“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” –John Wooden
I wasn’t going to do this. I promised myself that I wouldn’t go here again. I told myself that I have already explored this topic to death and there just isn’t anything more to say about it. I tried so hard to move on from this but here it is, again, asking me to face a new perspective on an old issue.
That’s what I do you know, as a life coach, I help people find new perspective on old issues. Sometimes I am required to hold up a mirror, sometimes I am required to speak the plain, harsh truth, sometimes I am required to take a meandering walk through thick forests where there is little light to guide the way until, together, we find the beginning of a clearing. The hard part for me is knowing all of this and applying these steps to myself, my life, and my issues; changing MY perspective. I’ve come to learn that it absolutely takes practice and time and it makes no sense at all to fight that process. Patience is absolutely a virtue here.
One of the very first assignments I ask my clients to do is to tell me about their character. What makes them tick according to them, what is it they know for sure about themselves that is a constant truth no matter what is going on in their lives. In defining character it is important to understand that character is a moral or ethical quality of a person or thing. It cannot be contained or stifled or created. We all have character as part of who we are. At any point during our lives we make choices to encourage different parts of our character or to let them sit idle.
The core components of our character are those that we use every day no matter what we do or who we are with. There are usually at least 5 core character traits that we use every day but it could be as high as 10 traits. The top 5 traits are the ones that get used simultaneously and interchangeably throughout our day and interactions with life.
Why am I talking about character? Last year at this time I wrote about my oldest son going to test the waters of independence by moving far from home with some friends, to see if he could make it on his own. Life intervened and he came home after one very long month but he learned a lot and had a new perspective on his priorities and outlined a plan toward his success that would include him living back at home.
In less than one year he is moving out again, alone this time and will not be coming home in any foreseeable future. He is determined to make this work in his favor. He just has this indefinable needling inside of him that he has to answer.
What is apparent this time that was not so apparent last time? His character. In the coaching world we call it character strengths. In my coaching practice I call it success characteristics. So what do I know for sure about him now that I didn’t know as well a year ago? Well I know about his courage, his determination, his zest, his authenticity, his humility, his kindness, his honesty and his optimism.
These are the success characteristics he brings with him in everything he does. Not all of them play at the top but most of them get engaged and used throughout his day. If I had to pick his top 5 I would say humility, authenticity, optimism, determination, and open-mindedness.
There are 24 critical human character strengths that each of us has inside of ourselves. Knowing what your strengths are is very uplifting and helps better define a life purpose. But know this, just because one strength is listed at number 24 doesn’t mean that strength is in a bad place it just means that it isn’t exercised enough. It can move up in ranks if you work hard at making yourself aware of using it.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller
(Anything worth having is worth working hard for. That’s an oldie but a goodie.)
So he is leaving on Friday and while as his mom I feel devastated to let him go because I will miss him with every fiber of my heart and soul, what I have come to really, genuinely, wholeheartedly realize is that he is not mine and he never was mine. Let me explain…..
I was tasked with the unimaginable pleasure and miracle of being his guide. I was given a gift and I was asked to take care of this gift to the best of my ability with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might. I was not asked to own him like a trophy won or to control him like a remote controlled toy. I was asked to help him grow and learn and achieve his own success as he can and is able to do and to give back to the world he lives in. I did that. Was I successful? I don’t know. Part of me wants to say yes because look at him; he is embarking on this scary, adventurous, “I want to make something of myself” journey, alone. He is not hiding at home or letting fear of anything get in his way of becoming the man he envisions for himself.
In the end my son will have to be the one to answer the success question when he can. Did I feel successful? Sometimes. I’m not perfect and I can think of many times where my imperfection reared its ugly head. The success part will come along when I sense forgiveness for my imperfections. Will he choose to come home and visit? Will he make a point to keep in touch in as many ways as are available to him these days? Will he love the ladies with genuine reverence and respect? Will he choose to love any gift of children and be reminded at that time of all the ways in which he was loved as a child and young adult? These are the answers to success as a parent, in my humble opinion.
I’ll share with you my top 5 success characteristics and explain how I use them in dealing with my son leaving.
1- Appreciation of beauty and excellence
3- Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
4- Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
5- Love of learning
What I know for sure about my son, what I have learned from day one is that the way in which he is choosing this path is very authentic to whom he has always been. His nickname, since he was 8 years old has been tank, given to him by his football coaches at that tender age. He plows through what needs to get done whether that be getting through his days at school or at his job, a specific task, football, you name it. He is doing that now by plowing through to the essence of his life and not wanting to wait through anymore schooling or for the “right” age to start a life. His strength of character and his courage of self is what will see him through. Patience is not yet a virtue of his but life will undoubtedly teach him that lesson.
My appreciation of his beauty and excellence from the inside of him to the outside of
him is key in letting him go with encouragement, faith, and a hopeful heart. My gratitude for the privilege of being his mom is solid and unwavering and grows every day. My open-mindedness in understanding his need and his determination and helping him to know how deep my faith runs inside of me for him.
I have done all that I can do face to face. I can fight this move or I can trust in him and encourage his faith in himself and silently, facelessly be the strength he needs when the times will get tough. It is ultimately his own perspective of his life events that will determine his strength of character and which of the 24 traits he will need more of and less of at any given time. Perspective is everything.
“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny.” – Anais Nin
I was reading an article recently about how to create a strong character arc for writers who want to create fictional characters for their stories. What I learned from that article is also something that rings very true to real human beings. How does someone create personal character?
Find your drive: What motivates you? What drives you to do what you do or drives you to want what you want? My son wants to get on with becoming the man he envisions. That is his drive and motivation to getting up every day.
Get active: Make a plan and execute the plan. Some days your actions might be in small ways and some days your actions might be huge, remarkable pushes toward your drive. Start taking charge of your life by practicing who you want to be.
Get out of the box: Somewhere along the road of growing up you just knew it was time to bust out of the routine of living at home and embark on the adventure of calling your own shots. Break free of the routine you find yourself in and shake things up. Test your limits as safely and wisely as possible to see just what you are made of. Travel, take a class, learn a new skill, or meet new people. Whatever is not in your normal comfort zone is where you belong now. If you have fear around trying something new then by all means try something new.
Learn all you can: Grow your mind, your brain, and your spirit; grow your character strengths. Find a new interest, a new hobby, and a new way of being happy. Find what creates sparks and learn all you can about it. You never know what doors will open up to you once you set out and explore your possibilities and explore your world.
Release the gremlin: The ego is a dangerous thing. In coaching we tend to call it the gremlin. That little voice inside that always talks smack to you by putting you down, making you doubt yourself, instilling fear where there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. The gremlin is all about making you feel small and it feel supreme. Let it go and stomp on it every time it shows itself.
Tidy up: If you are determined to find your drive and get into action with your desires then make sure that your life around you looks the same. If you tend to be sloppy in appearance and surroundings then clean up your self and your area. The outer you should reflect the inner you even while you are making the changes and strengthening the character traits you want to let define you. Inner growth reflects in outer growth.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about 9 requisites for a contented life. Here is my interpretation of his requisites in a wish list for the best possible life you can create:
I wish you health enough to make work a pleasure
I wish you wealth enough to support your needs
I wish you strength enough to battle the difficulties and overcome them
I wish you grace enough to forgive yourself as well as others
I wish you patience enough to work hard until some good is accomplished and realized
I wish you charity enough to see some good in the people around you
I wish you love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others
I wish you faith enough to make real the things you imagine
I wish you hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future. We have no control over what will be so make the most of what is right now.
How fitting that all of the memories of sharing life with my son should come flooding into me while he takes on his life on Memorial weekend? Weird kind of happenstance or karma? You decide….
So while I am desperately hugging and kissing and saying good-bye to my son I want to leave you with this last thought: What we think is what we become. From the vast menu of character strengths to choose from choose authentically (with a side of humor.)
Call to Action
What do you think are your top 5 character strengths?
How do you use them throughout your day?
What character strengths would you like to start using that you are not using right now?
When was the last time you knew you were ready for a mind growth breakthrough?
As I will say to my son, Journey On……