The first stage for us then is deciding what kind of person we want to be. Whilst it may seem a little dark, consider your euology, what do you want people to say about you, what kind of traits would you want to be referenced? Also consider the traits that you find admirable in others, who are your role models, who are the people that have left an impression you? Why? Once you have defined the character you want to develop you need to consider how you will get there. Whilst there are no guarantees with this there are certain practices which can help. In no particular order:
1. Adversity - The hottest fires forge the hardest steels. True character is hard to develop at times of peace. We need difficulty to challenge us and test us, it is in these situations where we can learn about ourself and practice the kind of virtues that we want to become part of our character. The question is, where do we find this difficulty? Whilst we might not want to admit it our lives are generally pretty soft and pretty comfortable, adversity is rarely part of our typical week. It is therefore over to us to find it and literally diary it in. Find challenges that are difficult, are there projects at work that can really test you? Are there things that you want to achieve or change in life away from work that you can apply yourself to? What about physical challenges? Is there an endurance challenge you can give yourself? You can do all of this on a macro level and a micro level. Diary in big challenges, every month, 6 months or year, things that you can use to test your fortitude and your perseverance. Then look for the little things on a daily basis. Ask yourself each night, 'what did I do today to make myself uncomfortable?'
2. Service - Living in our own head, accomplishing things that help us, these are the behaviours of the resume virtues. Successful, maybe, selfish, definitely. To truly develop our character we need to devote a significant part of ourselves to helping others, doing things that are bigger than us. As with adversity, consider this on a macro and micro level. What are the big things you can accomplish for others? Raising a certain amount of money for a charity? Committing a certain amount of hours to a good cause? Then consider on a daily basis, 'what did I do today to help someone else?' By forcing our focus outwards we challenge ourselves to become a better person by virtue of the process, we put ourselves in a position where it is impossible to be anything else.
3. Reflection - This is a common theme in many of the posts we share here and for good reason. It is a favourite practice of the stoics, who particularly used it for the character conundrum. It is hard for us to become aware of our developments, or lack of, if we do not allow ourselves opportunity to reflect on it. There are 2 simple journaling practices we can incorporate on a daily basis to facilitate this learning. First start each day by making a few notes on what kind of person you want to be that day. How are you going to set your intentions? How are you going to handle difficult situations? How are you going to respond to others who are not so focused on their character? Follow this practice with a review at the end of the day, a self-examination journal. How did you do on your intentions that you started the day with? What did you do well that you want to reinforce? What can you improve on tomorrow? Leave no stone unturned in your honest examination of yourself. One of the most famous stoics, Marcus Aurelius, notes that the sleep that follows such honest examination is particularly sweet.
The great irony in all of this is that, by changing our focus from the resume virtues to the eulogy virtues, we will develop our character to the point where it will actually benefit our resume anyway. Good people go places, remember this and use it to reinforce the importance of these practices. Living a good life is more important than living a materially successful one when it all comes to the end, shiny things lose their shine, character never fades.