Character, I Want to Talk to You.
Lately, over these past several weeks, I’ve probably thought more about the character competency than any of the other 8 pillar competencies from my book, “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human”. Or perhaps, more accurately, I’ve tested my character more frequently and intensely. I think this is a normal feeling visited upon entrepreneurs. It begins with that fear of whether or not the people for whom you have built something will actually like what you made for them. This cascades to a twinge of guilt when you consider whether the price you are asking is adequately covered by the benefits your product offers. Uneasiness then creeps in as you wonder whether you’ve done enough to let the world know about your product. But if you shout too loudly, will people expect more than what your offer delivers. Ultimately this emotional cocktail swirls endlessly into a steady pour of imposter syndrome. Am I really all that? Am I Worthy? As I mentioned, my book highlights what I call the “8 Pillar Competencies”. If this is the first blog post you’ve read here, I’ll list them off, in no particular order.
I call character, the “power of choice” competency. Here’s an excerpt from the book, explaining why.
Character holds dual roles as a competency. On one hand it represents the earning and keeping of trustworthiness. Something you strive for all of your life, first with those close to you, then with friends, your work community and so on. It is your moral compass, as identified with the symbol for character. Again I willingly and gratefully bow to Dr. Stephen Covey, who essentially wrote the book on character, with 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although, to categorize that trail-blazing work in such stark terms alone would be a significant disservice. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t discovered it, listen to the audio book. If you prefer reading, then follow that option, but there’s something about the good doctor’s voice which seems to be able to unforcefully bake his wisdom into your own behaviour. The second role of the character competency has to do with resilience. Two more of my favorite books come to mind here. Angela Duckworth’s Grit and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Two very different perspectives of character, two generations apart, but with coalescing themes that celebrate and espouse the human spirit. So there’s this two-pronged balance of inner fortitude and moral conscience united in the character competency, the daily practice of which will not only serve you well, but serve those with whom you come in contact in your journey of being better at being human.
Our character is tested multiple times every day. From choices we make almost unconsciously, but still rooted in right and wrong; to whether or not we proceed with something, knowing the sacrifice we will have to make to achieve it. Several action pages of my book, comprised of hundreds of competency based learning activities, challenge readers to think about times throughout a day when “doing the right thing” confronts them. On other multiple occasions, I highlight otherwise “infra-ordinary” moments where we are tempted to give up. I podcasted about these very feelings last year, which led to the creation of the book, not because I was in any way the how-to example of any of this. On the contrary, I think I often wrote about it because I felt as though I needed to reflect more in these areas, and pick up my own game.
As my book slowly becomes available across online retailers (why this is so agonizingly slow, I’ll never know) I find myself contemplating the very action words I implore others to take page after page. Words which are intended to get the reader to think of their own human behaviour, and how they can start being better at it. And my thoughts immediately go to, “why me?” What gives me the right, the audacity to sermon others on how to behave? In essence, I am calling my own character into question. I challenge readers to “push others who need encouragement”; “swoop to the aid of someone in trouble”; “own the problem you’ve created”, and on and on. And I ask myself, “do I do these things enough to the point that if I were audited on the very behaviours I evangelize, would I pass?”
There are certain competencies on my list on which I feel legitimately experienced and empowered to train others. While one of the tenets of competency based learning is that mastery is forever pursued, but never achieved, I feel competent enough to teach communications, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and curiosity (yep I do believe that can be taught). But character? Can we teach character? The authors mentioned in the excerpt above do a pretty good job, but their stature is guru-like. I’m just an ordinary guy, living an ordinary life, with an ordinary job, who decided to create a companion guide for being better at being human. My own character, perhaps flawed in its grounding in self-effacement, continues to test me, as my imposter syndrome continues to test it. “You’re not worthy!” the syndrome crows at my character, which in turn pokes at my own conscience, “Is this true?” And so the circle begins its spinning, consuming hours of reflection, requiring the positive self-talk from sources of resilience for which I continue to search.
Ah, but Dr. Frankl discovered the sources of this resilience. And perhaps he had to go to hell to discover them – World War II Nazi concentration camps. It was there that survived essentially from accessing his power of choice, and thankfully he secretly made the field notes which would be shared with generations in perpetuity. From his iconic 1946 book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” he wrote:
“Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
My takeaway? In dealing with my self-imposed interrogation of character, I must realize that it is coming from my pursuit of success. Not success necessarily measured by sales (I honestly have absolutely no idea what to expect there), but success measured by acceptance. I must choose not to be concerned with acceptance, but to focus instead on the cause greater than me. To “carry it out to the best of your knowledge” as Frankl would stress. If acceptance “ensues”, great. But pursuing it brings about only more self-doubt and erosion of my character, which of course, I kinda need to be productive for me and others.
If this all sounds like so much daily affirmation gobblety-gook, as opposed to the type of actionable and prescriptive daily rituals I preach in the book, I guess I have come to the conclusion that the character competency isn’t just something to be measured, by your moral high ground or stamina to fulfill commitment. It must also be fed and nurtured with good thoughts, while keeping other thoughts of, say, self-interest, at bay. Character doesn’t result in a series of outputs. It is the result from a series of inputs. What are you putting in to your character?