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 potentials.net. 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 (www.inmotioncc.com). She’s a transplanted New Englander living in Jackson, Mississippi, with her husband and alarmingly large cat.