What is wellbeing? (and why does it matter?)

What is wellbeing?

It is easy to think that good health means just the absence of disease, injury or pain. But is that really what we are all aiming for? Wellbeing takes things a few steps further. The New Economics Foundation describes wellbeing as “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”

So it’s more than just being healthy. It’s also more than having material wealth: “Some people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness. Yet various international studies have shown that it is the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balances, which has the greatest effect on our state of wellbeing.” (Better Health Victoria). Wellbeing may be linked to the deep satisfaction we find in our social connections.

It might relate to a persons social, economic, psychological or medical state. The Black Dog Institute says “In positive psychology, wellbeing is a heightened state that’s beyond just feeling happy or having good health. It’s a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives.”

Why does it matter? 

“…perhaps few subjects are more crucial to understanding the world, and our place in it, than understanding what it means for human beings to flourish” – Happiness and Wellbeing Research

Wellbeing isn’t just about attaining some heightened happy state. It is also about keeping us resilient in the face of stressors. “A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health. It also helps to protect us from feelings of hopelessness and depression, acting as a ‘guardian’ of our mental health” says the Black Dog Institute.

How do we find wellbeing?

Wellbeing is found through having many helpful elements present in our lives. These may include (but not be limited to):

  • feeling relatively confident in yourself and have positive self-esteem
  • feeling and express a range of emotions
  • using our strengths
  • building and maintaining good relationships with others
  • feeling engaged with the world around you
  • finding pleasure in losing ourselves in things we find challenging and enjoyable (aka attaining ‘flow’)
  • contributing to a ‘greater’ cause in a way that creates meaning
  • connecting with feelings of gratitude, satisfaction and contentment
  • being stimulated ‘enough’ by challenges, new experiences and learning
  • living and work productively
  • coping with the stresses of daily life
  • adapting and managing in times of change and uncertainty

Wellbeing takes ongoing focus and care 

Wellbeing is not a static state where we achieve it once and for all and can then forget about it. Instead we may need to revisit the things in life that help us feel well, and do this again and again, especially in the face of challenges. One new definition is that wellbeing is the “balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders 2012).

“Wellbeing is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in that all the time and actually it’s the functuality of that movement which actually is true levels of wellbeing (Nic Marks, Radio 4, 7 January 2012)

Setting up some regular practices, or habits, and some social structures that embed our wellbeing activities might help.

For example:

  • making a regular catch up date with friends that help you feel engaged, confident, and free to express a range of emotions
  • finding paid or volunteer work where you can use your strengths and contribute to a greater cause
  • signing up for a new course or class where you can meet people and learn new skills
  • deciding to call key friends or family members for a chat on a regular basis rather than relying mostly on social media for contact
  • having some ‘go to’ activities or resources that you can use in times of stress
  • having some hobbies or activities that you can immerse yourself in and that are both challenging and enjoyable
  • doing volunteer work as a way to extend your social networks
  • working on your self image with a counsellor or coach
  • having a counsellor, therapeutic group or support group where you can deepen skills in relationships and express a range of emotions
  • practicing acknowledging and accepting stressors and challenges through journalling, meditation, or other forms of reflection and self acceptance
  • attending to any social, economic, psychological or medical issues in your life that may be reducing wellbeing, including getting help where needed

Of course the activities that help might look different for everyone, and we may draw on some of these resources more at some times than others.

How does revisiting the concept of wellbeing help in your situation? Which aspects of a flourishing life might you want to attend to going forward? 


[Note: text in bold /emphasis in text by this author, not the original sources].


Black Dog Institute ‘What is Wellbeing?’ https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing

Better Health Victoria https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing

Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders (2012) ‘The challenge of defining wellbeing’ International Journal of Wellbeing http://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/89/238?origin=publicati

Edinburgh Napier University https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-environment/research-themes/wellbeing

Mind UK www.mind.org.uk 

New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.

Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines. Saint Louis University. Wellbeing Research FAQ http://www.happinessandwellbeing.org/wellbeing-research-faq


Image by leninscape on Pixabay

Creative Project – Barbara talks about making creativity at the heart of her life

Welcome to the Creative Project! This is the third interview in a series I’m doing with people who are working on a creative passion project in their lives. By ‘creative project’ I don’t mean just things related to the arts – but anything that is about bringing something fresh into the world, creating something that wasn’t there before and drawing on your own creative energy to make it happen.

What is the difference between people who get behind their ideas and make them happen and those who are swimming in ideas but never get moving on them? How are people making time for their creative projects and weaving them into their lives?

What can we learn from others who have backed their ideas with action?

I want you dear reader to be able to glean any gems from their experience that might help you with your own creative projects. I’ll even share stories about a couple of my own creative projects, and some of the learning I’ve done myself along the way. So let’s get started!

Today I’m speaking with Barbara Courtille about her art making practice: how it fits into her life and how she recently approached developing a website to share her work. I’ve known Barbara for a number of years and her consistency in her art making practice, the way she weaves the threads of what is most important to her into her life, and the pragmatic way she approaches work really inspired me. She also once told me about her regular practice of giving away pieces of her art stealthily in a public place… which inspired me to do the same and led to me discovering the Art Abandonment movement.

Tell us a little about your journey with art making? When did you start? What have you done over the years?

I’ve been making art as far as I can remember. I was one of those kids who could stay quiet and absorbed in the creative process for hours.

After high school I worked as a graphic designer for a few years, at the time I thought it may be a creative job but it wasn’t so eventually after a set of synchronistic events I found myself at art school in my mid 20s. I really thrived in that environment, it was so liberating to be surrounded by other artists and to be making art each and every day. After art school, a group of us got together and set up a studio space from which to work and we began to exhibit as a collective and separately. It was a very fertile creative time but eventually we all wanted to broaden our horizons and went our separate ways moving to different cities. I continued to paint full time and exhibit until poverty and the tax office prompted me to find a ‘real’ job. And so like many artists, I continue to juggle the work/art balance, always looking for ways to increase my ‘art’ time and to reduce my ‘work’ time. It’s a dance that I continue to refine.

What does art making do for you? What is your relationship to your creativity?

It’s a huge part of my experience and I really can’t imagine life without creativity. It’s an integral part of my being, I don’t view it as an external thing that I do, it’s just a part of who I am.

Art seems intimately linked to your spirituality and emotional wellbeing, specifically your yoga practice. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Art, yoga, spirituality and wellbeing for me are intrinsically linked and one of the same. I experience asana practice as an art form using breath and body as the medium. I bring creativity and ritual into my teaching of meditation and making art is a form of meditation in itself, it’s being totally absorbed in the present and in the process. It’s the best place to be!

What do you hope to communicate with your artworks? What ripples do you hope they make in the world?

I like to inspire people to make art in whatever way they enjoy whether it’s the traditionally recognised art forms of painting, music, dance, writing etc. or in the endless ways that humans are creative such as cooking, gardening, dressing up etc. Many of the activities that we partake in can be approached with the intention of creativity and that makes all the difference between a fulfilling (and for some spiritual) experience or one that is routine and mundane.

Let’s talk about about your recent projects: creating a dedicated website to share your work. Were these challenging steps to take? What were your fears, or what challenged you about these steps?

It was never my plan to have a dedicated website for my work, it’s something that happened slowly and organically.

I resisted having my own website for many years as I feared that it would be yet another admin task that would use up too much of my creative time. As it turned out, I really enjoyed designing my website (yoginithreads.com) and instead of seeing it as another to-do task, I approach it as a creative project in itself. The website remains a work in progress and I enjoy tinkering with it. I have lots of ideas for its growth in the future.

What did you have to learn to get these steps done?

For me it was about removing limiting beliefs (I don’t have the skills to do it, it’s too hard, it will take up too much time etc. ) Like all big projects, it’s a good idea to take it one small step at a time, focus on the one task in the present and try to not get too overwhelmed by the enormity of the desired outcome.

Any final words to leave us with? Anything else you’d like to say?

I believe that if you bring creativity into everything you do it can significantly transform your experience. Treat each moment with reverence, learn, grow, be brave and most of all, be yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, you have your own unique essence which makes you special. By being yourself and allowing your creativity to shine, you can also inspire others to do the same.

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About the interviewee:

Barbara Courtille is a French born artist working in Sydney Australia. She is a dedicated yogini, meditation teacher and founder of Yoginithreads. Her work is heavily influenced by yoga philosophy, feminine power and ancient wisdom. See her work at: www.yoginithreads.com

About the interviewer: 

Jade Herriman is a Sydney-based transpersonal art therapist, Barbara Sher coach and facilitator. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, plan for their professional development, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients. To work together one on one or find out more about future workshops contact her HERE.


How to get your art into the world

So you have LOTS of artworks. Maybe yours or your kids. Some are great and you love, some are ok but you don’t feel like pinning them to the wall, and hey the fridge is already crowded. You don’t know what to do with them but you love them and don’t want to put them in the recycle bin. Here are 15 ideas for ways to share your work (even if you’re not ready for an Etsy store, market stall or exhibition):

– Take photos of each of them and share them on an art group on facebook
– Take photos of them and get them printed on nice glossy photo paper (hint try Kmart, officeworks or electronics stores) then stick onto folded coloured cardboard to make all your birthday and holiday cards for the year
– Cut up the originals, punch holes in them and use as gift tags
– Cut up old pieces on paper and do a stencil or Lino print over the top to make a new artwork
– Cut artwork into stripes and use them to create a new HUGE artwork. Everything looks great turned into stripes
– Use them to cover mixed media journals or day planners or blank notebooks with them – apply a layer of varnish to seal it
– Frame them and hang them as a group on your wall
– Upload them to Redbubble or similar and get some cushion covers made for your grandma or mum
– Make a step by step tutorial showing someone else how you did them. Share it on you tube
– Wrap them nicely and give them away to strangers as part of ‘Art Abandonment’ (see the group on Facebook for more info)
– Donate them to a school fundraiser
– Give one nicely wrapped with a Thankyou note to 5 people who helped or supported you last year
– Photocopy them on A3 paper at a copy store and use it as funky wrapping paper
– Scan them and offer them as screen savers to friends or clients
– Glue the originals or copies to flat pieces of particle board (you can buy from craft shops) and turn them into placemats for home

Your artworks will create much more joy being enjoyed and looked at than hidden away in boxes and folders. And even more importantly it will open up something in you to take – even tiny- steps to share your tender creations with world. You may find that you feel safer, more connected and more joyful when your gifts are out in the world rather than hidden away out of fear or shyness. Or at least that’s been my experience.

You might also find that as you step forward to share your work in this way you hit some resistance. Resistance is sometimes called procrastination, and sometimes good old fashioned fear. It can take many shapes; you might see it come up as ‘oh maybe that was a bad idea, I’d better go eat ice-cream and sit here and do nothing instead’… it can come up as ‘actually I’d better not do that, people will think I’m silly/ arrogant/ stupid/ indulgent/ crazy…(whatever else)’. Barbara Sher, my coaching teacher and all round muse, is sometimes called the resistance whisperer. She says that it is completely normal to feel like this – your body is trying to keep you exactly where you are and any change that somehow is exciting and important to use because it aligns us with our dreams, can also feel terrifying.

I know this first hand because when I first wanted to make some of my paintings and drawings into greeting cards I was TERRIFIED. It seemed like a giant leap, a huge step out into the unknown that I couldn’t quite explain. It felt like I would be altering the shape of reality in a way that made me feel exposed, anxious and unworthy. To someone else it might seem like a ‘simple’ almost no-brainer task. Something to tick off the list before lunchtime and then get on with something else. To me it was Mt Everest. I worked with a creativity coach to get support to explore the fears and dreams behind my stuckness. Eventually I made my cards.

And I was right, my sense of self and what the world was like did shift a little. You see it wasn’t just some cards I was making, it was my sense of myself and what I was capable of, and my sense of the world and how safe and kind it was that I was making afresh. And that’s big work.

So you if you need some company on your journey, a friend and ally with you as you move towards a creative goal consider getting in touch! From starting that book, to getting back into a long lost craft again, the reasons why we don’t move forward are often deeper and more significant than we think. Trying to do it alone, in isolation while telling ourselves off for our weaknesses rarely helps us move forward. Try a new way – where you are accepted as you are, we make the project safe, you move at your own pace. Get in touch and see if coaching might be for you! 


Creative project – Amanda Candy on getting on with it and the fine art of collaboration

Amanda Candy is a coach who recently designed and made her own ‘oracle cards’ including collaborating with an artist to get images created, and liaising with printers to get them produced. Today I talk with her to find out what inspired her to do the project, whether she had to overcome self-doubt to get it done, and what she suggests to anyone else trying to get their project off the ground.

This is part of a series of interviews I’m doing about people going after their dreams, and making creative projects happen. And when I say ‘creative project’ I don’t mean just things related to the arts – but anything that is about bringing something fresh into the world, creating something that wasn’t there before and drawing on your own creative energy to make it happen.

What is the difference between people who get behind their ideas and make them happen and those who are swimming in ideas but never get moving on them?

What can we learn from others who have backed their ideas with action?

I want you dear reader to be able to glean any gems from their experience that might help you with your own creative projects. I’ll even share stories about a couple of my own creative projects, and some of the learning I’ve done myself along the way. So let’s get started! 

Amanda Candy is a coach who recently designed and made her own ‘oracle cards’ including collaborating with an artist to get images created, and liaising with printers to get them produced. Today I talk with her to find out what inspired her to do the project, whether she had to overcome self-doubt to get it done, and what she suggests to anyone else trying to get their project off the ground.

I know you are a life coach who specialises in working with women who find themselves empty nesters, so how did you find yourself creating a pack of oracle cards?

I’ve been using oracle cards for many years now and have trained with Doreen Virtue and Sonia Choquette becoming a certified Angel intuitive and Six Sensory practitioner which helped to deepen my connection with cards and myself. The first time I ever read cards fro someone else was about 10 years ago I walked past a shop that was holding a card reading workshop, and it was starting just then, and I just went in there and did it. That was the start of getting to know my intuition and realizing I’d been doing it all my life.

The reason I created the Inside Out Oracle card deck was that a year ago I was heading away travelling for six months with just a backpack and could not decide which deck to take with me so I thought I’d create my own and take them along on the journey.

Do you have a history of using oracle cards with your clients? How do you use cards for yourself in daily life?

Cards have been an integral part of my professional and personal life. When I work with a client I tune into them prior to our session using a tool known as automatic writing. This allows me to cut straight through to what the client needs to work on and then I use the cards to validate the information I have receive and to fill in the things I may have missed.

I use that as a way to leap in and get to the core issues with clients, as a way to work through, for us to get beneath or below the surface appearance of what is going on for them. We then explore it together.

When using the cards for myself I ask them to guide me and give me action steps to help me to move forward. Sometimes I use the layouts that I designed for the pack, sometimes I just intuitively pick out the number of cards I feel that I need. Then I do some automatic writing afterwards to tune into the deeper meaning for myself.

I know this project was a ‘passion project’ – in that the whim took you and you ran with it because it felt so ‘right’ – even though you didn’t know much about graphic design or getting products made. What gave you the confidence to step up and follow this project through?

I’ve always been someone who once I come up with an idea I run with it. It’s something I like to help my clients to do as well. “Go for it” is one of my mottos. Knowing I didn’t have all the skills required to make them didn’t put me off as I knew in my heart that they would come to fruition. I had that inside feeling we often get – that inner knowing. I trusted that I’d be connected with the right people to help me and when I met Emma Veiga-Malta the artist at a networking event she had no idea about Oracle cards but I really liked her and I wanted to work with her we clicked. I hadn’t actually even seen her artwork when I started talking to her about collaborating – I just knew I liked her and felt drawn to working together. And that was fabulous because once I did see her artwork I knew it would be perfect for this project. Once I shared my vision with her she instantly saw what I was aiming for adding in her own special interpretation to my ideas.

Did you have any doubts?

I am not an attention to detail lady, I am a big picture lady. I was lucky that Emma was such a detail focused person, she would say ‘we’re going to have a timeline, we’re going to have a deadline’ and I would say ‘great’. That just pulled me into action, and the fact that I collaborated, I knew and I know that on my own I could have never have achieved this. I had to bring in other people. And that’s what added to the experience and made it more joyous for me.

There was never any fear – just an inner knowing that these just needed to come to birth.

I had an idea, I had a vision, I had a lot of thoughts. If you involve somebody else, what I’ve learnt is also to allow them to also have their own vision of your project. If you explain it well enough they’ll usually have ideas you haven’t even thought of. And to be open and willing to accept that. Not to be so rigid and stuck. If I had been rigid and stuck about some of the pictures that I particularly wanted I think the end result would have been completely different. I think just having that flexibility and allowing the process to flow and be more fluid is really important; trusting the outcome.

How has following your intuition and making these cards shifted things for you in your business?

Making these cards has given me a new dimension for my business as an added tool that I can offer my clients as something they can use for themselves which empowers them to find the answers within. I’m all about self-empowerment and the cards teach that.

What advice would you give someone else who feels drawn to creating something even if they have doubts and aren’t sure what place it might take in their life?

One main thing I’d recommend is patience. I think I’m someone who wants something to happen immediately. You have this idea and you want it out there tomorrow. I think with any creative endeavor a key thing is to have patience, because it isn’t going top happen overnight. If you force the process and you push it, the end outcome isn’t as fluid and eloquent as it could be. I think you need to be less focused on the end point, timewise (unless there is some fixed deadline), because this is an ongoing journey. With this project, for example, from beginning to end this project will probably take about a year. In October 2015 I first came up with the idea, then I got them printed February 2016, spent the next six months doing readings and selling cards to people I met on my travels, and now, back home in October 2016 I’m looking at printing options for my second run of cards, refining them, and using what I’ve learnt from working with them to design workshops to help people use them for their own personal use or with their own clients.

I think that there are times in your life where you just have to let down any blocks that you have and you take an opportunity and you run with it. Especially if it calls out to you loudly or consistently. We often may not have the ‘how’ we are going to do things but if you have a clear ‘why’ and enough belief that you can do it then get on with it and take the first step. The rest will come.

I’ve used this philosophy when I opened up my accommodation business, walked 800km across Spain and cycled 2,500km through France. You have two choices. ‘give up’ or ‘get on with it’.



About the interviewee: Amanda Candy is an intuitive leader and Certified Life Coach who supports women between the age of 45-55 through times of life transition such as empty nest, to feel confident in making decisions that are right for them rather than pleasing everybody else. A certified Angel Intuitive with world renowned Doreen Virtue, Amanda has also trained as a Six Sensory Practitioner with Sonia Choquette, studied Mediumship through Arthur Findlay College with Tony Stockwell and helped present Hay house events in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with facilitators such as Brian Weiss, Robert Holden, Neil Donald Walsh, Lisa Williams. Read more here.

JadephotoAbout the interviewer: Jade Herriman, BSc, MSocSci, DipTAT is a Sydney-based transpersonal art therapist, Barbara Sher coach and facilitator. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She is pleased to be presenting a full program of art therapy, creativity and coaching workshops in 2017 including a series of Women’s Wellbeing groups, monthly mixed media art workshops, and coaching programs for people who want to kickstart their creative project. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients.

Positive impact

We live in a world that values the BIG. Big impacts, big programs, big numbers, big change.

Today I want to celebrate the positive impact we can have by just being ourselves, gloriously, messily, unashamedly ourselves. The small impact. The tiny butterfly wing of change.

I read somewhere that for each person who reads our blog and leaves a common, another 3 or 4 or 5 or however many have probably also read it and been inspired by it or found it thought provoking. It’s easy to discount these little ripples.

Each time we show up and the person who has not yet found their voice is inspired to do so too.
Each time we own all our parts and someone still struggling to feel OK with their shadow feels a small opening up of their heart.
Each time we make friends with our creativity and model that it is safe and enjoyable to write, or make art, or to sing or to create great projects we pave the way for someone else too step more fully into themselves.
Each time we make an inclusive space and connect people at work, in our communities, or online and we unknowingly help combat loneliness and disconnection.
Each time we talk without shame about our limiting or critical inner voice, or perfectionism, or about self-doubt, or the ups and downs of our jobs, or family life, or being human and we help make this space safe for others.
Each time we talk with respect and pragmatism about recovery from mental health challenges, or burnout, or childhood neglect or abuse, or some other experience that is often hidden and considered shameful, and another person moves one tiny step closer to accepting themselves more fully and wholly.

Every time any of this happens we have made a positive impact.

So today I want to celebrate the positive impact I don’t even know that I’m having. The small ripples, often unspoken. And the positive impact that you are having like that too.

First year of business – But who am I to….?

Here’s one for anyone ‘wanting to make a contribution’ who is scared they don’t have enough expertise to join in the dialogue in the field they are interested in. I love this tip – it really speaks to me.

“As soon as I gave myself permission to contribute to the conversation……, and not have to be a guru or expert, then my business became fun. 

If you really care about a topic, be a CONTRIBUTOR. Who cares if you don’t know everything. You don’t have to be the best to make a difference to someone.” (my Caps).
– Denise Duffield-Thomas

This has been true for me.

I am not THE expert. I am hardly AN expert. But these days my expertise comes as much from lived experience and intuition as ‘book learning’ so I claim that lived experience happily. And what I know I know because I’ve seen it, felt it, know it deep inside my very cells, not only as a theory.

All I aim to do is make some small contribution, that will be unique as I am unique. Just like your contribution will also be as unique as you are.

What a beautiful patchwork quilt we create together through these contributions.

‘My job is boring – what should I do?’

I often hear from people who are finding their day job unfulfilling and want to know how to add more spice to their worklife. Or more specifically, how to find a new job that is more interesting / challenging/ feels more meaningful or maybe just fits them better. 

I love this question! Although the question is simple, the answer is more complex as involves some structured reflection on exactly what makes you tick. The following answers form Part A – things to do in the workplace. Part B (coming next week) looks at things to do outside work. 

Q. My job is boring – what should I do?

A. A few things!

1.Understand what boring means to you. Firstly, I suggest looking closer at the boring. Boring – I have nothing to do – boring? Boring – the decor here is drab and leaves me feeling listless – boring? Boring – I have plenty to do but it does’t stretch my skills – boring? Boring – only now that I have a new project that’s way too hard and I’m scared of starting – boring? Or boring – I just never get to learn about new things and be creative and follow my whims – boring? Each of these borings comes about for different reasons, and each of these borings can probably be tackled in a different way.

If you are feeling under-utilised, taking on new projects or work you enjoy more might help. If you feel brain-dead it could be time for some learning or following your pursuits outside of work with more oomph. If you are actually just lonely, moving where you sit, getting involved in more team projects or finding a way to make your work more collaborative could help.

2. Understand your strengths and favourite skills. Sometimes we get caught up doing what we are good at in our jobs. That is, we drift towards roles with tasks that other people think we are good at, and are happy to give us, whether we enjoy them or not. Now, every job has moments that are a stretch or boring or challenging in some other way, BUT if you find you are no longer even sure which kinds of tasks you DO like, it is probably time to revisit that.

There are various strengths and values assessments you can do online. Another way to do this is to observe yourself during your week and take note of which tasks absorb you so much you lose track of time. Or if there aren’t any of those, see which tasks light you up, you volunteer to do, or you find yourself doing when you are procrastinating. This is a good indicator of your favourite skills. You can test out this list by reflecting on past roles and seeing if there is a pattern over time of these tasks being something you enjoy. They may not be the skills that you are ‘best at’ in the office compared to every other person, or the skills that your job especially needs and rewards, but they are  the skills that you enjoy using and are likely to be pretty good at*.

3. Use your strengths and favourite skills more at work. Once you’ve discovered what types of tasks you like most in your job (eg. Filing paperwork or talking to customers? Organising events or helping new staff? Designing ads, crunching spreadsheets, sorting out tech issues or writing new text for the website?). See if you can do more of that – either by expanding that component of your current role or as a ‘special project’ or additional task.

If your workload allows it and you have the blessings of your manager consider taking on additional duties to help with a cross-departmental project or a special event. Getting involved in consultative or management committees are another way to find some extra work to do.

Knowing our strengths and playing to our strengths at work makes us happier. For example, recent research suggests that employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a). In a study of 442 employees across 39 departments in 8 organizations, a strengths-based psychological climate was linked with positive affect and work performance (van Woerkom & Meyers, 2014).

Not only will you be more satisfied if a greater proportion of your day is spent doing tasks you enjoy, but your increased get up and go will make you much more promotable / employable if you start looking at other roles.

4. Know your favourite skills and talk about them. Once you’ve figured out that you’re someone who thrives on human contact and loves bouncing ideas around with colleagues and encouraging them (and can run off that energy for the rest of the day), or that you have an uncanny knack for sales, or you are actually really good at reconciling the books… and once you’ve tested this idea by really watching your behaviour through the week, you might need to start putting words to it and letting your coworkers and manager know.

Not sure how? Try ‘I actually really love.. (your special skill)… maybe I can help the events team out one afternoon a week in June while we’re quiet here/ help the new person learn the ropes with the monthly reporting/ take minutes in that meeting/ start doing the ordering and give you more time for your other tasks..’ (etc). People aren’t always skilled at spotting our special talents or finding us work that is a great fit – sometimes we need to speak up and gently remind people of our superpowers.

5. Give yourself a shot of learning. For many of us work can begin to feel boring once we’ve stopped learning – so exactly at the time we master the role and become extremely valued employes we are in fact getting itchy feet and wondering what’s next. If this is you consider taking a course outside of work or getting the ok to attend some training at work. Explore whether you can do some professional development in a new area relevant to your role – consider technical training, communication skills, management training etc.

6. Try teaching or reviewing. In her book ‘Refuse to Choose’, my mentor, friend and coaching teacher Barbara Sher talks about the knack of learning and then teaching and then leaving if we find ourselves begetting bored at jobs quickly. It’s a great reminder a) that we don’t have to stay in a role forever and b) that teaching is a really great and satisfying way to pass on what we’ve learnt. If you find you know the job inside out I would also add that spending some time doing a review or analysis of your sector can be satisfying. What do I mean? Scale up the view from the desk and take a whole of office perspective, or a whole of industry or sector view. Maybe it’s time to write a magazine article about the opportunities for similar organisations, or speak at a conference sharing case studies from what you’ve been working on over the past 5 years, or volunteer to sit on some kind of standards or review committee. No matter what your role there are probably ways that you can share your learning of how to do your job better or share your observations and reflections on how the role/ sector/ company works (and could work better or could better respond to an emerging challenge) with a wide audience, for the benefit of many. This can provide new challenges and interest if your role is feeling stale – if like many you feel most alive when in learning mode – and also can contribute to a feeling of ‘giving back’ and meaning in your role.

* But don’t start with what you’re good at! You wont neccessarily enjoy doing everything you’re good at.

See PART B for more ideas on handling this situation – in your non work hours



Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.

van Woerkom, M., & Meyers, M. C. (2014). My strengths count! Effects of a strengths-based psychological climate on positive affect and job performance. Human Resource Management.

Know your gatekeeper

Who stands at the gate stopping us from embarking on our most important creative adventures?

You can be very proficient. Good at doing a hundred things. Confident at doing a hundred more. And yet… there can be one thing that feels off limits. Way too hard. Likely impossible.

You are equally attracted to it and repelled by it.

‘I. Must. Write.’ part of you says, with gritted Clint Eastwood teeth.

‘I. Must. Not. Write!!!’ a shrill Lauren Bacall yells with hands in the air.

Yes. No. Push. Pull. The urge to act. The urge to not act.

No wonder you stay stuck. It’s not laziness, it’s just physics – two equal and opposite forces butting heads against each other, and you, the meat* salad in the too-tight sandwich with your insides spilling out all lettucey and over the place.

Likely you have an inner visionary, who can see the project, feel the project, wants in on the project. And then you have also an inner gatekeeper, who stands at the threshold of the project, hands on hips, saying ‘What you? Coming in here, with those shoes? Nope, I don’t think so’.

Now these gatekeepers look different for different people, and the words they say to us are different:

  • Yours might say ‘people in this family don’t play music – life is hard and serious and needs proper attention, so just you get back to doing something useful thanks very much’. 
  • Mine might say ‘there’s no point trying to print fabric because it’s all been done before and you’re just going to be disappointed when people don’t like it and you realise you’ve made something not very good.’
  • That woman who works in the shop up the road might have one that says ‘only ball-breakers become businesswomen, you’re too nice, you’d be eaten alive, you’re better off working for someone else than going out on your own.’
  • Your friend on social media who loves art but never makes any might have one that says ‘aaaah if you paint beautifully people will notice you and you will be weird and different and life will feel uncomfortable so just don’t even think about that’.
  • The guy siting next to you on the bus might have one that says ‘look, I think just between you and me no one will like what you make so let’s just avoid all that laughter and derision and horrible reviews in the Times and not bother trying to make films’.

On and on and on. These gatekeepers talk to us in voices of ‘let’s not bother’, ‘who are you to try’, ‘it’s not ok for you to be doing this’, ‘you don’t have what it takes’, ‘life wont be safe anymore if you do this’, ‘people wont like you any more if you do this’….. on and on and on.

And beyond them, our gatekeepers and those giant double barred gates they keep locked, we sense glimmers of the gold of our projects – finally embarked upon, finally experienced.


Reflection questions:

What is it that feels really charged and dangerous for you to embark on? Which creative endeavours feel full of dread and portent?

Are you aware of your inner gatekeeper? Have you listened carefully with curiosity to what it says, or written it down in your journal?

Have you ever imagined it as a character and wondered what it’s motivation is? Are you aware of what it is trying to protect you from? Have you listened to see whose voice it reminds you of?


*I don’t eat meat so I figure my metaphors should be brought along for the ride as well

Learning to ask

I wanted the egg and bacon roll special. But without the bacon. And maybe with tomato or avocado instead. So we might call that an egg and tomato roll, if you’re keeping up. Quite simple. Not something outrageous or hard to construct. Not illegal or dangerous. Not something likely to overly challenge the culinary skills of the sandwich hand making it.

So I walked right up and asked for it.

That is, I said ‘can I have the roll without bacon and maybe with something else instead, if that’s alright?’

She said ‘sure. How about double egg?’

I looked horrified (how boring! What a missed opportunity for flavour! And how would I eat such a roll with two slippery eggs fighting it out to remain between bread?).

She said ‘cheese?’

I said ‘OK’. Thinking of how slimy such a combination would be. Of what an odd, pale, bland, slimy combo that is. And said thanks, and paid her.

Do you see how this coud have panned out differently? They had tomato, they had avocado, I was just vaguely scared they’d say no.

Sounds silly when you say it like that right?

I was too scared to ask for tomato.

In case I couldn’t have it.

So I hinted and left the decision with someone else. And didn’t get what I wanted.

I may as well have walked in and said ‘give me anything other than avocado or tomato, because I don’t think I deserve them or that you would be kind enough to let me have them’.

Which is really like shouting to the universe ‘I don’t think what I want matters, I don’t think however this whole thing works involves me getting to have what I want… And I think everybody else’s mild disapproval or inconvenience is much more important than my strong wishes.’

And if this is how I behave when the stakes are about as low as they can get…I mean seriously, we are talking about a slice of tomato… how would I behave if the stakes were high and I REALLY wanted something and REALLY didn’t want someone to tell me no?

This reminds me of two things. Firstly the very good book ‘Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer, which I found deep down to my toes inspiring, and recommend you read if you haven’t yet, and secondly the idea that sometimes we are so tied to our view of how the world works that we would rather see it unchallenged more than we would almost anything – even more than we would like to be happy.

So if you find it hard to ask, it might be worth digging around and shining a light on the foundations of yourself. Are there some ghost rules or declarations about the universe slinking around and whispering in your ear?

Do you think there’s no use asking because no one will help you?

Do you think what you want doesn’t matter?

Do you think it’s rude to disrupt the status quo and someone will get angry with you if you’re not grateful for what you’re given?

Do you think it’s selfish and bad to want things or to ask for them?

Do you think you’re not worth a piece of tomato?

At some stage we need to step out of our old beliefs that no longer serve us. We need to practice our asking skills.

Naming our wishes is so important – EVEN THOUGH it makes us feel vulnerable, even though we may not get them, even though people may say no. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, it is really important to work on our asking muscles on the little things, so we can use them to lift the really big wishes and ask for them too.

Work with me:

I currently have some spaces becoming available for one on one coaching and art therapy clients.

  • In coaching I support you to work towards your goals, making changes that you want to make in your life. In coaching we look at the underlying mindset issues as well as approaching the practicalities of getting things done – with clever tricks to get around anxiety and lots of support and encouragement (aka a personal cheer squad) so you feel less afraid to tackle the difficult tasks. See here for more information.
  • In art therapy I help you process and express feelings in ways that let you see yourself and your situation in new ways. We make room for the feeling dimensions of life and explore your inner world using symbols and metaphor and creative expression. We can do art therapy face to face if you are in Sydney, or by distance if you are elsewhere around the world. See here for more information and contact me here to get in touch.