S is for Satisfying Work, Service And Success  

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is for a person to do satisfying work, serve something greater than themselves and deliver success. Pursuing these principles can be enjoyable and sometimes lead to a sense of peace.

A person may focus on these themes when encouraging others, playing music, nurturing their garden or coaching a sports team. They may do so when teaching a class, making films, solving a complex problem, tackling a challenge or doing another activity.

Different people do such work in different ways. Some people choose their path by focusing on the following principles.

Satisfying Work

They build on their strengths, do deeply satisfying work and work to achieve their picture of success. Sometimes they do work that makes their soul sing.


They serve something greater than themselves. They may aim to serve a spiritual faith, a purpose, a set of principles, a vocation or a specific cause. They may do work that helps people or the planet.


They do superb work and give great service. They often enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goals. They keep focusing on their purpose and principles on the way towards achieving their picture of success.

Looking back at your life, can you think of a time when you followed some of these principles in your own way? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have done so when encouraging people, passing on knowledge, pursuing a creative project or doing another activity. You may have done so when acting as a parent, educator, nurse, scientist, designer, trusted advisor, leader or when playing another role.

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 have focused on satisfying work, service and success.

Describe the specific things you did to follow these steps.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Imagine that you want to follow some of these principles in the future. Let’s explore how you can do this in your own way.

Satisfying Work

How can you continue to do such work? One approach is to begin by asking yourself the following questions.

What is the kind of work I find most satisfying? What makes my soul sing? What are the activities that give me positive energy? When do I feel in my element – at ease and yet able to excel?  

What are my strengths? What are the deeply satisfying activities in which I deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? When do I see the destination quickly? When do I go ‘A, B … and then leap to … Z’? What are the activities in which I have a track record of finishing?

When do I enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal? Where do I see patterns quickly? Where do I have the equivalent of a photographic memory? What are the activities where I score highly on drive, discipline and delivery? When do I make complicated things appear simple? 

Different people choose different ways to do satisfying work. They may also take this route at different times in their lives. Some people grow up taking this path. Others take it after reaching a key decision. Here is one person who took this route. 

Martin Seligman has played a huge part in shaping the modern approach to positive psychology. During his early career he took the path of studying how people failed and published the book Learned Helplessness.

Martin then changed course. A series of personal and professional experiences led him to focusing on learned optimism. He asked questions such as:

Who never gets helpless? Who resists collapsing?

Such people focused on what they could control and saw setbacks as temporary. They saw possibilities – whilst also being realistic – and proactively took charge of shaping their lives.

Studying optimism was rewarding, but Martin then passed over another threshold after being elected president of the American Psychological Association.

He was asked to pick the themes he wanted to work on during his Presidency. After a period of reflection, he chose to focus on positive psychology. Martin decided to make this his life mission. He defined this as:

My aim is that psychology and maybe psychiatry will increase the tonnage of happiness in the world.

This led to him and several colleagues founding The Positive Psychology Center. Here is an introduction to their web site. You can discover more via the following link.


Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.

The Positive Psychology Center promotes research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology.

This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Martin has since published many books on this theme. These include Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness and Flourish. Here is a video in which he explains aspects of this approach. 


Imagine that you have identified a specific activity in which you do satisfying work. How would you like to translate this into action?

One approach is to use your strengths to serve something you believe in. You may choose to pursue a spiritual faith, a set of principles, a sense of purpose, a vocation, a mission or a specific cause.

Sheila Cassidy has dedicated much of her life to serving the principle of caring for people. Trained as a doctor, she was arrested and tortured after treating an opponent of the Pinochet regime in Chile.

Here is a film of Sheila being interviewed after her release from captivity. Later will we see an interview with her later in life. This will again highlight the theme of her caring for people.

Sheila continued her career in medicine and became Medical Director of St. Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth. Writing in her book Sharing The Darkness, she describes her first meeting with a patient. 

Once alone with a new patient I introduce myself, explain that I have come at the request of their doctor, and ask them to tell me their story.

It is in the telling of the story that I meet my patient and in my listening to him that he meets me.

Everything depends on the quality of my listening: the patient must understand clearly from my verbal and non-verbal cues that I am interested in him as a person as well as his physical problems.

Sheila talks of Frank, a Manchester builder, who suddenly became paralysed from the waist down. The cancer in his kidney reached his spine and the staff helped him to wrestle with his sense of loss. He would never walk again.

Driving around Plymouth, Sheila reflects on her own personality, her strengths and limits. She writes:

I found myself saying again and again, ‘You wash the feet that will not walk tomorrow’, and realised that this was my job, my calling.

I, who have little patience with the demented and no love for tiny babies, have a special gift of warmth and understanding for those whose time is running out.

I, who hate parties and find it nigh impossible to make small talk know instinctively what to say and do for a gentle Manchester builder who is facing the humiliation of incontinence and the fear of death

Hospices have much to teach our society, says Sheila. They value the vulnerable: the brain-damaged, the sick and the old.

They do this in a world that values competition and economic success. Vulnerability is a great teacher because it crystallises what is really important in our lives.

Sheila is not talking about building more hospices. She is talking about expanding the hospice philosophy across society. All people are precious; all people need love; all people want to find peace in their lives.

She felt humble in the presence of others who wanted to give. Sheila gives the following example.

I recall the young Catholic woman dying of cancer who asked me one day, ‘How can I use my suffering for others?’

Sheila has worked as a doctor, oncologist and psychotherapist. Looking back, she explained that naivety led to her arrest in Chile. She said:

The daft thing is, I was never politically active: all I had done was to accede to a priest’s request to treat a wounded man.  

I also thought that no one would harm the daughter of a British Air Vice-Marshal. Surely, if I were caught, I would simply be deported.

Sheila consider herself creative but messy. This is highlighted in the following description of her autobiography.

In Made for Laughter, she writes with stark honesty of her struggle to overcome depression and insomnia, and her courageous but unsuccessful attempt to establish a new kind of religious order for women.  

She returned to medicine, worked with the terminally ill and developed new approaches to the care of young cancer patients, before training as a psychotherapist.

Made for Laughter is a story of grace under pressure, and an inspirational guide for everyone who has ever grappled with the puzzle of finding our true purpose in life. 

Impetuous and irrepressible, Sheila Cassidy has discovered that, in the words of Desmond Tutu:

‘We are made for compassion, for caring, and for sharing – but also for laughter.’

Different people choose to different things to serve. Here are some examples.

A spiritual follower may serve their faith … A nurse may be dedicated to helping people regain their health … A medical scientist may aim to find a breakthrough cure … A counsellor may serve the cause of helping people to manage problems successfully. 

An educator may serve their vocation of helping students to shape their futures … A social entrepreneur may work to improve the quality of people’s lives … A mediator may serve the cause of finding positive solutions to conflicts.

An artist may serve their art … A singer may serve the songs they sing … An architect may serve their calling to make beautiful buildings … An environmentalist may make TV films that encourage people to appreciate the beauty of the Earth.

Imagine that you have found a way to serve something you believe in. If appropriate, it can be useful to move on to the next stage. 


How can you continue to do satisfying work? How can you translate this into action? How can you achieve your picture of success?

Different people have different views of success. For some it is caring for their loved ones. For some it is following their principles each day. For some it is helping other people to be healthy, hopeful and happy. For some it is achieving the conventional views of success – such as status and wealth.

For some it is doing great work in their chosen field. For some it is seeing specific tangible results. For some it is doing their best and achieving a sense of peace. For some it is making a positive contribution during their time on the planet.

Some people gain momentum by producing quick successes. This provides them with even more strength and confidence to pursue their chosen calling. These successes can take different forms.

Doctor Govindappa Venkataswamy, for example, was an eye surgeon from South India who gave people the gift of sight. Both spiritual and practical, he believed it was important:

To give sight to all and to see all as one.

Doctor V, as he was known, personally restored sight to thousands  of people and created the Aravind Eye Care model. This provides world class service for all patients – whether or not they can pay. Below is a video about their work. You can discover more via the following link.


Some people believe in serving a cause even though they may not be around to see the fruits of their labours. Doing what they believe in helps them to feel alive and able to give to other people.

E.B. White described how his wife Katherine embodied this spirit. Writing in the Introduction to her book Onward and Upward in the Garden, he explains that every year she spent days planning the year’s work.

Katherine continued with this loving ritual, even when nearing the end of her days. Below is a piece that E.B. White wrote about his wife. This approach is followed by many people who want to plant seeds of hope for both present and future generations.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to do satisfying work and serve something you believe in? What can you do then to achieve your view of success?

You may want to take this path when encouraging a person, creating something beautiful or passing on knowledge. You may want to do so when pursuing a creative project, building a successful prototype 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 future when you may want to focus on satisfying work, service and success.

Describe the specific things you can do then to focus on these principles. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of focusing on these principles.

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