Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
Joanna Thompson has just published a book about simple, practical steps that we can all take toward greater well-being and success in life and work. A graduate of the second class of the applied positive psychology program at Penn, Joanna took what she learned back to her job in financial markets. It affected the way she worked with clients and peers. Then she started using her knowledge to help people more broadly. The title of her book, A to Z: Your Navigator to Success, is a play on the title of the popular A to Z (pronounced zed) series of maps of the United Kingdom. Just as these maps help people navigate the incredibly complicated geography of London, famed for making cab drivers’ brains bigger, so Joanna’s book helps people navigate the complexities of modern life and modern careers.
I interviewed Joanna about her book. I was struck both by her wisdom and her humility. Her book shows both. She understands that people need to get ideas for change in small doses, so she has written what she calls a “dip in” book. Each chapter, one for every letter of the alphabet, is direct, brief, and practical. It includes ponder points and action points, thus leading to both reflection and action.
It’s fun to guess what she selected for each letter. Her G for Grit = Passion and Perseverance brings to mind other recent works on grit, including Caroline Miller’s new book, to be reviewed soon. But she also balances grit with Q = Quit, yes, Quit! for helping people realize that sunk costs do not have to control the future. She learned on the trading floor how important it could be to help clients cut their losses. Ponder points in this chapter include:
- Do you give yourself permission to fail?
- Do you give others permission to fail?
- Is there a poor ending that you would like to rewrite? If so, is there anything you can say or do now?
Action points include
- Recall times when, with the benefit of hindsight, you wish you had changed course sooner, and look for parallel situations today. Resolve to move ahead.
Here are some points captured from the interview.
Kathryn: What motivated you to write this book?
Joanna: My motivation to write a book was a desire to share what I learned as I navigated the corporate world. I thrived in a competitive world and was keen to convey the reality that our souls need not be for sale. As the late Chris Peterson always said “Other people matter,” and this is a universal truth regardless of structure or stature. I have perseverance in abundance, and yet I am impatient too. My book is essentially a distillation of tips I wish I had known earlier. In this sense it offers some short cuts to the top.
Kathryn: How is your book structured?
Joanna: The book has 26 chapters and it is designed to be an eminently practical “dip-in” book. Readers may choose to open the book at random or may look at the index and find that one of the chapters is particularly pertinent. I encourage the reader to take the smallest step which will have the greatest difference. Above all, I call for some action. Otherwise nothing changes.
Kathryn: Isn’t the A to Z the roadmap of London?
Joanna: Yes, that’s right. Well-thumbed copies of the A to Z were found in most households before the satnav and Google maps. The title is a homage to London where I worked for 25 years in the financial markets.
Joanna: Yes, it’s hard to believe that it’s a decade since MAPP. How time flies! While studying for a coaching qualification I came across positive psychology. When I read about MAPP, I had a calling. I just had to do the course, never mind that I had a full-on job in London.
Kathryn: Is that what you were doing when you participated in the MAPP program at the University of Pennsylvania?
The interesting thing was that when I exchanged a London trading floor for a classroom in Philly each month I was energized despite the travel. So much so that getting off the red eye on a Sunday and starting to write one of my papers for the month was manageable. Indeed, it was from this experience and while holidaying in the US with some dear MAPP friends that the name of my coaching company was born: yourSecondWind. This refers to tapping into our latent resources to take us forward.
Kathryn: Which aspects of positive psychology were most useful on a trading floor?
Joanna: If I were to pick three things these would be the evidence-based work on strengths, building resilience, and the paradox of choice.
I remember running some strengths sessions and wondering if the language of VIA would resonate in that environment. It did. The universality which Chris Peterson and Marty Seligman built into the character strengths came up trumps.
The ravages of the markets in the 2008 financial crisis certainly meant that resilience building had a key role to play.
I had been well aware of loss aversion as a key tenet of behavioral economics from my market experience. The paradox of choice was new to me though. I was quick to deploy it with my clients and found myself narrowing down the choices I offered them.
Interestingly, as I moved on to work in Senior Talent Development, I found that these subjects were every bit as important and well-received.
Kathryn: Are there any letters that are more popular than others?
Joanna: I’ve actually asked readers for their three favorite letters. I wondered if there were certain subjects that would appeal to people more than others. But people’s favorites are spread throughout the alphabet. I guess this means that there is something for people at different stages and in different seasons.
Kathryn: If you could pick just three things from your book to tell your younger self what would they be?
Joanna: Well, that’s a tough question, but if you push me to name my three they would be:
- K: Kick off your shoes. This relates to feedback I received to take down a barrier and bring all of myself to work. This gave me permission to show my humor, warmth, and playfulness. My career went from strength to strength.
- H: Help!/Help? This overlaps with K. I had naturally found it easy to offer help but in my early days, I didn’t ask for help. I was working in a very macho environment and in the cut and thrust I saw asking for help as a sign of weakness. It was only as I matured I realized that this was a limiting approach and, indeed, many people like to help.
- E: Enjoy. It was a startling revelation to me when I discovered the research showing that happiness precedes success. Like so many people I had assumed it was the other way round. It’s hard to overplay the benefits of playing to our strengths in this and so I have sneaked in S: Strengths.
Kathryn: What was the best thing about writing the book?
Joanna: The writing process was useful in crystallizing my thoughts but, above all, it has been an excellent way of deepening and renewing my ties with the positive psychology community. This relationship element has brought me much joy.
Kathryn: What do you ask of your readers?
Joanna: Use the comment field here to share any feedback you have and tell me which 3 chapters resonate most with you. I would also say, “Please give a copy of the book to people you care about. Thank you.”
Thompson, J. (2017). A to Z: Your Navigator to Success. yourSecondWind.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner.
Miller, C. A. (2017). Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Polly, S. & Britton, K. H. (Eds.) (2015). Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life (Positive Psychology News). Positive Psychology News.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. New York: Ecco.
Photo Credit: from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Canary Wharf across the water courtesy of /northern/git
Frankfurt Trading floor courtesy of orkomedix
Bare feet courtesy of VallGall
Book cover and picture of Joanna Thompson courtesy of yourSecondWind