“Jee…he’s a character”. That is a common phrase in United States when you bump into a person that has certain traits that are so distinct than the normal guy or gal. That person has a style on its own. However, what is a character? Cambridge dictionary describes character (noun) as the particular combination of qualities in a person that makes them different from others. I want to tackle this question around character: is it given or is it developed? If we get this answer, then how do we apply this in our personal and professional life.
Being a parent of three kids, it’s my joy to see my children’s character develop. Each of them have their own character by now, but at the moment of birth it was not clear if he or she was more like dad, mom or grandpa. So character is evolving and dynamic on the one hand, and on the other hand the particularity of the qualities remains the same.
Best selling author Stephen Covey describes that “character is basically a composite of our habits, because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” This business and leadership author narrows it down to habits. The premise of his book “The seven habits of highly effective people” will guide you to the origin of habits, which are the principles and values you choose in life. The book does not give us a role model, an end story. You have to create your own ‘end in mind’. Unfortunately, we as humans can change our mind and our end in mind shifts accordingly.
I want to present a new basis for character, and its stooled upon my definition of integrity which has three legs. Integrity is when your thoughts, your words and your actions are fully aligned with each other. So if I say to you: “I appreciate your effort in this assignment”, I am actually thinking that as well, and the fact I walked up to your desk or cubicle, it confirms that I mean what I say. The problem is that some of us don’t think or mean what we say. Our thoughts wonder off to the next thing on the to-do list, or we say something just to please someone. We don’t really mean what we say. In other situation, we are more delicate about what we say, because we are informed about sensitive organizational change, and are not allowed to communicate to others. The challenge in the definition above is that all three legs are fully aligned. Here comes the difference of a mediocre character and a perfect or excellent character. A person with excellent character is for me a person who constantly have his thoughts, words and actions fully aligned with each other. If his thoughts changes, so does his words and actions.
The comment I’ve heard about this is that the standard is too high. If I mirror myself to my own created standard, I know I miss the mark on some moments during the day. I’m not able to constantly have my thoughts, words and actions fully aligned. That sounds like perfect/utopia. I also have to meet a person on this planet that meets this standard. Nonetheless, I find it encouraging to have this standard, and to strive for excellence, both in my personal and professional life. That is why I also like to be Dutch. Dutch are known for being direct, and for speaking their mind. However, in general we as Dutch also miss the mark, because we are blunt for the sake of being blunt. We don’t pause and think about character building in the sense of this definition. We are very opinionated about our high degree of tolerance, but don’t tolerate it when we are told what to do.
So if our character is evolving, and if we can self-manage ourselves to develop our character to excellence, what can we do practically? I would offer a couple of concepts and tips that could help us. 1. See life in the perspective of seasons; the season, either good, bad or ugly, is shaping your character. 2. Use your time consciously to develop your character to the highest standard. It took a couple of months before my kids had to learn to walk. Take the time to develop. 3. Have an inner compass; whether you choose Buddhism, the Bible, or Confucius, ensure you stick to a contact factor and guideline. For me, my role model is Jesus the Son of God, the perfect man. 4. Endurance and perseverance; don’t give up on your journey to excellence in character. 5. Share your journey; find a partner or friend in life where you can share your journey. This will help you stay on track. The other person can shed new light and encourage you.
All with all, a person with excellent character is a person you can trust. You know what you are up to with him or her. With trust you can build a great team, you can be productive, and you can excel in whatever goal you have set, both personally or professionally. I encourage you to strive for excellence in character.
If you have questions or comments, feel free to post.