There are several different ingredients to success. Talent, persistence, and timing all contribute. But there’s one factor we might sometimes overlook—character.
Character reminds me of a tree’s root system. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or majestic a tree might look above ground; it’s only as strong and durable as the roots below.
Since we can’t see the roots, we might miss what it takes to keep that tree fed and standing strong. But the roots are essential to the success of the tree.
“For trees to function at their optimum, as the above ground portion of the tree grows and expands, so must the root system,” says Paul Wray, an Iowa State University forester. “The root system of a mature oak tree may be hundreds of miles in length.”
Without that robust underground structure, the tree is doomed. When a tree goes down, Wray says, it’s usually “directly related to the health and vigor of their root systems.” And from my experience that’s exactly true of success and individual character too.
Without strong character, it doesn’t matter how good we look on the outside. We’re going to fall.
If your success in business or building your platform has outstripped your character, you can either anxiously await trouble or get busy pushing down roots. Here are five proven ways I follow to deepen my character and stay sturdy for whatever comes.
- Begin the day by getting grounded. I start every day with a quiet time. I don’t know about you, but prayer and devotion launch my day on a firm footing.
It’s easy to skip this step. My phone is always nearby. I could just start checking Slack or Twitter. Before I know what’s happened, I’m up to my knees in the demands and distractions of the day.
But if we want to develop the right kind of character, we not only have to learn the discipline of no, we have to say yes to nurturing and strengthening our hearts.
- Read history and biographies. My friend Andy Andrews swears by this, and I know exactly why.
We all learn by experience, but experience can be costly and painful. History and biographies are life’s cheat sheet on experience. Instead of having to endure certain lessons directly, we can gain the insights of others who have already learned them.
Leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., give us a standard, an example, and an inspiration. They let us know what’s possible and maybe what’s not. Either way, we can gain the strength of their character and find encouragement in their stories.
- Get regular exercise. Not only is there a connection between our physical fitness and overall health, but there are two specific character-building aspects to consistent exercise. First, getting up and going when we’d rather not go at all engrains self-discipline in us.
Second, by regularly pushing our bodies, we learn that we can do hard things. The stronger this realization grows, the stronger we are in other areas of life as well. It gives us a greater sense of command and control.
- Select good influences. It’s important to surround ourselves with friends who bring out the best in us. A strong peer group will not only provide us with good examples and inspiration, but they’ll give us a sounding board for ideas and concerns.
When I think of how important this has been in my life, I remember some of the bad influences I’ve known. Maybe you have stories here from your own life; most of us do. Bad influences encourage all the wrong things in us. But good influences do the opposite.
When we’re not strong enough or wise enough to make the right call on our own, solid friends can help us bridge the gap. Over time that influence can change our character for the better.
- Maintain posture of humility. Sometimes those friends need to kick us in the tail. If we want to deepen our character for longterm success, learning from constructive criticism is key. In fact, it’s important to learn from every kind of criticism—some of it might be meant to hurt you, but if it’s right, it pays to listen and grow.
Staying open to correction and reproof is critical for pushing the roots of character deep into our lives. The truth is that we don’t always have it together. We’re not always right. And we need people to tell us.
But more than that, we need to listen and heed their counsel—even if it hurts. When hard winds hit young trees, it strengthens their roots for future growth.
Whether you’re a blogger, an executive, and entrepreneur, or a pastor, there’s room to grow—and troubles if we don’t. I’ve known many people whose success has outstripped their character. In some cases the results have been disastrous. Other times there has been a chance for recovery. But do you want to bank on a rebound?
I don’t. My future is too important to risk over shallow roots or shallow character. I bet yours is too.
Question: What habits or practices do you use to build your character?