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We tend to overlook it in daily life, but people are vastly different. Even in the exact same situations, each of us provide our own unique, subjective interpretation and respond differently based on differences in culture, background, and genes. This is especially true for the way we deal with challenges. Facing the same challenges, some people may respond with humor while others respond by controlling their emotions or by taking swift action. These unique predispositions to deal with things in one way or another define our very identity. They are our “Character Strengths”, our capacity to behave, think, and feel in certain ways that brings out the best in us.
In a previous post, I quoted the Merriam Webster Dictionary’s definition of the word “strength”, namely: “Having or marked by great physical power, having moral or intellectual power, or having great resources (as wealth or talent)”. Character Strengths are invaluable personal resources that give you tremendous power when you use them. Some of the common ones identified by extensive research carried at the VIA Institute include kindness, honesty, gratitude, zest, perseverance, and curiosity. Researchers also found that the utilization of one’s individual strengths has a contribution to well-being, while unused strengths are tied to a downward spiral in one’s emotional state. Simply put, being yourself and acting yourself is good for you.
Before I went on Ride of Your Life, I focused on “building strength” towards the Ride. At the time I was a novice rider preparing to a coast-to-coast ride, and felt underprepared and unqualified. I tried to imagine all the possible situations and challenges I could encounter, and the type of behaviors and mindsets I needed to adapt to address them. I did not realize that in doing so, I inadvertently found myself focusing on my weaknesses – on the things that I need to improve, and on the behaviors that do not come to me naturally. Then I went on the road and very quickly realized that I can allow myself to feel confident about my ability to deal with the road had in stock. Albeit not the strengths of a stereotypical tough biker, my creativity, perseverance, and sense of humor have kept me safe and out of trouble, and allowed me to experience things in a new and unexpected way. All I had to do was follow the cliché and be myself.
Perhaps more importantly, I quickly discovered that I sometimes need to use the strengths of others just as my strengths are needed by the people around me. Strength is a means of overcoming challenges. A person who is physically strong is capable of lifting heavy weights or enduring a long run. But the dictionary definition of the word “strength” (as well as the scientific research work) talks about strength as something individual. Different people have different strengths, different “mental muscles”, and as a result not all challenges are created equal. One’s major obstacle could only be a small speed bump for another. Different challenges call for different strengths. In some situations you have “the right tools for the right job” but in other situations, someone else does. One of the most important things I learned on the road is that knowing my strengths gives me an opportunity to be an everyday hero. All I have to do is identify situations where my fortes help others and are needed the most, and step in. The first step on this “heroic journey”, to be a hero for your children, spouse, friends, or coworkers, is simply to know who you are.