What’s at the Bottom of Your Box?
Michael J. Montegut, PhD & Julia Lee
Bottom of the Box, LLC
“Play to your strengths." "I haven’t got any," said Harry, before he could stop himself. "Excuse me," growled Moody, "you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them. Think now. What are you best at?”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
We know that we are all different, and yet we see many high schoolers, middle schoolers, and even adults striving to be, as much as possible, like the people they see around them. This desire to model others is useful when we find positive attitudes and actions that we admire, and even character traits in certain circumstances, that we wish, out of admiration and a sense of what is right and just, to emulate. But it is our diversity and individuality that makes us great as a society. Our respect for, encouragement of, and celebration of that individuality ultimately move humanity forward. We all have many gifts in our box. Still, we often neglect the traits that we have in spades, and which could be bolstering our resilience and our ability to contribute. We leave gifts at the bottom of our box that we should be exercising in the service of our dreams and duties.
We all have character strengths and traits that suit us particularly well. Positive psychologists have identified a set of master virtues that appear throughout world literature and philosophy that cross all cultures. These virtues are wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence [Dahlsgaard, Peterson, & Seligman, 2005]. From these core virtues, researchers determined that we all have 24 character strengths to varying degrees [Peterson & Seligman, 2004]. For instance, under courage are character strengths: Authenticity - being truthful and genuine, Bravery - not shrinking from threats, challenges, difficulty, or pain, Perseverance - finishing what one starts, and Zest - approaching life with excitement and energy [Peterson & Park, 2009]. These are different from traditional personality traits that tend to live on a spectrum with extremes at either end. We refer to concepts like introversion - extroversion, or agreeableness, i.e.,
friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/callous. Personality traits are traditionally considered immutable (though some theories and studies call this into question). In contrast, character strengths are exercisable and strengthened [Park & Peterson, 2008].
At Bottom of the Box, LLC, we lead our clients in exercises that establish their strongest character strengths. We help them to exercise critical strengths that contribute to resilience and selfless, automatic leadership. We firmly believe that we all have gifts that we are all unique, and each of us has a role in the grand design of the Universe. We further believe that it is our duty to exercise and use our gifts, all of them, to move humanity forward.
One way to start zeroing in on your particular gifts is to ask people who you trust and who care about you. Often others, especially those who care about us, have greater visibility into our box of gifts than we do.
When Michael was a teenager, and in the first years of college, he was determined to be a scientist. But several friends and professors counseled him to do something that utilized his ability to connect with people genuinely. Michael had the same reaction after he came to know Julia. She is a great teacher and a great broadcast and media art expert, but where she is shines - where she will make her mark - is her uncanny ability to connect with people and help them see the good things within themselves.
Most people with a great many external gifts by way of luck, leave many of their internal traits at the bottom of their box. Truly inspiring are the folks who seemingly have limited external luck. Yet, by utilizing every personal gift, no matter how small, they accomplish truly grand things by digging deep into their box. These are the single parents who raise their children to higher accomplishments then they achieved. These are people with hardship and travails who never give up trying to better themselves and the world around them. These are the people who change the world and move humanity forward.
We all have a box of gifts. We have to make a conscious effort to understand our gifts and exercise them the greatest of our abilities. It is our duty. It is what moves us towards a more balanced, forward-looking, growth-oriented society.
What is at the bottom of your box?
Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Shared virtue. The convergence of valued human
strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9, 209-213. Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2008). In M. Ferrari& G. Potworowski (Eds.), Teaching for wisdom (pp. 57 - 75). Mahwah,
NJ:Erlbaum. Peterson, C. & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and Measuring Strengths of Character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder
(Eds.). The Oxford handbook of positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Peterson, CX, & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New
York: Oxford University Press/Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.