Success is Playing to Your Strengths

By Dr Darryl Cross
Organisational psychologist and careers coach
Crossways Consulting

It was only a small heading in The Advertiser and the column that went with it was short, but it came as no surprise to that group of us who are organisational psychologists and career guidance counsellors. The heading read, “Drop out rate shock.” It went on to say that one in three university students considered leaving their course before graduation. Although the attrition rate is actually somewhere around 20%, this statistic belies the fact that a significant proportion of university students, as well as those in TAFE colleges and vocational or training institutes, are dissatisfied and demotivated.Maybe they did actually complete their course for a degree, adiploma or a certificate, but they end up just turning up and finishing it for the sake of doing so. What a waste of human potential.

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Disillusioned with their course and knowing that it holds little real interest for them, what do they do then? It is no wonder that so many in their 20s can be called the “lost generation” or the “troubled 20s.

“Why so? How is it that in this nation where we would pride ourselves as being the clever country and well educated, that we do not prepare our students and ourselves for a fulfilling vocation and a satisfying life? How is it that around 88% of the workforce lacks job satisfaction and goes through the motions simply in order to receive a salary? How is it that so many work in
order to live? They go to work in order to live for the weekend or for their hobbies or interests which are after-hours activities.

I am at pains to say to all my clients as well as to the MBA class that I teach, that all of us need to work to our strengths. What happens when you work to your strengths? Decades of research by Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chicks-sent-me-high-ee”) showed that real satisfaction occurs when we are “in the flow.” Some call it being “in the zone.” It’s those times when you’re so preoccupied that time stands still and you can’t believe that time has passed. Maybe you’re painting art, writing, working on your car, building a website, giving a presentation – whatever it is, you’re “in your element.” These activities give us energy rather than drain us (like work usually does). People become more alive because of these pursuits.

Now you may well say that that’s okay for hobbies and things, but that’s not possible at work. Who says? Sure, work is never going to be totally blissful and “in the zone” every hour of every day, but who says that you can’t gain more satisfaction while also earning a pay cheque?

The secret is determining your strengths. And don’t say you haven’t got any. I haven’t found anyone on the planet yet who doesn’t have some personal strengths and talents.

You may not be able to identify them yourself and you may need to see a careers coach to give you some tests and assess your talents and assets. The tragic tale however, is that irrespective of us being the so-called clever country, we do not spend time with our youth identifying their strengths and talents, encouraging them to explore their talents, helping them identify goals
to which they can work towards and helping them to be fulfilled. Certainly the education system doesn’t allow it. It is too intent on passing grades and gaining a TER score or completing Year 12. In this respect, education gets a big “F” for fail.

Is it little wonder that so many adolescents wander into post-secondary courses or jobs for which they are not suited. Is it little wonder that a good proportion drop out. Is it little wonder that most of the adult population go through the motions of work never really feeling fulfilled or satisfied or that they are making a significant contribution to themselves and to life.

Yes it’s tragic. But ask yourself what your own personal strengths might be. Get serious about finding out. If you’re not sure, ask your friends, family, and colleagues. Have the courage to step out and find your real talent. You only have one life and it deserves to be lived.

[Dr Darryl Cross is a clinical and organisational psychologist as well as a credentialed executive and personal coach. He is also an author, international speaker and university lecturer. Dr Darryl assists people to find their strengths and reach their goals. Further information on Dr Darryl can be seen at]

Success is About Moving Forward

By Dr Darryl Cross
Leadership & Career Coach – Psychologist
Crossways Consulting
© Copyright 2009 Dr Darryl Cross

[This article was published in the Career One supplement
( to “The Advertiser,” Saturday, 4th April, 2009, Page 16]

Frank came into my office quite downcast and forlorn. This was the first time in his whole career that he’s been without a job. He had been retrenched 8 weeks ago. And he didn’t see it coming. It was a shock to him and his family. He was beating up on himself for “not seeing the writing on the wall,” and now he was feeling embarrassed that he was unemployed.

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Therapeutically, I observe that for the major crises in our life like retrenchment, redundancy as well as things like divorce and death, it takes between two to four years to get over something like that psychologically and emotionally before we are able to move on. Some people though,keep on blaming, feeling hard done by, feeling resentful and they do not move on. They are negative. They see themselves as victims. No-one has had it as bad as them. They tend to indulge in self-pity and they generally like all those around them to know about it too. They become stuck in their past.

Successful people manage to work through their crises, whatever they might be, and put it behind them. They find the strength to put it all in perspective and they use their energies to move forward rather than be tied up in the past and bemoaning their woes.

Those who are successful know that life isn’t always fair. As the bumper sticker says, “Stuff Happens.” And sometimes it’s not fair. There are setbacks, difficulties do arise and at times, catastrophe strikes. Successful people have setbacks just like anyone else. Successful people grieve and feel angry, frustrated and disappointed like everyone else does. The point of difference though is that they do not remain in that emotional state. Although they certainly do see problems as problems and difficulties as difficulties and mistakes as mistakes, they have the ability to then turn around their attitude and see the problem as an opportunity or the difficulty as a challenge or the mistake as a learning experience. This in no way is just a play on words. It’s about attitude and that is a defining characteristic between those who are successful and those who seem to struggle. It is a key to success.

You have heard the old adage, “is the cup half empty or is the cup half full?” Successful people have a tendency to see the cup as more full than empty. As I have said in a number of talks that I have given on success, there are always two sides to a coin. Two sides to any coin. It is the same coin, but which side do you choose to look at?

In other words, if you have a problem or an issue, which attitude or perspective do you wish to take? It all depends on how you look at it. Successful people make a conscious decision to have an attitude or perspective for any issue or difficulty that means they get on with the business of fixing the problem or somehow rectifying it or even working around it rather than becoming bogged down or somehow wallowing in it all and feeling overwhelmed.

Interestingly too, successful people may not always know exactly how they will fix a particular issue or problem, but they take it a step at a time and if that does not work, they tweak it again and try something else a step at a time.

I like the saying that says, “life rewards action.” Successful people always take action. It may not always be the correct action in the first instance, but they recognise that they have the ability to change their steps and alter their course, if at any time, whatever they are doing does not seem to be working.

Success is about moving forward and being prepared to change course if necessary and successful people are very good about doing just that.

[Dr Darryl Cross is a clinical and organisational psychologist as well as a credentialed executive and personal coach. He is also an author, international speaker and university lecturer. Dr Darryl is about assisting people to find their strengths and reach their goals. Further information on Dr Darryl can be seen at ]

Coping with the Big “R’s”: Retrenchment & Redundancy

Coping with the Big “R’s”: Retrenchment & Redundancy
By Dr Darryl Cross

Organisational Psychologist & Careers Coach
Crossways Consulting

They are the two big R’s. Retrenchment and redundancy. They are very similar in that you suddenly don’t have a job anymore. However, in the former with “retrenchment,” the company or organisation no longer has need of your skills or abilities and they let you go. The latter means that the organisation has done away with your job role and position altogether (and therefore has
no more need for you). Either way, there is pain for most of us.

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Of course, there are a few who actually relish the big “R’s” and can’t believe their luck in that they didn’t like their job anyway and they get a nice payout which gives them time to look for a more satisfying job or gives them time to change careers, perhaps go overseas and travel or even to re-train to work in another direction.

Mostly though, the “R’s” give us hurt and they usually come “out of the blue.” We just didn’t see it coming. Sure, there might have been some rumours around, but all of a sudden, we’re called to the boss’ office and told, “We’re letting you go.” It’s a shock.

Sadly though, even in this so-called advanced age, when HR practices are supposed to be enlightened, there are too many stories of inhumane practices, where people are herded into a training room, or called to the supervisor’s office and simply told that this is the end and that they need to collect their belongings, hand in their keys or passes and are escorted by security to the front gate or door. Appalling. No other word for it, except appalling.

Interestingly though, what these companies don’t get is that the rest of the staff left behind are watching, and watching hard. Morale plummets, productivity reduces and energies are diverted into survival mode. Forget too about any loyalty from those left – it’s survival of the fittest. Not a great culture to work in.

Regardless, how do we copy when the big “R” occurs? In short, it’s a kind of a death. It’s a loss. All of a sudden, we no longer have the security of a job and a pay check. We’re all at sea, not to mention what it does to our self-esteem when we often feel annihilated.

So, what happens to us when we go through this big “R?” Typically, these are the steps:
(1) Shock; we can’t believe it. It’s all so quick. “Is this really real?” Is this really happening?” “This must be a nightmare and when I wake up it will all be gone.”
(2) Depression and Anger; depending on the person, they will experience feeling down; very down. “I feel kind of remote and lost.” “Everything happens to me.” “I don’t know what to do.” Following this, are the feelings of anger. “Those b_______.” “How dare they.” “I really didn’t need this right now.” “This is typical of that dump.” So, some people feel the depression first followed by the anger and some the other way round.
(3) Resentment; this is long-term anger. Anger gets stockpiled and the person doesn’t let it go. They blame and they whine (and normally to anyone who will listen which means that they drive others away and others get sick of hearing about it all). Staying in this mood means that the person gets stuck and may never move on. Sad, but true.
(4) Acceptance and working through it all. This is the key to surviving and thriving. At this point, the individual sees the cup as half full and not half empty. They see what has happened not as a crisis, but as an opportunity. In this stage, it is vital that the person turn their negative self-talk into a positive (eg. “I’ll never find another job” to “This gives me the chance to explore new areas and you never know what I might find”).
(5) Action; as I say to my clients, life rewards actions, not good intentions! Now is the time to revise the resume and maybe get some professional advice on what a good CV looks like. Check the internet and all the employment web-sites. Importantly, search companies that you think that you’d like to work for – many organisations have career sections on their websites because they’d rather employ those who come looking for them than vice-versa. Finally, talk it up. Ask your friends, neighbours, family and anyone you can think of if they know of any jobs going. There’s no doubt that the network works! And keep asking until you get a job.

Jason was a young lawyer who was quite devastated in that he was called into the partner’s office one Friday afternoon and told that the firm no longer had need of his services. He hardly had time to say his farewells and he was out of the door. He knew that work in the commercial sector of the firm had slowed, but it still came as quite a shock especially since his last staff appraisal had been so positive. He was in a daze. He walked to his car in the car-park and just cried. He had gone to University and studied hard and then was delighted to get his first “real” job which he’d had for five years now. He had expectations of being promoted up the firm. But now this. His world had come crashing down. He described himself as being “lost.” He said that his self-confidence was “shattered.” His family said that they were worried about him; he wasn’t himself any longer and seemed down.

I went through the steps of what a person normally goes through in this kind of situation. I reassured him that his feelings were quite normal; he wasn’t going crazy (he just felt like it!). He also needed to understand that the economic downturn was not of his making; the firm make a financial decision and he ought not to take it all personally. We spend some sessions looking at this self-talk and how he could turn around the pessimistic negative selfchatter into something more positive. We also looked at his self-confidence
and how he could re-create a more positive self-picture. He mapped out all the people he could contact to ask about jobs and I suggested that at the end of the conversation, that he get permission to call them again in about a month if he’d heard nothing from them. He also set out a routine of exercise and fitness at the local gym (he’d been working long hours and had dropped his fitness).

He slowly gained emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual strength over about nine weeks before a mate of his heard about a job going with an interstate firm. He contacted the firm who interviewed him. He was ultimately successful.

It’s not what happens to you that’s important, it’s what you do about it that’s really important.