Balancing the Grind with Dan Hardie, Founder of MyStrengths

Dan Hardie is the founder of MyStrengths, where he works with teens to help them discover their top 5 strengths through the MyStrengths Assessment.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

When I was a teenager, I had a really great youth group experience: the good old church youth group. It was fun and I felt a sense of belonging and meaning, particularly doing lots of different mission activities with Indigenous groups and camps.

I came straight out of school to study at college and become a youth worker in a couple of high schools. My goal was to be the most positive, fun guy in the school, running lunchtime competitions, camps and justice projects. 

But things got real for me when a student I knew really well took his own life. 

I suddenly felt totally ill-equipped and questioned so much of what I thought I knew. I enrolled in psychology because I wanted to understand people better, and it was here I came across positive psychology and the strengths movement. Graduating with a counselling degree, I’ve now spent over a decade helping teens overcome obstacles and move toward their best life. 

I spent the first five years of my career diagnosing what is wrong with teens. Parents would want to know why their child is unmotivated, distracted, down, anxious, socially disconnected.

Over time, however, I found the insights and labels we would offer just reinforced many of the negative scripts that teens had about themselves. ‘Oh sorry Miss, I can’t do the test because I have anxiety’ or ‘Well, I behave like that because of my ADHD.’

I started to wonder, what if instead of diagnosing what is wrong with them, we could diagnose what is right? 

What if we could give them a different set of lenses to view themselves and their world: clarity on what their strengths are, insights into their best personality traits instead of their worst, and offering a vision of them growing and thriving instead of being stuck by their deficits and weaknesses. 

I wrote the MyStrengths Assessment and started helping hundreds of teenagers discover their Top 5 Strengths. This soon turned into a full-blown mission, where now over 30,000 teens have discovered their strengths through our school programs and training of other therapists to use the MyStrengths tools. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Lockdown has made work so different for almost everyone. Each day we’re juggling three crazy little boys who have more energy than a Labrador puppy!

I try to keep some rhythm where every Tuesday and Thursday I surf early, then I head home, grab one of the rugrats and head to the office. My work is different each day. I still do some work with a charity, writing and advocacy for children at risk in developing countries. This gives me incredible perspective and gratitude. 

Locally, I’ve been writing and filming a series of parent courses for those with teens, so while a young one is on Zoom, I’ll write. I might Zoom chat with some counselling clients and help schools with the rescheduling of their MyStrengths programs and seminars.

The best part of this office is that we built some nice hardwood meeting tables, but when we push them together they form a perfect table tennis table – so the lucky one who came with dad to the office gets a flogging on the ping-pong, then maybe a bike ride and find a spot in the sun to be lizards for half an hour. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I’ve enjoyed flexibility in most of my work roles. In fact, I would be a terrible 9-5 worker. I’m naturally spontaneous, flexible and like to throw myself into different projects each day. The part I miss the most is people. I like people. I like brainstorming together, driving something forward together, helping people together. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I guess like a lot of dads, husbands and business owners, the hardest part is to be fully present for the people around me. I’m passionate about our work with teens, but I really need to manually switch off from it. 

I don’t always get it right, but I feel like I’m achieving a good balance when I get on the ground and wrestle with kids, take them to the park or head for bike rides or fishing. I throw energy into it. If it’s outdoors, then I feel like we’re doing life well. Inside and on screens? Everything starts to cave in. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

By nature, I’m a fairly spontaneous, flexible person without too much rigidity in my routine. But the past 12 months, I’ve had to be more deliberate about morning exercise as the day can easily get away from me.

My wife and I deliberately use Fun Fridays as a time to connect closely and make sure we don’t drift too far. Shouldn’t intimacy and love be all spontaneous and electric? Maybe sometimes! But if we wait for that, life just gets in the way, with kids and stress and tiredness and distractions – so we plan to connect.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

In the past, my reading was always just for growth and inspiration where I would read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or Death by Meeting or any number of other leadership/help books.

But recently, I’ve really enjoyed some novels where I feel like my worldview is expanding. With the recent crisis in Afghanistan, I’ve been reading Khaled Hosseini’s novels like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Of course, we use the iPhone for hours per day, but to me, there’s nothing better than getting away from it. I’d love to live without all the gadgets! 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I’ve spent some time with a beautiful Indigenous Elder in Port Augusta, Auntie Denise, who has an amazing connection with the land, time, and perspective. I’d love to hear her talk about work-life balance as it would be so counter-cultural to the driven middle-class ‘progress at all costs’ script that I buy into so often. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I make sure part of my work is still with children at risk in developing countries, as I quickly default to the ‘bigger, better, more’ script of western society. This ‘success’ script tells me that happiness is in fame, success, money or stuff. But as I meet children playing on rubbish heaps or just enjoying a simple meal, I am reminded of the simplicities of life, love and fun. Being present, enjoying the moment, and keeping it simple. BOOM. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.