How Big is your Character?

When last did you hear someone say “It’s character building”? Growing up, this was the standard response to any tale of hardship. It frustrated me no end. How big was my character supposed to be? When was it big enough to stop building, stop suffering? What is character anyway and why is it so important that it has to grow so big?

Character is who you are on the inside and how you present yourself to the world on the outside, your unique qualities. Years ago people spoke of virtues but now we hear about values,  habits of behaviour. Many of these are developed at a young age, without our choosing them. They are thrust upon us by parents, teachers, TV and the behaviour of others. Someone with a strong character displayed values of integrity, commitment, loyalty, ambition and perseverance. While someone who lied, cheated, was dishonest or unreliable may have been described as having weak character.

Today, I don’t hear much about character. Now we talk about rights. Bad behaviour is justified by your right to free expression or overlooked due to your sad, neglected or difficult upbringing. We use an abused past to condone our abusive behaviour, poverty gives us the right to steal and laziness is blamed on our genetics. Our younger generations are growing up without the boundaries offered by values and character. We are so concerned about adding to their stressful lives that we are stunting their characters and in so doing, we are slowly losing our own.  We excuse our physical laziness with the belief that life has become too busy for exercise. We don’t have time to cook our own nutritious food or get enough rest. “Fear Of Missing Out” has destroyed our commitment and social status has corrupted our integrity.

The world has changed so much over the last thirty years. As I have grown older, I have become more confused about who I am. I have been told I am over sensitive, up tight, prissy, a goody two shoes, too serious, old fashioned, insecure and a perfectionist. Personal development has brought my attention back to values and character. Now I realize that I value integrity, commitment, self-discipline, self-responsibility, courage and kindness. These are the character traits that are important to me. Looking back, the people who hurt me so deeply, who shamed me for these values and confused me, those people have different values.

I feel a weight lifted, unburdened. I can be me and be proud of who I am, proud of the character that I built through difficulty, endurance and perseverance. I feel huge gratitude for the lessons I learnt and the people who offered those lessons. Understanding has brought the realization that a character is never big enough. A character needs guarding and constant work. It is so easy for bad habits to creep in; little things which break down your character and diminish you. I always have the choice of who I want to be. If I find myself lacking, it is up to me to consciously fill that gap with a new value and to practice that value until it becomes habit, thereby building and strengthening my character, becoming a better human being.

Humanity is made up of characters, you and me. If I want to help the world, to better humanity, then it is up to me to stay conscious, keep learning, keep improving myself and keep moving…

A Piece of the Puzzle

I made sure my children played with jigsaw puzzles as they grew up, for brain development and hand eye co-ordination. They started with very basic 6 or 8 piece puzzles and built their way to hundreds of pieces as they grew older. There is an addictive excitement to watching the picture grow as more and more pieces are added. Each piece is a surprise. Some pieces make no sense when you look at them individually, but placed in the right place, in context with the other pieces around it, its purpose becomes clear. With all our travels, we always seemed to lose one piece from a puzzle. One feels such disappointment when the last piece is missing, the picture can never be completed. Each piece of the puzzle bears a responsibility to complete the picture. There is a sensation of closure, a task completed when you insert that last shape. The picture gels, it is whole and it is as it should be.

I have done a lot of work on myself in the past few years, training, new ideas, delving into quantum physics, self-help books and courses, on and on. I found myself feeling quite confused with the paradox of oneness and separation. In our human form we are undeniably separate but how do you bend your head around the idea that we are all connected. How can I be both at once? How can I be me without hurting, upsetting or neglecting those closest to me?

Think about a puzzle made of millions of pieces. Each piece is unique. It has its own particular colouring, shape and place. You cannot put a piece in the wrong place. We humans are the same. When we own our “place” we are content and comfortable but if we try to be in the wrong place, if we try to force what we are not, life feels wrong. We battle, nothing wants to work and we feel anxious and unhappy.

Each puzzle piece is surrounded by others but the colours and details that it bears are unique. Each separate piece of the puzzle has a purpose, to be a piece of the picture. We, too, each have a special place and purpose in this world. Who and what we are, impacts on those closest to us. So when we put our needs to one side, in favour of others, we make life difficult for ourselves and for those around us. When we neglect our own human needs, we become “needy”. We compromise our values and get lost in a wilderness of limiting beliefs. Like a poison, this negativity spreads to those around us. As they pull away from the negativity, we feel more separate and alone which makes us more “needy”. In short, we get bent out of shape when we try to please everybody around us.

I realised that I need to own the picture on the piece of the puzzle that is me. I can’t change the picture or the pieces around me. I am in this particular space for a reason, so I need to be my glorious, unique and separate self. Without me, the Puzzle of Life is incomplete. As long as I honour my human needs, my values and my beliefs, I will be the right shape to fit into my world. Trying to be what I am not, means I don’t fit, and this just leads to misery. When I embrace my unique shape, I support those around me, giving them what they need to connect. That certainty of how we fit together brings us all peace and security. It is when I am not separate, when I try to be the same and to fit in, that I have no place in the whole that is the Puzzle of Life.

I wish I had understood this when my children were small. I would have taught them the importance of being a unique piece of the Puzzle, knowing they are good enough, just by being alive. That each of us has a very precious purpose which can only be fulfilled when we accept who we are. Our duty is not to conform to ever changing whims of society, but rather to own our uniqueness. Being who we are makes us separate from everybody else, but it also enables us to fit into, and be a part of, the puzzle that is life.

Until next time, keep learning to keep moving…

True Colours

As a child, I loved a new pack of crayons or Koki pens. The potential of those unused, pristine colours was inspiring and I felt compelled to test each colour to see how it looked on the paper. There were usually eight or sometimes twelve colours in a pack. I remember once receiving a pack of twenty five colours! Glorious, wonderful variations of green and peach, lilac and tan, colours I had never had before. Each colour was unique and beautiful and I loved that. There was a feeling of let down and disappointment when two colours, though different in their outer wrapping, proved to be the same on paper. I felt cheated.

So why is it that as humans we strive so hard to be like others? We want to look like others, dress as others dress, have what others have. We are so afraid to own our style and uniqueness. We judge ourselves against others and what others will think of us and our work. That age old fear of failure, of not being good enough, is lurking in the depths of us all. It limits us, curbs our potential. We try to emulate others by doing as they do and so we fail because we cannot be what we are not. An orange crayon can’t be blue. It can only be orange, glorious in its own right with its own unique potential. Just think how orange turns the sky from summer-day blue, to a vibrant sunset.  Because we judge ourselves to be “less than”, we think others will think the same. We rob the world of our own unique contribution and we cheat ourselves of our sunset potential.

Each and every one of us has a purpose for being here, one which only we can fulfil. Do we not owe it to the world to do whatever it takes to find our unique colour and add it to the box of crayons? What drives you? What do you love? Do you love something because it stirs your soul or because a significant other loves it? Do you love something but pretend not to for fear of judgement or ridicule? Own you, be you, love you and don’t be so quick to judge. Self-judgement disempowers you and steals your gifts from the world just as a box full of only red crayons steals the delight of a child. Draw what you love, film what you love, do what you love. If you HAVE to have a fear, which you don’t, let it be a fear of NOT. Not saying your say, Not showing your idea of beautiful, Not sharing what makes your soul sing.

From this moment on, make a deal with yourself to pick your colour, love it, flaunt it and never hide it in favour of another. Being you will only deepen and enrich your colour, so find more that is you, grow and learn and Keep Moving…