December 2009 |

Successful living requires a balance of courage and compassion, just as it demands we balance the time we devote to achievement with the time we invest in our relationships. Courage & Compassion is a free monthly newsletter about success in life and business.

Ricochet, a puppy prodigy, began her training soon after birth. Her trainer planned for her to become a service dog that would provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Ricki, as she was affectionately called, learned to open doors, retrieve and carry items, and even help unzip a jacket. Her training progressed well as she sought, above all else, to please her trainer.

Midway through her program a problem arose. Ricki began chasing birds. Try as she might, her trainer was unsuccessful in breaking Ricki of this behavior. Running off to chase birds made Ricki unfit as a canine assistant, as it would pose a danger to the person she served. As a result, Ricki was dropped from the program.

Although initially disappointed with the outcome, Ricki’s trainer began to view the situation differently. Instead of focusing on Ricki’s shortcomings she chose to focus on her strengths, one of which was excellent balance.

Leveraging this strength, Ricki became a fund-raising surfing dog. Her first assignment was to raise funds for a fifteen-year-old quadriplegic named Patrick. Ricki surfed tandem with Patrick, easily counter-balancing the surfboard in response to Patrick’s movements. When Patrick fell off, Ricki stayed right beside him.

According to Ricki’s trainer, Ricki was “a different dog when she surfed with Patrick, totally joyful and 100% committed to her new direction.” Together, Ricki and Patrick raised ten thousand dollars, enough to pay for Patrick’s service dog and help fund his continuing physical therapy.

Thoughts and questions to consider...

  • Each of us has at least one strength we can use in the service of others
  • Strengths that remain untapped are the most tragic form of waste
  • Spend more time focusing on your strengths, developing them further, and discovering ways to apply them than on shoring up your weak areas
  • Joy comes from applying your strengths to something that matters to you
  • Where do you need to “let go” of what you want someone to be (children, spouse, co-workers, friends, self) in order to “allow” them to be who they truly are?
  • Who may need you to come alongside and “surf tandem” with them (help them as they learn to be successful), providing needed support (encouragement, teaching, skill building) when they “fall off?”

To view a video of Ricochet, her trainer and Patrick go to and enter From service dog to SURFice dog. The clip runs five minutes fourteen seconds and the music is great!

About a year ago I picked up Tom Rath’s book, Strengths Finder 2.0 and completed the on-line assessment. While interesting in its own right, I had no idea of all that I had missed by not first reading Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph. D. The fact that only 20% of the 198,000 people across the globe who were asked the question, “At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” responded with “strongly agree” is tragic to say the least. In organizations where employees are able to daily apply their strengths, there is significant positive impact on productivity, customer satisfaction and employee retention. How misguided we have been by focusing so much time and energy on remediating weaknesses rather than helping employees discover and develop their talents into strengths. I’ve not yet finished the book, but feel confident in saying that it will make you think differently about your organization.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain that is associated with bonding and attachment. Touch, kissing, holding hands, hugging and making love all increase oxytocin production and promote emotional connectedness. A study in Wales in the 1980s showed that men who had sex twice a week or more experienced half as many heart attacks after ten years as men who had intercourse less than once a month. For women, sexual activity increases the release of the youth-promoting hormone DHEA, modulates female hormones and has a calming effect similar to that of antidepressant medication. Making your times of physical intimacy a priority will help keep you close and keep you healthy.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It breaks the power a past event holds over you and emotionally releases you from the offender. Forgiving is not about feelings, but about behavior. When you forgive you commit not bring the offense up again to the offender, not to tell others about the offense, not to play the offense over and over again in your mind, and not to consciously hold the offense against this person in your interactions moving forward. Replaying the offense in your mind or mentally entertaining revenge scenarios only serves to keep the pain of the offense alive. Forgiveness does not necessarily involve restoring the relationship. It may or may not be in your best interest to do so. If you struggle with forgiving others, it might be helpful to remind yourself of the times that you, yourself have committed offenses and needed to be forgiven by others.

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© Susan Silvers