Creating Your Character

Creating Your CharacterI have an acquaintance I speak with on occasion.

I’ve known this guy for a long time.  Since I’ve known him, he’s always complained to me about his job: he hates it.

His hate for his job isn’t for lack of pay or perks – they are way above average.  The dislike is for the structure of the organization that employs him and the tedious, unchallenging and often pointless work he feels he is doing.

He’s remarked on more than one occasion that a high-school freshman could do his job (90% of his day job is creating PowerPoint slides).

This is beside the point though.

You see, for as long as I’ve known him, he has intended to quit his job and move onto something better (something exciting and challenging).

At least this is what he said he wanted.

You see, the time came when he was finally allowed to leave (when he had finished his initial contract period with his employer), but he didn’t leave.  Instead, he signed another contract with his employer for an indefinite period of time (one that will most certainly last for another 2+ years).

Slightly confused, I asked him why.

Him: “Because there’s nothing else that I really want to do.  I figure I’ll just ride it out and see where it takes me.”

Me: “But I thought you hated your job?”

Him: “Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad.   I don’t really do anything.  I show up at 9, leave at 3 or 4, and I take a 2 hour lunch.  You can’t beat it.  If it gets really bad, I’ll quit and become a teacher.”

The conversation continued on for a bit, but not into any meaningful territory.  At the end of the conversation, we parted ways, and, for one reason or another, I remembered a quote by Aristotle:

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

What Aristotle is saying is this: we pick and choose and build our character – it is not naturally ingrained in us at birth.

The brave man is made so through brave actions; the just woman is made so through just actions.  Neither one was born this way – they consciously built themselves this way.

This is a powerful truth, one that should give hope to all who strive valiantly, who dare boldly, and who struggle to be better, day in and day out: as long as you never quit, you will most certainly become that which you practice consistently.

But this is also a wake-up call: if we can become virtuous from acts of virtue, then the opposite is true.

We become cowards through acts of cowardice; lazy through acts of laziness; weak through lack of action.

You’ve probably heard the idiom: actions speak louder than words.

They’re also a testament to our character.

What do your actions say about you?


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6 comments on “Creating Your Character”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I love the quote for your piece today. You have such an eloquent writing style and ability to keep a constant thread throughout your posts. I am inspired by your content as well as the way you write.

    The quote also connected with me and some of my thinking this week. Personally - I don't know any other way to do life... I have to EXPERIENCE it. I have to touch, taste and feel it. If I want to be "Brave" I must throw myself into the "Fire" and figure it out.

    I remember working with kids years ago in an Outdoor Leadership program that I created and one of the teens was a constant challenge for me. He pushed back at everything! When out on trips I always ended each night with a "Check In" time around the fire. It was a time where anyone could say or respond to anything, and a way of putting any issues of the day to bed before we all tucked in for the night. One night in particular this teen got into a fairly heated exchange with another youth and myself. It went on and on until finally he blurted out that "It didn't matter - his story was already written". Here was this kid of 15 who had already convinced himself that he didn't have a choice... his fate had already been decided... he was simply turning the pages of a book already written about him.

    Like you point out above with Aristotle's quote "we pick and choose and build our character – it is not naturally ingrained in us at birth". What this teen didn't realize was that each day a choice has to be made on how you live your life. NOTHING is written in stone, just because your parents did it one way doesn't mean that you have to do it the same. As W.H. Henley most famously said in the poem INVICTUS "I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul"

    Thanks again for leading the fight.


    1. Alan, absolutely love that poem. It totally applies here as well.

      That is a wild story. It's kind of heartbreaking to think some people live life with that mindset. Of course, they're just one choice away from turning it all around, so there is always hope. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Thanks so much for the kind words Alan. I'm glad they inspire and I'll keep working hard to make them great 🙂

      - Tom

  2. Nice post!

    Also made me think of this quote: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”