Be Yourself and You Might Save Someone’s Life: A True Story

A few weeks ago after an Unleash Your Best-of-Self Traits Workshop, two of the participants shared this story with me. I keep thinking about it, specifically how the ordinary can become exceptional.

Susan and Beth had worked together 12 years ago. Susan was hired as a supervisor at social service organization and Beth was a current employee at the organization.

With the exception of Beth, the other staff resented Susan because she was an outsider “there tell them what to do.” Beth, instead of getting swept up in the group grumble, acted on her natural friendly instincts and reached out to Susan. As a result they worked together well and got along.

One day they were talking about skin care and Beth recommended a dermatologist to Susan. Susan later went to the doctor to have her spider veins looked at. Within a year Susan and Beth each moved on to other positions and they lost touch.

The next year at Susan’s annual dermatology appointment stage-4 skin cancer was discovered. “I never would have gone to a dermatologist in the first place if Beth hadn’t suggested it. And if I had not done that I don’t think a year later I would have gotten treatment. Now I am just fine. I’ve been looking for Beth for the past 11 years to say thank you.”

Now”, Beth said, “I can see how my social intelligence and kindness, me just being friendly and wanting people to feel welcome, is really valuable. I knew it was nice to be like this, but I never thought something like this could happen.”

Amazing, huh?

Honestly it was delightful to hear them talking with such joy and energy. Almost talking over each other in their excitement to tell me their story. It was beautiful.

And I was honored they wanted to share it with me.

Actually I whelped up a little and was glad that allergy season meant that I had a tissue handy.

What you may take for granted as just the way you are can have a profound impact on the people around you.

So today if you are true to who you are, you might send out a ripple of goodness that has an exponential impact. And I hope you do.

Love and Work Do Mix

What comes to mind when someone asks you about your strengths? Typically, people think of the skills they developed at school and work such as teamwork, budgeting or using social media. But do you think about your character traits as strengths?

A character trait is a distinctive feature influencing how you relate to the world and is expressed in thoughts, actions and feelings. Research by psychologists including Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson and others shows that people share the same 24 character traits—each of us has our own mix of top, middle and lower traits that make us individuals. These traits include love, fairness, perseverance, leadership,
kindness and more.

I work with people to leverage their character traits in their professional lives. Often, my clients think of love as only an intense feeling of deep, passionate, tender affection for someone, such as parent to child or between dear friends, or as a romantic or sexual attachment to someone such as a spouse. Drawing on love in their work gives them pause—it’s unexpected and complicated.

What is Love Anyway
As a character trait, Seligman defines love as the ability to give and receive love. Love’s hallmark is a mutual sharing of comfort, acceptance and warmth. A crush, hero worship or unrequited affection—no matter how powerful—is not love in this regard.

The VIA Institute on Character reports that love is one of the top five traits for the more than one-third of people who value close relationships with others in all areas of their lives, family, friends, community, and work, above and beyond other qualities. Top-level traits are the three to five innate traits you use so effortlessly that you may take them for granted as personality traits, not the high-level character strengths they truly are.

The Benefits of Love are Better Than a Box of Valentine Chocolates
When a person is at her or his best at expressing love, there’s a flow of positive emotions to and from others that cultivates closeness and emotional support. The benefits of love as a strength include:
• Increased life satisfaction
• Secure loving relationships are strongly linked to good health and longevity
• Facilitating empathy, forgiveness and tolerance in relationships
• A sense of meaning and purpose in life
(source: “Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology)

You may believe that love has no role in some places such as work, but love is not just romance. Love is affection for those you depend on and who depend on you, like colleagues. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that people who regularly use their strengths at work are six times more like to be engaged with work. If love is a top trait for some, it makes sense to find appropriate ways to express that strength through their work.
Using Love at Work (yes it can be done)
You can use love as a character trait in the workplace by helping others. Consider the strengths of the person or people you want to help, and then design your help accordingly.

You may find it hard to offer love to yourself, but it is vital. Cultivating love for oneself is linked to increased feelings of social connection, optimism and mindfulness in general. One of my clients over-extended love to others and squirmed at the idea of people reciprocating because it was “greedy.” By doing things like calmly saying no to an employee’s unreasonable customer request and not acquiescing to do it herself, she supported her staff and herself. It was easier for her to let other staff members take on one project while she worked on a second project, showing trust in her staff and not over-extending herself. She focused on what most needed her time and attention, and her staff was further invested in what they do, too.

Try This
If loving yourself is difficult, try this: Three times this week, reflect on what you can give yourself credit for, and what value that has for you.

Like any character trait, love is a wonderful attribute that can be over or underused—but when used well, love is a tremendous asset.

Confession: My 3 Top Strengths Used to Be My 3 Worst Enemies

I was living in one of my favorite cities, working as the assistant director of a multistate project, growing a national profile and pulling down a rock-solid salary and great benefits.

I had it made.

And I was miserable.

  • Do you feel like you have to squeeze into someone else’s idea of who you should be?
  • Do you struggle to trust your own judgment?
  • Do you hold yourself to unrealistically high standards?

I sure did.

I was perpetually sprinting from one deadline to the next. I couldn’t slow down to notice what was working well or what was great in my staff. I struggled to have my ideas heard and my approaches valued, especially when they differed from those of a smart and forceful project director who put in 14-hour days and expected everyone on staff to be just like her.

  • I was pressured to be someone I wasn’t.
  • I was made to wonder if my ideas and decisions were sound.
  • I was told my absolute best efforts were only average at best.

While at a coaching workshop for clinicians, I began to see how I might move my career in a more rewarding, better-fitting direction. I enrolled in a coach-training course that introduced me to character strengths.

As I explored my own strengths, I noticed I was overusing and underusing 3 of my top traits – honesty, judgment (critical thinking) and appreciation of beauty and excellence.

And then it struck me. Oh, my gosh . . . I wanted to strike out on my own, and I knew that my 3 top strengths were also my 3 top enemies. I needed to turn that around.

Overusing Critical Thinking: From Overthinking to Clearly Seeing

When making a big I-could-fail decision, I would agonize over all the possibilities. Once I finally did make a decision, like starting my own business, I’d second-guess myself. If things didn’t go absolutely perfectly, my interpretation was that I had utterly failed, not just at the task at hand, but as a person too. It was heavy and scary.

Trusting that I’d put my critical thinking to good use was a leap of faith that propelled me from thinking about leaving my safe, full-time, fancy-title position to taking on the risky adventure of starting my own business. When the freak-out, I-don’t-have-a-business-background-how-am-I-going-to-strike-out-on-my-own thoughts came, I took a deep breath, wrote down all the smart decisions I had made in the past and the results, reinforcing my gut instinct that I was doing the right thing – just not easy thing.

Underusing Honesty: From Should Be to Just Be

I cared a lot about doing the right thing and following the correct formula. And I cared deeply about what people might think of me. So sometimes I minimized who I was, and I felt fake and needy and embarrassed that I cared so dang much. And deep down I knew these were deal-breakers for becoming the coach I wanted to be.

I realized that as sincere and earnest as I was to get it right, there was no integrity in forcing myself into shoes made for someone else. Heck, I’m not a supernova of rah-rah, or a meditative poet-healer or a tough-love tough talker. I am a constant, compassionate – and as one client put it, “charmingly forceful” – champion, guide and thinking partner. What a liberating relief to let go of what I should be and just be.

Overusing Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: From A++ to A-OK

My entire life I was (or tried to be) an A student. I wanted to be smart in school, and that meant getting an A, better yet an A+, with a few extra credit points for good measure. When I was a young professional and a report came back with suggested edits, I’d feel a hiccup of shame and frustration well-up. I couldn’t clearly see the best in myself, yet I could always point out to direct reports, colleagues and friends what they were doing well when they had “self-perception blinders” on.

I learned to lower my personal standards, from “perfection is the only acceptable measure” to “reasonable works,” by moving forward with a project when it was “good enough” and finding that it was better than I thought. This helped me take on new challenges without getting trapped by performance anxiety. I was able to stop worrying about making exactly the right decision by shifting to making the best decision I could with what I knew in that moment. Plus I stopped taking it personally if someone didn’t respond to my ideas. Steadily I grew confident and am now infinitely more relaxed than I used to be.

Find Out More about Making the Most of Your Strengths

Get Your Free 30-Minute Podcast Now

Visit WithIn Radio and listen as I talk with Diantha Harris about how to identify and make the most of your character strengths. You can listen online now or download and listen later.

One more option: If sitting down and reading is more your style, download your free copy of the transcript.

Do You Need to Stop This Trust-Breaking Pattern?

Are you a nice boss?

Maybe too nice?

Does this sound remotely familiar? Ninety-five percent of the time you show your confidence in your team’s judgment and initiative by giving them a lot of latitude. You know most people chafe at being micromanaged, and you swore you’d never be that kind of boss.

But you also notice that the rules get bent a little too far a little too often.

You feel disrespected, and despite your best efforts to stay true to your anti-micromanager philosophy, you find yourself at a breaking point. You’re resentful. Maybe a little passive-aggressive. Or you might be the boomerang-blowup type, putting your now-cowering team into lockdown. And then everybody feels discouraged, agitated and undermined.

Worse, you feel ineffective and you worry your team no longer trusts you, or likes you. So you cycle back into leniency, and after a couple of awkward days, things start to normalize.

Until the rule-bending, foot-dragging and frustration starts up again.

What if you could forever change your trust-breaking pattern of extremes?

James, a manager at an accounting firm, did just that when he signed up for my new Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session.

  • an in-depth 30-minute online assessment
  • a professional review of assessment results
  • a private 75-minute phone session to develop effective strategies to begin using immediately

In less than 2 hours, James understood how his well-intended flexibility was tying him in knots of niceness, and thanks to his Jump-Start Session, he walked away with a practical and thoughtful strategy for untangling the knots.

How James Used His Strengths to Nix Trust-Breaking Patterns &
Build an Accountable, Respectful Team

James saw that his boss’s unrelenting focus on the bottom line led to staff burnout and disengagement because they felt like replaceable cogs in a machine. James’s antidote was to compensate by doing everything he could to be the opposite, to be the nice boss.

But he was the too nice boss.

  • He had a perpetually open door.
  • He bought lunch for the office.
  • He corrected people’s work for them.
  • He approved multiple requests for flex-time.
  • He looked the other way when deadlines were missed.

Sooner or later, James would begin to feel taken advantage of, and when he switched gears and tried to enforce the rules, his staff ignored him and refused to do what he asked. He was left with disappointment and a nagging worry that his staff would quit because they didn’t like him.

In his Jump-Start Session, James and I discovered that two of his best-of-self strengths, kindness and love of learning, were the keys to creating a new approach to his leadership.

Now James uses his innate kindness constructively.

  • He holds staff members accountable for deadlines.
  • He points out when the quality of their work needs improvement.
  • He takes time to guide staff members as they learn new skills.
  • He gives recognition to people’s best efforts when he meets with them.

James is building up the reserves of trust in his staff – and they in him.

To keep his own momentum moving forward, every day at the close of business, he asks, “What I am learning about how I am leading now? How can I use this tomorrow?”

Start Writing Your Success Story
By Scheduling Your Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session Today

Stop trust-breaking patterns. Anchor your leadership in your strengths. Lead with confidence.

Sign up in the next 20 days to get my special pricing of $147 (a $250 value).

Jump in now! Scheduling for my Jump-Start Sessions ends March 31 and won’t be offered again until midsummer.

schedule my session button

Here’s to the best in you,


PS: Here’s what James says about his new approach: “I now understand how my strengths interrelate and I found a way to use my two key strengths. Creating opportunities for my staff to be accountable shows I believe in and value them, and that makes things better for everyone.” James C.

PPS: Next week I’ll share my own story of how using best-of-self strengths transformed my career and birthed a business

New! Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Sessions

I’ll bet you know what your greatest strength is.

Do me a favor?

Write it on your mental whiteboard, way up high, with a bright blue marker.

Now, quickly list 9 more.

And without stopping, go for a total of 24.

How’re you doing? It’s tough, isn’t it?

Your Best-of-Self Strengths

24. That’s the number of character strengths you have, according to research conducted by a wealth of psychologists and human development experts.

I call the 24 character traits your best-of-self strengths: the qualities that make you who you are at your core (versus skills you acquire over time). For example, fairness, forgiveness, curiosity, humor, humility. All 24 are beautiful, hope-filled, full of possibility.

Knowing your greatest strength is informative.

But integrating your best-of-self strengths into your work is transformative.

  • Shift from a “what’s wrong” to a “what’s strong” way of living your life
  • Acknowledge problems without getting lost in them
  • Focus your mind and efforts on what is best and good
  • Develop more confidence and push yourself to evolve in your career and as a person
  • Feel energized and enterprising
  • Connect with others, creating mutually supporting and meaningful relationships

I’ve seen it time and time again in my 12 years as a business, career and life coach.

That’s why I developed the Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session, a new quick-start program designed to give you a deeper understanding of your 24 strengths coupled with personalized strategies you can use immediately to tackle some of the most difficult challenges you face in your work.

The Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session

While the Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session is new, the heart of the work is not. Defining strengths and creating strategies for rooting a career or a business in those strengths is central to the work I do in my longer-term one-on-one coaching.

The Jump-Start Session has 3 parts:

  1. An in-depth 30-minute online assessment to put the spotlight on what’s best about you
  2. A professional review of your assessment results to help you understand how your strengths are related and how they sometimes compete with each other
  3. A private 75-minute phone session to develop useful strategies you can immediately apply to your work or other parts of your life

The Jump-Start Session is especially effective if you are …

  • Exploring a career transition and struggling to find an ideal fit
  • Starting a new business with a partner and need to make decisions about roles and responsibilities
  • Working in a family business and want to add value to your role
  • Stepping into a leadership role and need to define your leadership style
  • Re-visioning your work and want what you do to be centered around your strengths
  • Longing to bring more depth and meaning to a career you love

To Unleash Your Strengths Schedule Your Jump-Start Session Today

Limited Offer: 20 people

Special Introductory Pricing: $147

Registration Ends: March 31

schedule my session button

Don’t let someone get your spot!

Contact me before March 31 to schedule your session.

How a Seed Catalog Can Help Your Career

February. Steel-gray skies, frozen lakes, white-cold fingers and toes. And yet it’s a gardener’s favorite time of year: the seed catalogs begin to arrive with their flashy covers and pages and pages of divine possibility.

As you’re leafing through the pages, imagining the fruits, the scents and the colors in your own back yard, I’d like to encourage you to take time to consider your personal and professional “garden.”

Is it time to plant new “seeds” of professional development? Of personal growth?

The seeds in your personal “catalog” are your best-of-self traits, like kindness, Social Intelligence, appreciation of excellence and beauty, honesty (and others). All natural and organic, your best-of-self traits transcend your skills and competencies: they’re the foundational character strengths you were born with (versus skills you learned over time).

Your Seeds Come in a Variety Pack

Your “variety seed pack” is a unique-to-you mix of 24 best-of-self traits. (Research shows that we all share the same 24 character traits, and each of us has our own mix of top, middle and lower traits.)

1. Top-level traits (hardy perennials) are the 3 to 5 traits you use so innately and effortlessly, you often take them for granted as personality traits, not the high-level character strengths they truly are.

2. Middle-level traits (perennials that need specific sun and soil conditions) are the strengths you can easily and reliably call upon when needed.

3. Lower-level traits (delicate perennials that bud only in precise situations) are those that you call on least often and that take the most effort for you to do so.

Using your best-of-self traits with intention and thoughtfulness is essential to cultivating a fulfilling career (and to living your best life). You learn faster. You feel energized, satisfied and most true to yourself when you use your best-of-self traits. You have greater confidence when you take on new projects, and you have more compassion for yourself as you learn new skills.

How to Cultivate Your Best-of-Self Traits

When I work with clients to cultivate their best-of-self traits, we use a two-part approach: (1) identifying your best-of-self traits in concrete terms and (2) bringing them fully into your work and life.

I’d like to share a simple way for you to begin identifying your best-of-self traits.

Sort Your Seeds

Take a few minutes to write down your answers to the questions below.

  • What do people consistently say you do well or compliment you about?
  • What do you most value about yourself and the way you work? (Don’t be humble!)
  • Which of your traits are sometimes too much, even for those who know you well?

Sow Your Seeds

Now read through what you have written and highlight, circle or underline the words and phrases that feel most true to your heart. Cluster the words and phrases that seem alike. Those clusters reflect your best-of-self traits. Perhaps you see a knowledge cluster (perspective, curiosity, creativity) or a relationship cluster (generosity, compassion, kindness). Brainstorm 3 to 5 ways you can use each cluster more purposefully in your work (or personal life).

Tend Your Seeds

This week, commit to taking on one of the ideas from your brainstorm session. Don’t worry about creating a plan or a schedule, just start by taking one step. By the way, feeling awkward or messy is a normal part of the process. It means you’re stretching, growing. And it doesn’t matter if your step is small or big, a quick sure stride or a tiptoe. What matters is that you take the step.

I’d love for you to let me know about the seeds you planted and what’s sprouting for you.

PS: This article is my second guest post for Diantha Harris  of  life  Would you like to know more about how you can make the most of your best-of-self traits? Check out my radio interview with Diantha on Feb 27 at 8 pm ET here.

Deirdre Danahar is a business, leadership and life coach for entrepreneurs and creative professionals ( She’s a transplanted New Englander living in Jackson, Mississippi, with her husband and alarmingly large cat.