not need to compete with others to make this happen.

    Some people aim to make the best use of their talents by using the spur of competition. They find this provides the adrenaline trigger to keep improving and achieve their personal targets

    Pete Carroll, who led the Seattle Seahawks to winning a Super Bowl, has an interesting view on competition. Here is a piece from his book Winning Forever.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you will enjoy giving everything? This experience may or may not have an edge.

    You may want to take these steps when encouraging a person, doing something stimulating or pursuing a creative activity. You may want to do it when running a project, managing a crisis situation or leading a team.

    How can you do your best in situation? What will be the benefits – both for you and other people? What may happen as a result of throwing yourself into the experience?

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

    Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to enjoy giving everything – whether or not the experience has an edge.

    Describe the specific things you can do then to give everything in the situation.

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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