6 Character Strengths from a Writer (Inc, Time, BBC, Quora)

Integrity, Excellence, Patience, Curiosity, Generosity, and Optimism

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The following is a transcript of various stories about 6 Character Strengths (closely related to the 9 Character Lab definitions but not strictly adherent). These stories were told by my friend, Brandon Lee, a top writer on Quora (6 million+ views on topics like Networking and Decision Making, with writing featured on Mashable, Inc, Time, BBC, and Quartz). I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!

--- Personal integrity (doing what I say, cleaning up when I don't do it) ---

I learned this 5 years ago. I remember thinking how crappy (fragmented, not-together) I felt after completely forgetting about a meeting and arriving 30 minutes late. 

That wasn't the first time it happened, I guess it just happened enough times that I was sick of myself and finally decided to make a change. 

I reflected after, "How will anyone take me seriously if I can't live up to such a trivial commitment? If I want people to take my word seriously, I need to take my own word seriously."

--- Excellence ---

I learned this 7 years ago. My pastor had a 2 month series about excellence and talked about Daniel from the Bible. 

I just remember him exposing Daniel's life, how excellence and integrity defined his life despite being taken as a slave to serve a corrupt and egomaniacal king. He was the first example I saw as someone who became "successful" by being good, and not screwing the other guy over (abundance, win-wins). 

--- Patience, in circumstances. ---

A father and his two young children get on a bus. The kids start running around and bothering the passengers, taking people’s hats and hitting the people on the bus among other things. The father sits there staring into space seemingly not caring about what his kids are doing. 

A man sitting next to the father turns to him and says, "Excuse me, sir. Your kids are running around and bothering the people on the bus… Would you please ask them to stop?" To which the man answers, "oh... I am really sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. We just came from the hospital, their mother just died..."

A mentor shared that story with me about 5-6 years ago. That was when I realized that patience isn't something you need to "build" per se. It's merely giving people the benefit of the doubt that they have the best intentions but you won't know if you judge too quickly. 

They're late? Expect that they have a good reason. They're not responding? Maybe they're busy. 

Of course, in giving the benefit of the doubt, you can be wrong, but I'd rather be wrong in this regard than spend my time/energy getting mad / annoyed / frustrated. 

--- Patience, in relationships. --- 

I've tried rushing relationships before. Out of the mindset of efficiency, I thought, "Why can't I become friends with someone really quickly especially if we click during our first conversation?"

I tried exactly that with a girl I met on a Friday 3 years ago. She was super cool! We talked for a couple hours and really got along with each other well. I even said "We should totally be friends" at one point in that conversation.

The next time we hung out (a week later) we made dinner at her place and watched a movie. Woah. Way too fast. It was totally platonic but I felt too forced. There was a HUGE gap between the comfort level we already had and how well we actually knew each other. That's when I took a step back, reevaluated, and realized that by nature, relationships need time to grow. Since then, I learned to not force interactions if it didn't make sense (needs to be mutual, should feel natural). 

--- Curiosity ---

I was a cocky high schooler, I thought I knew everything, I think most of us go through that phase. 

I actually became curious when I stopped comparing myself to others and stopped vying to be the "greatest." When I stopped playing the invisible popularity contest that we are peer pressured into play in high school. I stopped caring about accolades and accomplishments, and I finally became ok with myself. I accepted myself. 

I got there because I was listening to a sermon from a pastor I looked up to and he was talking about God's love. He explained how God accepts you as you are, right now, there's nothing more or less you can do to earn approval from him. This was contrary to all the things I had heard in the church I grew up at and everything about how my parents treated me. But hearing it, I knew, "Ah, this is actually good news." The word "gospel" actually means good news. 

And hearing that was like flipping a switch in my mind. It was the sound of freedom. It was like a backdoor in radical self-acceptance rooted in God's acceptance. The best part was that I didn't do anything to earn it. But that reflects exactly how Jesus became friends with the most despised/shunned in his society -- the lepers, tax collectors, adulterers.

The next day at school, I was so happy. I stopped feeling the need to check myself, see if I measured up to everyone else, stopped trying to impress the girls, stopped walking on eggshells to make sure I wasn't doing anything wrong... All those voices shut up. And I began to notice... other people. Like there were hundreds of people around me, and I knew nothing about who they were and their stories because I was so caught up in me and my "world of me."

I started hanging out with kids who were eating my themselves during lunch to befriend them. Just cause I figured they might be lonely and I honestly was just curious who this person was. It would have been odd to do that in a group of people I didn't know, so that was my thinking. 

Since then, I've operated under that basis. I'm not trying to fend for me or pump myself up anymore, there's a human around me that has a whole world of knowledge / experiences different to mine, surely there's something to learn? 

--- Give first/Adding value -- 

This just started as my "career" choice of working in non-profit. And I think the first seed that was planted was something my mentor told me my freshman year of high school: 

"To not share your opinion is to deny the world an expression of yourself."

I was a very shy, insecure teenager because my dad drilled into me that if I didn't have anything important to say, it wasn't worth saying. And through his actions and in fear of getting him mad, I'd often just not say anything to save myself the stress. This spilled over into every aspect of my life. 

But, when my mentor told me that a seed was planted, I began to share little opinions I had with close friends. Lo and behold, no one yelled at me, no one got pissed. Woah! That was mindblowing for me. So, a year went by, and then I started taking bigger risks, talking to people who weren't as close to me. In my sophomore year, I decided to spend more time with the new incoming class of freshman (some of them I was friends with during middle school). I gradually realized that these guys who were younger than me actually looked up to my opinions. 

"What?! No way. There are people who value what I have to say?"

And that eventually led me to see that my words were able affect their entire lives and perspectives. From there, continued to build on it and now I thrive in being able to help others simply by sharing my story/perspective. 

--- Optimism --- 

Mostly founded on the belief that I could learn / relearn anything. And every skillset can follow the "4 stages of competence":

Unconscious incompetence -- you don't know what you don't know

Conscious incompetence -- you KNOW what you don't know

Conscious competence -- you learn the skills

Unconscious competence -- you're so good you go on autopilot

If that is true, that means every successful person started with unconscious incompetence and had to work their way up. That means there's a high likelihood I can do the same if I put in the same effort. 

That means life is always getting better if I'm learning.

That's why I'm excited to be 50 years old. 

Funny, I remember learning the 4 stages of competence during one of my first MLM / pyramid scheme meetings. 


Join the conversation:

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I think the best thing we can do for students is continuously work on developing empathy in them. The problems we face in the world today require "perspective taking" and otherness that, frankly, is missing in our society today.

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