A few weeks ago I ran across the late Peter Benson's TEDTalk on how youth thrive. Long-time readers of this blog know that this is my goal here--to find ways that we can move from surviving to thriving and that the 4 patterns of career resilience are all about creating a thriving career and life.
What Benson found through his research with young people is that the foundation of thriving is knowing and expressing your "spark." Young people who had this opportunity had higher academic performance, higher engagement, greater compassion, a stronger sense of purpose and less violence in their lives.
Yet sadly, only 1 in 4 teens was on a path to thriving.
I know why. Because most ADULTS don't know their sparks, how to live a life in alignment with those sparks or how to support other people in expressing their sparks. I see it all the time.
What is your "Spark"?
In Benson's research, teens IMMEDIATELY knew what was meant by "spark." It is:
- Your "best self"
- That skill, quality, talent, interest, gift, or commitment to something larger than yourself that gives you energy and joy and provides a feeling of being alive, useful and purposeful.
- Your prime source of meaning, self-directed action and purpose.
- Absorbing to the point that you lose yourself in the moment--you go into "flow."
Your spark comes from inside you.
It is something that has the potential to make the world a better place for others.
It is that "thing" that when you express it, you know you are being your truest, best self--you feel most like yourself.
Your spark can be music, art, writing, drama, design, leadership, sports, spirituality, relationships, social justice, science, programming--almost anything. But you know it when you're engaged in it. It's that thing that makes you feel alive and connected. You can lose yourself in it and you would pay someone else to just be able to DO it.
Your life feels richer and filled with possibilities when you are expressing your spark and it feels dead and numb when you are not.
Your spark is your way of being present in your own life.
And you know when someone else is expressing their spark. Their faces light up. They become animated and excited talking about it. They lean in and are engaged. You can feel the energy of their passion for it. It lights them from within.
Spark as a Source of Identity and Community
While knowing our own spark is clearly the first step, Benson discovered that it must also be seen and acknowledged by others.
We want and need to be seen, known and embraced by others for our spark.
When people acknowledge our spark--tell us that it is beautiful and appreciated and that the world is a better place for us expressing it--we feel seen in a way that goes beyond our roles in life or our credentials or experience.
I know that my own spark is about creating space for others to find and express their sparks--to connect to and express their best selves--and that when I receive compliments for that quality, I feel a sense of satisfaction and joy that I feel at no other time.
The Thriving Equation
Benson and his researchers found that there is an equation for thriving, one that I find fits in perfectly with my patterns for resilience. This is it:
Spark + 3 Champions + Opportunity
Knowing your spark is tied to the pattern of Clarity. It is part of knowing yourself and how you fit into the world.
Having 3 Champions is part of the Connecting pattern--who in your life sees your spark, knows it, and actively works with you to help you find opportunities to express it? Who keeps reminding you that your spark is your THING, even when you may forget that?
Having Opportunity is all about the Creating pattern of resilience. How do you regularly find opportunities to express your spark, to manifest it and bring it into the world? How are you acting on the life-giving energy of your spark?
And all of this together--this is how we Cope and show care for ourselves. When you know and regularly have opportunities to express your spark, the rest of your life falls into place. You feel happier, more engaged, less stressed and more alive. Often if we look at why we may be feeling unhappy or anxious, it is because we have not found healthy ways to express our sparks on an ongoing basis. We are blocked from our best selves and that stresses us out.
Awakening the Inner Fire
Imagine a world where we were focused on drawing out our own inner fire and the sparks of those around us.
Imagine what we could create for ourselves and each other if we saw, knew and appreciated each other based on those sparks. As Benson found, knowing someone's spark draws us TOWARD them. We are drawn to that light and see past everything else.
Imagine what we could create together if we combined our sparks--a beautiful roaring fire that warms us all.
What a wonderful gift this would be to both ourselves and our children.
Awakening and feeding our inner fire and the fires of those around us makes us Spark Champions. We need more of us in the world.
Human development doesn't come from the outside in--we do not grow by filling ourselves with facts and knowledge and external expectations.
True growth comes from the inside out--from lighting our own fire and keeping it going.
We are not vessels to be filled, but fires to be lit.
What can you spark today?