Ways of Rekindling Life’s Enchantment, with Michelle Strutzenberger – PS61

Episode Introduction

A couple of months ago, I received a beautiful email from this show’s guest, Michelle Strutzenberger, announcing she was embarking on new starts and opening up new possibilities.  After 15 years at Axiom News, where she’d worked as journalist and curator, she was moving on. Among her aspirations was to focus her talents in the area she had wanted to develop further: children’s book authoring.

Michelle’s email touched me – she’s magical with words.  And, I have been a fan of Michelle’s work and Axiom News.  Over the past years, Michelle had written a couple of pieces about my innovations in Appreciative Inquiry.  We had this personal connection.  Our lives had touched.  On the one hand, I was surprised and sad that she was would no longer be with Axiom.  And on the other hand, I was admiring that she was following her heart by venturing into new territory.  As I didn’t want Michelle to disappear from my life, I reached out and we agreed to record our chat as a podcast.

Episode Overview – Rekindling Life’s Enchantments

Life's Enchantment, Michelle StrutzenberbergerIn our preparation call some weeks before recording the episode, Michelle and I touched on a number of possible topics for our recorded conversation.  Towards the end, Michelle offered the topic of “rekindling life’s enchantment.”  It spoke to me and felt right as a topic to explore together.

In this episode, we start on topic, and then meander through the conversation in a free-flowing, organic way. We, in fact, cover a number of topics including Michelle’s 15 years with Axiom News as a generative journalist.  We reflect on what makes journalism generative.  Michelle introduces her new book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River that is seeking a publisher right now.  I inquire into the the craft of writing and how it calls to Michelle.  

We then circle back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment” towards the end of the show when Michelle offers some delightful way to intentionally reconnect with magic, whimsy, mystery in our lives.

What Might “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment” Awaken in Us?

Michelle recalls the enchantment she and her twin created for themselves when they first arrived in Canada as immigrant children.  Even in times of uncertainty, they discovered the gift of being awake to, and seeing the spark, the allure in the conditions they found themselves in at different times.  Despite bouts of heartache, and sadness and fear, they were open and alive to the delight of life.  The enchantment – the magic and mystery and charm and whimsy – emanated from the reality of living life fully.

Intentionally Creating Conditions for Life’s Enchantment

If you find yourself somewhat numb and in a rut, or feeling fearful or threatened by your current circumstances, you can intentionally set out to create conditions that will find yourself delighting in life again, or reconnecting with your whimsical side.  In fact, it is most likely that when facing adversity, the greatest opportunity to defend against the adversity or suffering is to rekindle enchantment and find new delight in life again.  

The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle’s second book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River features the wonder, excitement and adventures of four children as they unearth a most surprising treasure – the secret talents of their neighbours.  The book is very much inspired by the spirit and intention of asset-based community development, the work of Peter Block and John McKnight of Abundant Community in creating abundant communities and the worldview and practice of Appreciative Inquiry – both participatory change methodologies that shine the light on strengths, capabilities and imaginings of what is possible.  

Please visit the book's website to read a Portion of Chapter 10: A Heart Cleaned Out in a Hurricane

Building on Strengths and Dreams

In creating her book, Michelle’s own strengths and her ability to dream come to life.  Her story explores what might be possible when communities thrive and where people lift each other up, honoring their gifts and talents.  It invites what’s possible when we see the gifts in each other.  What delights is that by lifting up everyone’s gifts in a community, wonder, adventure, excitement is sparked.

Influence of Generative Journalism

Linking back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment”, I asked Michelle if she always saw the world this way.  She has no hesitation in expressing her gratitude for her work as a generative journalist at Axiom News.  This type of journalism complemented her own natural talents and worldview as a writer.  Take a look at Michelle’s post listed below to learn more about generative journalism.

During her 15 years at Axiom News, the team with founder and CEO, Peter Pula pushed up against watchdog journalism, sparking new possibilities about how journalists go about their work.  As generative journalists, the inquiry is about people’s strengths, assets and what else is possible.  They seek to find ongoing dialogue and partnerships to generate change and deepen relationships through a soul connection.  

A Meandering Conversation – A Calling to Create

Together we touch on other a number of other subjects such as the creative act of writing. If it’s a calling, it implies one just has to do it.  For Michelle it’s, in fact, the creative process – the act of bringing something new into creation – which calls or compels her.  To quote Michelle:

A sense of calling…

A calling is something you discover, not something you choose.  It’s about responding.

Circling back to Our Main Topic – Rekindling Life’s Enchantment.

After meandering far because I followed my curiosity into Michelle’ significant contribution to the world, we circle back to our topic, “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment”.  

Michelle offers a number of ways to find the delight, mystery and reverence akin to a sense of life’s enchantment.  Not only can we create the enchantment through our own experiences, as she and her twin did, and most children do, she offers that we can be nourished by the enchantment of others through their art, poetry, writing, music and a variety of performance media.  

A surprising twist that makes beautiful sense is when enchantment comes to us because others find us enchanting. For example, a child responds to us with wonder; or, in early stages of romance when life’s wonder opens up.

Michelle offers also that we can rekindle life’s enchantment in the knowing that God always delights in us.  When we have that faith, we are not dependent on others.  Our spirit is freed and allows us to delight in all that is around us.  

How to Connect with Michelle

MIchelle's website about The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle on Twitter

Michelle on Facebook is Newshemayim

Michelle on LinkedIn


A Tiny Selection of Michelle’s Writing

Decoding a Generative Story

What if Marginalized Neighbourhoods Crafted Their Own Handmade, Place-based Economies?

Young Man Journeys to a Meaningful Life, Disability and All

Books Mentioned

Header Image

Norman Rockwell ‘Land of Enchantment' mural 1934

Attribution:  Plum leaves on Flickr

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Why Strength Matters and How to Grow It

You’ll know when you're coming from your strength because you feel invigorated, productive and enterprising.  When you come from your own strengths, life is easier.

The evidence points to your ability to learn far more quickly when you come from strength; you gain greater satisfaction; you perform more easily; and you experience a desire or a yearning to perform the activity more frequently, as you feel you just have to do it.

Strength Matters – Actually We Have Many Strengths

 I’ll focus on two main bodies of research in the strengths discipline: the first in the personal development space and the second in the organization development and leadership space.  In fact, they overlap and co-mingle.  Both offer an excellent online survey that you can take to identify your own strengths.

First step is to  discover  your innate strengths (also called talents) and then you go out, use them and put them to work.  This is the key to optimizing your well-being,  your flourishing, and a happy life;  and by happy life, the emphasis is on the engagement and meaning aspects of happiness.  This kind of happiness is when you are in alignment with your purpose and are contributing in ways that bring you deep joy and satisfaction.

At work, a good indicator that you're using your strengths is when you are fully engaged in an activity, and, while it may be challenging, you feel at one with it and you lose track of time.  In that case, you're experiencing the flow state, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience, introduced to the world.  On the contrary, when your energy is depleted and you're either bored (because the task is too easy) or stressed (because it's too hard and not aligned with your natural strengths), you are not in that flow state.  It robs you of productivity and vitality.

But first, let me define “strengths” in the context of human and organization development with a brief overview. 

Character Strengths – Virtues in Action

I’ll start with character strengths developed by the late Chris Peterson of the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania,  deemed the father of positivity psychology, and others.  

With knowledge of your character strengths, it is possible to express and develop character and be poised to better direct talents and abilities into meaningful and engaging behaviors that improve your own life and the lives of others.   

This research identified a framework of 24 character strengths that are classified into 5 broad areas of strengths, namely,

  •  cognitive
  • emotional
  • social and community
  • protective
  • spiritual

Your top five strengths in any one of these broad areas are your innate character strengths and when you work with them and bring them into all aspects of your life, you have much greater capability to live a life that engages you fully and is meaningful.  Seligman talks about the Good Life as

Using your strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life

You can become aware of own strengths by paying attention to the activities that absorb you, that make time fly by andStrength matters you feel they are totally occupying you in a good way, that may also be challenging, yet you just want to be doing it.

For me designing courses and facilitating and writing and speaking bring out the best in me. I get into that flow state and I am totally engaged. It’s not to say it’s not challenging, because challenge and stretching yourself is good.


Signature Strengths – StrengthsFinder

Around the same time in 2001, the late Don Clifton, former Chairman of Gallup  who was deemed “the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology” shared his research of near 30 years.

He had been studying excellence in two million people, finally identifying themes that reflect natural talents, naming them signature strengths. He recommends that for success and fulfillment we

“Capitalize on strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around weaknesses, whatever they may be.”

Clifton defines strengths as

“Consistent near perfect performance in an activity . . . the ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully.

Clifton’s findings reveal that your top five signature strengths are themes of talent and therefore are your highest potential for development, because that’s where you will find the greatest satisfaction and do what comes most naturally.

“By focusing on your top five themes, you will actually become stronger, more robust, more open to new discoveries and, importantly, more appreciative of people who possess themes very different from your own.”

Take the Surveys

I invite you to go online and take one or both of these strength surveys (listed below) to help you learn about your best attributes and where you can leverage your potential to create the changes that will lead to a more satisfying and meaningful life.

The VIA Survey

VIA stands for Virtues In Action at the website

The VIA survey is free to take.  I highly recommend it.  You receive a report describing your 24 character strengths with more detail about your top 5.  You can also purchase a range of more detailed reports.   This website is full of excellent explanations and resources.  It's a fabulous resource.

StrengthsFinder Survey

The StrengthsFinder Survey, at the website There is a cost to take this survey , and there are a number of reports you can invest in to learn more about your signature strengths.

Personal Growth and Development Opportunities

Both surveys will help you identify your strengths, and appreciate the strength matters in a whole new, supportive way. You will come away with valuable insights and personal growth and development opportunities.  Inspired by your new found strengths, some of which you will have intuited and some may come as a surprise, you’ll become more consciously aware of your best self what energizes you so you perform with greater ease.

At the same time, you will now have greater understanding why you find yourself struggling at times and feel depleted.  When you are not in your strengths, it takes more effort, more energy and you find it harder to be in that positive state of engagement.   

How You Can Be More Energized than Depleted

You’ll  start to understand which environments stimulate you or bore you; which behaviors calm you or excite you. Over time, this adds up to a life that is efficient, effective, healthy, productive, and satisfying.

Human Problems Are Not Fixable

Seeing the World Anew!

Why have I become an advocate of the life-affirming, change methodology Appreciative Inquiry? It's appropriate for our forever changing, complex world.  It offers a framework that is inquiry-based, rather than prescriptive or consultant-driven. It seeks to affirm, inspire and accelerate anticipatory learning to bring out the best in each of us, propelling us all to greater accomplishments, achievements at the individual and collective levels.  And, most importantly, it works!

Appreciative Inquiry  (AI) is a perspective on the world that invites you to see yourself and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye, instead of a self-critical way.  How you use words informs your beliefs about yourself;  and the stories you tell, the narratives you construct shape your own and our collective destinies.

Zero in on the Problems

In a nutshell, Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based, generative approach to change and development, which starts, from what already works in a given context, and seeks to discover strengths, existing assets and positive potentialities. This differs from the traditional approach, which zeros straight in on the problem, so prevalent in our organizations, institutions, and families. Grounded in theories from the disciplines of organization behavior, and  the sciences of sociology and psychology, there's a good dose of metaphysics thrown in. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.

Reframing Human Problems

Why is zeroing straight onto the problem not helpful in all cases?  It implies things don’t work, things are broken. If it’s a bike, a computer, window, a machine of any kind, that approach is fine. But when it comes to human beings who are incredibility complex with all kinds of influences and ideas and different biological makeup and emotions, it’s not helpful. All of you have unique character traits, attitudes, beliefs and traditions, so the problem solving approach doesn’t apply.  Human beings are not problems to be fixed.

Appreciative Inquiry Framework

As a change method, AI is equally effectively at the individual, organizational and societal levels.  It offers a structured framework and process to help you understand

1. how you tell stories and construct narratives, which addresses:

  • how you make meaning of our own stories and the stories of other people
  • how you make sense of your live, and by extension
  • how you make sense of your world
  • how you interpret things

2. AI helps with relationships, making you more aware of:

  • how you relate to yourself
  • how you relate to others
  • how you relate to the world itself

2. AI helps you become more conscious of:

  • how you use language
  • how you focus your attention
  • how you create the results you get
  • how you label things
  • how you deal with change
  • how you envision our future
  • how you choose to live your life

To summarize,

  • Appreciative Inquiry is the discovery of the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them.
  • It is an art and practice of asking unconditional, positive questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend anticipate and heighten positive potential.
  • Instead of negation, criticism, backward-looking problem solving through root cause analysis and spiraling diagnoses, there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is the art of asking unconditional, positive questions to strengthen the system’s capacity to anticipate and heighten positive potential. (Source the AI Handbook)

The Direction of Your Inquiries

I invite you to start focusing on the direction of your inquiries, your conversations, your stories. Before you even open your mouth to engage with another, your world view – starting with how you think, what your believe – will show up in the words you use that tells others how you see yourself and them, because how you see them is how you will describe them.

If you see your world as kind and forgiving, you will describe it that way. If you see it as tough and unfair, you will describe it that way.  Whichever way you see, you’ll live into that story.   

We can start shifting our focus from the problem view of human kind to the appreciative view.  To quote William James:

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

A Gift Received

“If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go with others”

~ African Proverb

Bouquet-of-Roses-300x201I received a gift last week. I have been basking in the glow of the support I received from my professional community, my colleagues, my friends, and friends of friends, and strangers.  Not only did I receive such a generous gift of support, I also reconnected with my courage.

Read more

Immersive Learning on Tablets

Ipad-shotSerendipitously, on three occasions in as many days, I have been in the presence of three 3 year olds (just love all those 3's).  Each time, I was filled up with joy watching them engage with content on their iPads.

First time, we were at dinner with a couple when their three year old pulled out the iPad, tapped into one of her favorite apps and was immediately engrossed as she tapped, swiped, dragged and, from time to time, sat up, tilted her head confidently to reflect on the objects she was engaging with.  Her fullest absorption in her iPad totally attracted the attention of older people in the restaurant,  amazed at her competence with the tablet device.

Read more

Stunning Examples of Appreciative Inquiry Principles

Examples of Appreciative Inquiry Principles

Aimee Mullens gives such a powerful and moving TED talk.

Her examples of Appreciative Inquiry Principles are evident in her story.  She opens with examples of the Constructionist Principle: how words create worlds and the role we all play in co-creating our realities and defining each other.

She advocates the need to honor the wholeness, possibility and potency of ourselves and each other.  She asks us to open ourselves up to and embrace our adversities, rather than sweep them under the carpet.

She reminds us from her own story that we live up OR down to others' image of us, and how positive imagery leads to positive outcomes.  She is such an example of nurturing the human spirit, keeping hope, seeing the beauty, valuing curiosity … and so much more.

I highly recommend this video.

Passion Juice – Good Passion

Passion1-240x300More Good Passion

Since this blog used to be called Pursuing Passions, I was keen to learn more about the dualistic nature of passion when I attended the First World Congress on Positive Psychology this past weekend in Philadelphia.

That there is good passion and bad passion is not new.  But appreciating the psychological impacts of good and bad passion is of interest. Of even greater interest is how to cultivate more good passion and why does that matter?

Robert J. Vallerand, Professor of Psychology at Universite du Quebec a Montreal defines passion “as a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, find important, and in which they invest time and energy.”

Vallerand's model posits the existence of two types of passion – harmonious passion and obsessive passion – each associated with different outcomes and experiences.  Read more

Let Passion be your Power

Life is what happens to us when we have other plans, is, I think, a paraphrase of John Lennon, the great lyricist of Beatles fame.

Life Happens

So when life happens, it can mean we are thrown off life's course as we have designed it.   Barriers and challenges get in the way of what we dreamed our life to be.  The vision we held becomes blurred, cloudy or even blacks out.  It can happen when we get very sick, lose family members, our jobs, our homes and businesses. Natural disasters happen all too frequently.  There are so many stories out there in our current climate that seem to suggest life doesn't always go according to plan.

Read more

Pretend and Play

Play is Vital

You bounce on a trampoline, higher and higher; you're on a swing pumping back and forth gaining greater momentum;  you throw a frisbee and leap to catch it; you run and tumble in the fresh snow;  you tip-toe into the surf jumping over the waves until you dive in to finally get fully wet.  You laugh, you feel exhilarated, you feel joyful and energized.  It's called play. Remember?

It's good for you.  It was then and it is now.  It helped you then and helps you now.  Your joyful state opens you to aliveness, greater creativity, and to others.  See Using Tools Wisely: Playful Co-creation

The National Institute for Play
 defines play “as a state of being that is intensely pleasurable”. It energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens, renews a natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities. These wonderful, valuable qualities are just the beginning of what play is.

Read more

Playful Co-creation – Creative Collaboration

RS_2010_08_21_3488-e1282511697562Creative Collaboration

A highlight from our Broaden and Build session at the Positive Change Conference.

We provided the experience of connecting to our creativity that flows from play, a joyful, fun state.

After a series of playful warm-ups, including introducing the word
EUNOIA, the shortest word in the English language containing all five
vowels and which means BEAUTIFUL THINKING, we asked each table group to:

Describe the ocean without using the letter “e” within 10 minutes.

Please enjoy their collaborative creations. Read more