I love this article by Bridget-Grenville-Cleave which appeared in Positive Psychology news. It so neatly highlights not only the importance of playing to our strengths, but by doing so, it is possible to create a meaningful life.
Earlier this month I got together with several of my colleagues to share ideas about using the VIA Character Strengths at work. We talked about how acceptable the VIA Strengths are in business circles (in our experience, very), how people react to their VIA Strengths, and how we use them in our training.
We also shared examples of the ways in which we’ve seen the same strength displayed in different people. Take Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. Here are the stories of three people who have Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence among their top strengths.
Carole is a quietly confident 40-something stay-at-home mom with two kids. She comes across as pretty reserved and self-contained. When asked to talk about how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life, she immediately warms up with enthusiasm for her love of natural beauty, her sense of connection to the world around her, and her love of the great outdoors.
“I’ve always felt more comfortable outside than I do indoors. I always wanted to be outside as a child, come rain or shine. I can remember, as a youngster, the feeling of joy and wonder in my heart, playing in the little wood at the end of my best friend’s garden, and my delight at seeing little woodland anemones, primroses and suchlike peeping up in the Spring, that earthy, leafy smell, and experiencing the seasons change.”
When asked how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life now, she’s almost apologetic. She describes the family’s weekend rambles in the countryside. She doesn’t just savor the fine views. She actively tends the countryside by picking up stray litter dropped by careless walkers or blown there by the wind.
“I feel so in tune with nature that I feel compelled to look after it and keep it looking beautiful. My family thinks I’m mad but I actually enjoy it. It makes me feel I’m caring for the world.”
Mel surprised her family 20 years ago. When she finished her math degree at a top university, she went straight into the antiques restoration business.
“Looking back, it was a natural step for me and it fits perfectly with my strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. As a youngster I liked nothing better than scouring jumble sales for beautiful trinkets which I collected, cleaned, and displayed in my bedroom when my friends were talking about fashion, boys, and makeup. My mother used to collect china figurines when I was small, and I can still picture them all – gazing at them in their glass cabinet because we weren’t allowed to touch. I remember the day I discovered the figurine of a dancer in a junk shop – it had a crack on one side. I felt that such a beautiful piece with such intricate detail shouldn’t be consigned to the junk – I just had to restore it. It wasn’t just the beauty of the piece, it was the recognition of the hours of work it took someone to make it and paint it. And that’s how it started. Since then I just haven’t looked back.”
Mel runs her own workshop specializing in restoring 18th century figurines, vases, and tableware.
Rachel is a successful learning and development manager in a big consulting firm. She was initially surprised that Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence was one of her top VIA strengths until she discussed it with friends.
“It’s funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s under your nose, but straightaway they all said ‘Just look at the job you do, and the way you do it!’ and of course they’re right. When I run L&D workshops, I’m full of energy and enthusiasm – I love making sure that I design them to look and feel exactly right. It gives me a real buzz making the whole thing come together. And I’m always noticing new role models, people who do X or Y really well – if they’re in the business I invite them to come and talk in my workshops! It’s true that I love seeing people be the best that they can be. If the work I do helps people excel, that’s really gratifying.”
Strengths show up in different ways in different people. We just need to be alert to the different ways they can manifest.