Where does one begin on their quest of building character? Enter the title of this Journal post into any internet search engine and you’ll be inundated with quick-steps for improving character, how to develop the essential traits of integrity, how to instill goodness in our children, key values to live by, and much more. And so, you may be left overwhelmed while still feeling underwhelmed with the day-to-day pressures that continue to test your better judgment of the person you are today. What hopefully endures is your desire to continue improving.
Can we ever truly become the person we see ourselves as in our dreams, or is it more likely that no matter how many strides we make toward this vision and how many accomplishments we achieve, we still set the bar higher and higher for ourselves always aiming for something we never are in the present moment?
In one sense, I’m not ashamed of this pursuit for continuous improvement, or as some may call it, Perfection. It is important to understand that to be perfect is to be imperfect. Stop for a moment, read that again and think hard about what it means. Do you or others consider you to be a perfectionist, one who is always aiming for this highly sought-after pinnacle of achievement? When we continue working to reach perfection, it is important to know that we will never fully obtain it. Think of this as synonymous with the folklore ends of a rainbow and how they can never be found. If this weren’t true, there would be a lot of wealthy gold-coin owners around the globe. So, believe it to be similar that attaining perfection can never be. And this is a good thing for you. Stop and reflect for a moment about your thinking towards the pursuit of perfection and view it from a different perspective. Imagine you achieve this apex of achievement and it has taken you 20 years of blood, sweat, tears, and dogged commitment to attain. What then is next for you? You’ve invested nearly a quarter century of a focused life, chasing perfection and at last it is in your grasp. What’s next for you, is mediocrity. Would you halt your efforts to become ever better and thereby stop growing? Would you at last sit back, take your hand off the throttle, and put everything you’ve worked to build into the hands of an auto-pilot? And while doing that, would you expect to achieve the same, or better results with less effort? This is crucial to understand – the attainment of perfection will be the beginning of a quick decline to mediocrity.
So, what does all this talk about perfection have to do with building character? I believe it true that no matter how decent of a man, woman, or child you believe yourself to be, or to feel that your character is net yet reflective of the person you want to be, you have the ability to continue improving and chasing that unattainable achievement of perfection. Know that even the highly regarded pedigree of moral goodness has moments of character flaw. These events cause them to reflect on their actions and seek new ways to improve. Having awareness of your ability and inner fortitude to continue building your character by reflecting on your past actions is the key to continuous improvement. And this holds true for all aspects in life. You are human, acknowledge your weaknesses, recognize your mistakes, ask yourself what would you do differently next time, challenge yourself to be better, and be proud of your pursuit toward perfection never forgetting though that perfection is imperfect. I often teach others by saying that no matter how good we are doing, we can always do better. Though, I think Vince Lombardi put it best when he said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
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