Three character traits to shape your life

Character is the essence of being, and shapes choices, opportunities, relationships, and ultimately, destiny.

Everyone is on a quest. We’re all seeking something. Most of us look for love, success, validation, joy, companionship, purpose, adventure. You could add power and influence as well, for some.

When I think about my path to any of these goals, the first thing I recognize is: I’m not in control of the outcomes. I can only do so much, only do my part toward having love, success, validation, joy, etc. in my life. My life is entwined with others, and their choices and circumstances will invariably impact me.

But of the elements I control, what strategy can I use to be sure I’m doing my part to have joy and purpose, companionship and adventure…all the good things I want?

The answer is both complex and simple. I can pick apart everything I do, day in, day out, to see what I could be doing better, doing more of, doing differently. And certainly, I need to evaluate myself, need to review my motives, actions, words, to see if I’m helping myself toward the good things of life. Or not. That’s the complex path.

The simple answer is found in just three words, three character traits I believe are key to reaching the best of self, and the best of life. As far as I control.

Are you ready?

This is what I believe: if you embody these things, you’ll have an amazing life, whatever happens.

The first essential trait for great character is integrity.

Integrity informs everything about an individual. If you have integrity, you’ll be honest. You’ll be diligent. You’ll honor your commitments. You’ll do your best in whatever you do. You’ll play fair. You’ll be a person of honor.

If your character is built on integrity, you’ll be able to right yourself when life throws you off balance. Your inner compass knows true north.

Personal integrity insures you do right by yourself, and others, as much as lies within your power. Integrity helps you make the hard choices, holds you to standards not based on convenience, or favorites.

Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.

Integrity can’t guarantee perfection. Instead, having integrity means when you make a mistake, you own it; you right it as much as possible; and you learn from it.

The second essential trait for great character is courage.

Courage joins with integrity to make a force almost invincible. It takes courage to live with quiet endurance in the hard times of life, courage to take bold strides into the unknown. It takes courage to stand up for what’s right, to stand up to who’s wrong, and to stick to your values and your vision when it would be easier to abandon them.

Courage is not absence of fear, but ability to act in spite of fear. 

Courage comes easier to some people than others, but for everyone, courage is a choice. You may have to find emotional courage, physical courage, or even financial courage. But each of us has the capacity, if we choose it.

Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by use. ~ Ruth Gordon

The third essential trait for great character is compassion.

You could think of this as kindness. I see these these terms as interchangeable. This is the ability to extend to others all the intangible values summed up in these concepts: mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, grace, generosity.

Compassion includes action as well. Real compassion, real kindness, isn’t just about having a nice attitude toward others, or voicing polite words. True compassion will find ways to translate into action. What are you doing to demonstrate compassion to the world around you?

Compassion is a verb.

I see compassion as a combination of attitude and action, large and small evidences of the way kindness flows: out of self, into others. Compassionate acts can be simple courtesies or grand gestures, and everything in between.

The bottom line, I believe, isn’t about the size, or even the means, of compassion working in your life. The important thing is that it’s foundational, integral, not just a matter of convenience.

And don’t forget, you are one of the people who needs compassion from you.


The other key thing about these character traits: you can choose to have them, and you can nurture what you already posses of them.

Some traits, some skills, are just native to the individual. You may or may not be funny. You may or may not be physically beautiful. You may or may not be talented. If you’re not gifted with a good singing voice, or athletic ability, with various inborn talents and gifts, your efforts to improve will only go so far.

But anyone can resolve to have integrity, anyone can make choices that reflect that commitment.

Anyone can choose to have courage. It may not be easy, but it’s doable. Having courage is possible, even if it’s hard.

Anyone can choose to nurture compassion. You can choose to act with kindness, offer grace, forgiveness, mercy…none of these attitudes is inborn.

Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece – by thought, choice, courage, and determination. ~ John Luther

So we consciously grow these seeds within ourselves. We become more aware of the struggles of others, of our own limitations, and we get better and better at seeing the hearts of those around us, not just their actions.

How are you doing with these three traits? Can you look back over past years and see how you’ve grown? Can you remember specific times you reacted with grace instead of anger? With courage instead of timidity? Do you remember times you went out of your way to help someone?

When I know where I need to focus, choices are simpler, efforts are streamlined, and I have my goals in sight.

And this is the beautiful thing about practicing these qualities: living with these values reinforces the power of them in your life, and the lives of others.

Integrity, courage, compassion…I want more of these in my life. I want more to offer to others. It’s not about perfection, or competition. It’s just the path I want to take.

What about you? Do these traits speak to you? I’d love to hear about the path you’re walking.


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