Practicing Character

“Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”

J. C. Watts

When you do something nice for others, like donating money to medical causes or treating the checkout clerk like a human being, you’re doing it out of kindness, but you are also doing it for yourself. And I don’t mean selfishly. Rather, our actions are a byproduct of our character. And the same is true said in reverse— our character is spoken through our actions.

Character and action are two way streets. What you do is a reflection of who you are. Not just what you do for a living (although that’s a piece of it) but everything you do (or don’t do).

Which means every decision is an opportunity to practice building our character.

Patience, generosity, sincerity, persistence, optimism, ambition, courage, charm, humility, encouragement— these are all things we can practice in our daily lives.

If we don’t practice them, how else would we except to get good at them? Magic beans?

One simple practice I like to do is whenever I’m leaving the grocery store, I take my cart back to the store’s entrance. It’s so tempting to unload your groceries in your car, and they peel out of the parking lot, leaving your buggy next to where you parked. What the big deal anyway? I don’t have time to bring it back. It’s someones job to gather up all the loose carts anyway. Why should I do their job for them?

Because you are doing it for youself as much as you are doing it for them.

Everything we do not only sends a message about who we are to those around us, but also ourselves.

By leaving your empty cart where you parked and driving away, you are telling yourself that you are lazy. Alternatvely, by taking the cart back to the store’s queue, you are telling yourself you are hard-working and not to mention caring to boot.

The same is true for anything we do. Holding the door for others. Not letting our angry control us when someone cuts us off or someone loses their temper. Cleaning up after ourselves. Following through with a promise or conversation. Staying true to what we value.

It’s like the old saying goes, “How we do anything is how we do everything.” Especially when no one’s around to keep us accountable.

That’s why I adopted a “Do it Now” mentality. Not everything has the same amount of importance and priority, but taking care of things when they need taken care of is a great way to practice character. If there’s a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I’m going to clean them now, instead of later. Even if that means I have to unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher first before I can put the dirty ones in. If there’s a thing around the house that needs to be taken care of, I jump on it. If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll focus all my efforts on that one thing, before I jump to the next.

These are tiny things, but they make all the difference.

Because your actions are telling yourself that “I’m the type of person that get’s things done.” This isn’t a blame game. Just because someone else isn’t doing it doesn’t mean I get to point a finger at them for being lazy. Because if I did I would only be practicing characteristics I don’t want to be.

I’m far from perfect, of course. Some days I can barely manage to do my nightly routine and don’t have the energy to clean up the house or put away my fresh laundry. So then I double down the next day. But if I do manage to put away my clothes when I don’t feel like it, I know I’m working my character mental muscles and showing myself what I’m made of.

Remember, It matters less what you’ve done and more what you do.

If you want to be strong, practice strength. If you want to be resilient, learn everything you can about how to persevere in chaos and get back up when you fail.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #902

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Creative DNA

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Do you think we are born creative or grow into it?

In Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Hugh Macleod voices “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.” Picasso would have agreed with Hugh, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

I think it’s a little of both. Something in us feels called to express ourselves and make something. The tools and mediums change over the centuries, but the desire is still there. And we see the world (or dream worlds in our mind) and want to share it.

We look at a rolling landscape or unnoticed object in our home and feel a desire to paint or draw it.

We experience a breathtaking sunset or a particular stranger catches our eye and we can’t help but capture the moment.

Our cars have the curves of animals and insects.

Put a blank page in front of someone and they’ll want to fill it. Give someone an instrument and they’ll start to strum and noodle. The “real” world often beats creativity out of us and convinces us we can’t create and work. Society and culture tell us we’ll get made fun of if you try to draw or dance or sing but suck at it. It’s okay to suck at art and still enjoy it. Being mediocre is a right of passage. Maybe you weren’t bred to be an illustrator or makeup artist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t nurture your interest now that you can think for yourself.

It doesn’t surprise me that we are creative. Problems are a way of life and problems naturally create the opportunity for creative solutions. Problems creative opportunities create problems creatives opportunities. If you need fresh water to the home, someone is going to find a creative way to do it. And someone else is going to creatively iterate on that idea ad infinite. If you’re cold, someone will figure out a way to find warmth. If you’re hungry, someone will discover a clever way to cook/find food.

Problems naturally create an opportunity for creative solutions.

The desire to make stuff and share it with others is in our DNA, but the ability to make good art (as Neil Gaiman would say) and become masters of what we love takes hard work and patience.

If you want to be more creative — go be more creative.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #822

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Related:

Born Standing Up: A Comics Life by Steve Martin

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull