As Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, most of the success literature published in the United States for the first 150 years focused on The Character Ethic as being the foundation of success. Things like integrity, humility, simplicity, fairness, modesty, love, courage, justice, and the Golden Rule.
However, shortly after World War I, Covey explains, the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to The Personality Ethic.
In these books, the driving force behind success was shown to be an individual’s personality – as opposed to character.
Things like public image, how you dress, how you perform in social interactions; positive mental attitude, skills and techniques to get people to behave in certain ways.
While some of this newer literature briefly discussed the importance of character, it became mostly lip service – as long as you say and do the right things and package yourself in the right ways, you will be likely to get the results you want.
Since I was born in the late 1960’s, I had virtually no experience with the success literature from the earlier, Character Era.
Instead, I was raised on a steady diet of Personality.
All of the success books I read or listened to said that you should smile, dress nice, say and do the right things – and if you look good and appear interested in other people, you can pretty much get what you want in life.
I had unwittingly been taught to try and control, manipulate, and maneuver my way through life – without ever taking into account Who I Really Am or what I actually wanted to do.
It occurred to me that this was the height of irony – because, as all these books and programs had been telling us on one hand that this is the way to “get what you want in life”…
The hidden – or no-so-hidden – message in all of these programs is also: “Fake it until you make it.”
Meaning: “You can fake people out and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who YOU are; just make other people LIKE YOU and you’ll get what you want you most of the time.”
Wow. That was a stunning realization for me.
Because I was shocked to realize that while I had been mostly faking my way through life – because I had no idea who I was or what I really wanted…
I also realized how many people I had been manipulated by, who had done the exact same thing to ME – because we’d all been reading the same books!
All I had ever tried to do was change my personality
Because that’s what I was told to do: Change Who I Was.
Because I assumed that I had to do that…
Because that’s what all these books told me to do, in order to succeed in this world.
The fact is, in all these books, I never heard anyone talk about what character IS or how important it is – or even mention that you should have it!
As I teach my clients in The Power Habits® System, every day I see more and more how important it is to get back to The Character Ethic.
How do you do that?
As Stephen Covey (my first unofficial mentor) often said (I’m paraphrasing): “The fastest way to build character is to make a promise and keep it.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
Because isn’t it true that the most important – and easiest to judge – measure of a person’s character is to see if they do what they say they’re going to do.
There’s another old saying: “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
Ain’t THAT the truth!
It’s so easy to SAY you’re going to do something…
“I’m going to write my book… I’m going to fix the lawnmower… I’m going to get in shape…”
But when push comes to shove, and the going gets tough, that’s when our WORDS tend to fall short of our ACTIONS.
“Oh, I’ll write when I feel inspired… I’ve got some important TV watching to do…”
By the way, have you ever noticed when the going gets tough?
Exactly – all the time!
There are always roadblocks, reversals, things we didn’t expect that come up.
That’s called LIFE.
And the truth is that most people would rather have EXCUSES than SUCCESS.
So ask yourself a simple question:
“Would I rather have excuses or success?”
And for the word success – just substitute what you want – e.g., money, health, happiness, peace of mind…
The truth is, there are always excuses not to take action.
Excuses are EASY.
Excuses, however, are just another form of letting ourselves be run by FEAR and letting our lives be guided by fear – the belief in “not-enough.”
Yet as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Inside of us, we know that on the other side of fear lies freedom.”
Noah’s Note: Working on your Personality without improving your Character is like building your house on a foundation of sand.
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