“One’s life begins on so many occasions, constructing itself out of accident derived from coincidence compounded by character.”
—Donald Hall, 20th Century American poet, writer, editor and literary critic
Image from Unsplash by Kyle Glenn
How often do you reflect on your life and how you arrived at where you are today?
What are some of the pivotal moments—big and small—that changed your life direction and set you on different paths than those you intended?
Although we wish to believe that we have complete control over our lives and can be self-determined, we can all see countless examples in which that was not the case.
Accidents, coincidences, and serendipity play a considerable role in where we end up.
Fortunately, our character—which we develop over time—act as a gyroscope to help us regain our headings when certain events knock us off course.
What are some of the essential elements of your character?
How have they kept you centered and stable over the years, to keep your life unfolding as you intend?
“If there was no money, and everything depended on your moral standards, the way that you behave, and the way you treated people, how would you be doing in life?”
—Tupac Shakur, 20th Century American rapper and actor
Image from Unsplash by Markus Spike
Money and possessions are a primary way many of us measure our success and status.
Who are the people at the top in your various professional and personal communities?
What are their extrinsic and intrinsic measures of excellence and achievement?
How do you measure yourself against these people?
How often do you use good character and high moral standards as benchmarks for a meaningful life?
If you were to eliminate all external evidence of success how well would you be doing?
Create a list of 5-10 people in your life that model the moral standards and behaviors you most admire.
Do your best to spend additional time with these folks and let their example help you up your game.
“Mystery reveals itself to those who maintain an openness of character.”
—Robert Grundin, Swedish Actor
Image from Unsplash by Diane Helentjaris
Most of us love a good mystery. We love good books, TV shows, or movies that take us on a ride with plot twists and surprises. We enjoy excitement and delight when we sleuth our way through these adventures. We are primed for openness to go down whatever path lies ahead.
When we close our books, turn off our sets, and clean up our popcorn and candy containers, how open do we remain when we return to our actual lives?
How can you expand your openness of character to more fully experience the many mysteries life has to offer?
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
—Helen Keller, 20th Century American author, disability rights advocate, political activist
Image from Anazon
Life is very different from traditional schooling in that it gives us the test first and then we (hopefully) learn the lesson.
What character-building experiences and trials has life presented you over the past year?
How has your soul been strengthened?
Where have your ambitions been inspired, leading you toward new levels of achievement and success?
Please pick up a copy of The Road to Character by David Brooks to challenge yourself to re-balance the scales between the focus on external success (“resume virtues”) and your core principles.
“Get out there. See the people.”
Image from Unsplash by krakenimages
I have a friend and client named Tim who is a highly successful business leader. He exemplifies many strong qualities of leadership and personal character that most of his customers, colleagues, and even competitors admire.
Among his most positive attributes is his willingness to take initiative and proactively put himself out into the world to see the people and make things happen.
Where do you find yourself on the introvert-to-extrovert spectrum, especially given the constraints caused by the pandemic?
How have you continued to reach out to connect despite your efforts to be physically distant and keep one another safe?
Where have you not made the effort to be out in the world in some essential way?
How can and will you get out there and (safely) see the people in the coming months?
How can and will you encourage others in your personal and professional communities to do the same?
“When you seek to advance your own position in life, character is the best lever — perhaps not in the short term, but certainly over the long term.”
I am reading The Daily Stoic for the third time.
History’s greatest minds — including George Washington, Fredrick the Great, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and today’s top achievers — embrace the practical wisdom of the ancient stoics.
The timeless wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and others offers all of us a practical philosophy for living a better life.
The stoics were individuals of great character who navigated their lives by core principles and guiding tenants, not simply by what was easy in the moment.
Their long-term perspective on what was morally right and served society at large guided their thoughts and deeds.
Where and how can you more fully leverage your own strongest character traits to advance your own life and that of others in your personal and professional communities?
“Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself.”
—Charles De Gaulle, 20th Century President of France
We need more Level 5 leaders today!
In his classic book, Good to Great, Jim Collins describes Level 5 leaders as more like Abraham Lincoln and Socrates than George Patton or Julius Caesar.
Level 5 Leaders have a mixture of humility and stoic resolve, doing what it takes to make organizations—and hopefully a nation—truly great again.
These special people demonstrate character by shouldering responsibility for difficulties and generously acknowledging and praising others for the efforts and progress that are realized.
Where are you seeing evidence of great character and resolve in the leaders in your personal and professional communities?
How and in what ways can you also fall back on yourself during these difficult times?
“The story of each stone leads back to a mountain.”
—W.S. Merwin, Late American Poet
Image from Unsplash by Daniel von Aarburg
Can you recall anyone telling you that you are “a chip off the old block”?
Perhaps you’ve used this phrase to refer to some bright, precocious youth showing great promise and demonstrating the positive qualities of their parents, teachers, or other well-regarded people.
Who have been the rugged, mountainous individuals in your life?
How have they shaped and carved your character, personality, attitudes, and talents?
What experiences and life lessons did they provide to help you become the person you are today?
Who are the people in your personal or professional worlds that see you as their mountain? How can and will you intentionally guide, teach, and coach them to be their very best?
“A talent can be cultivated in tranquility; a character only in the rushing stream of life.”
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, 18th Century German writer and statesman
Image from Unsplash by Sergio Souza
Reflecting on this Quotable Coach series over the past eight years, I realized that it was the values and character traits of each author that had me select their quotes.
These daily nuggets of practical wisdom are more often gleaned from the rushing streams of life than tranquil self-reflection.
Cultivating our talents in both tranquil and active times provides an added foundation for many of the character traits we most admire and wish to emulate in our own lives.
If developing your own character is a priority, you may wish to read the remarkable stories of less well-known individuals in David Brooks book, The Road to Character.