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.