Last week we sadly lost two highly accomplished Australian men, both will be remembered for being high achievers in their respective fields. Jim Stynes was one of our greatest ever AFL footballers, playing 244 consecutive games in a career lasting 11 years. Lincoln Hall is recognised for his achievements in mountaineering. He was part of the first successful Australian expedition to Mount Everest in 1984 and summited himself in 2006 – a feat that was all the more remarkable as Hall was thought to have died on the mountain, but was later found alive having survived a night at 8,000 meters.
Clearly both these men had enormous talent. But great talent is not enough to make a man great. After all, we see plenty of examples of people with great talent who we shun because of dubious character traits (my ten years of working in sports doping reminds me of this). What we really admire in others, what inspires us about their greatness, and what we aspire to ourselves, is the great human qualities, the strength of character and moral virtues that our heroes display. As well as their talents, both Stynes and Hall were undoubtedly men of strong character, possessing buckets of self-discipline, determination perseverance, and courage.
But what I really admire about both of these men is what they have contributed to the world beyond their expertise in their chosen field. Stynes founded the Reach Foundation, an organisation that mentors and inspires ‘at risk’ youth to believe in themselves. Hall founded the Australian Himalayan Foundation to raise money for Himalayan schools. Both worked with humility, passion and dedication to these programs until the very end.
Right there, in these two men, we see three of the foundations of what positive psychologists say makes for a happy, flourishing life: accomplishment, serving a purpose that’s bigger than yourself and the cultivation and use of character strengths.
Whilst only a small proportion of us will ever develop the stamina or skill of a great athlete, all of us have the capacity to develop and use our character strengths in a way that helps us to lead a purposeful, flourishing life. Interestingly, over two thirds of us aren’t aware of our own character strengths, either because we’ve never stopped to think about them, or because we take them for granted. So as a first step to your own personal greatness, here’s a couple of suggestions for recognising your core character strengths.
Think back over your life to a time when you were at your best, when you were really feeling and acting at a high level, when you felt really alive and when you felt like you were being your true self. What were you doing, how were you behaving, what characteristics were you showing? If you have difficulty with this exercise, tell your story to someone else, and ask them to identify three character strengths you were using at that time.
If you’re still not convinced, a great way to get in touch with your unique character strengths is to undertake an online survey at www.viacharacter.org. The VIA Assessment was developed by positive psychology pioneers Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson and measures 24 universal character strengths. Once you complete the survey, a profile of your personal character strengths is automatically generated. The survey takes about 30 minutes and is free. Click on the ‘Discover your character strengths with the free VIA survey’ button on the right of the VIA home page to get started.
Knowing your character strengths gives you a great sense of confidence and self-esteem, and we use strengths frequently in coaching to help clients increase energy, meet challenges, improve life satisfaction and maximise well-being and performance. If you would like help to understand and capitalise on your character strengths, please email me for a confidential discussion about how coaching can help you.