A friend of mine recently spent a few days in the hospital.
He’s fine now, but a few weeks ago he just started feeling dizzy out of nowhere, and kind of weird like he couldn’t see straight. He tried to shrug it off like it was no big deal, and kept working, but within a few hours he was getting worse. Finally, by that night, he asked his wife to drive him to the hospital.
He told me later he actually thought he might be having a stroke.
The doctor admitted him immediately, and ran several tests. Within a few hours, he was diagnosed with what he described to me as a stress-induced migraine, without the headache. They kept him overnight to keep an eye on him, and released him with instructions to take better care of himself — take time to exercise and maybe take more frequent breaks from work. He agreed, and was back at the office the next day.
I was telling the story to a mutual friend of ours, and when I got to the part where I said he was back at the office the next day, she said something I’ll never forget. She said, “If he were a character in a book, you would know so much about him based on that single piece of information.”
I agree with her, and it has me thinking.
The tiniest piece of information can say so much about us, don’t you think?
The smallest decisions I make during my day say a lot about me. Where I choose to spend my money, how I choose to spend my time, if I bend over and pick up a piece of garbage or walk right past it, the conversation I hold with the grocery store clerk — each of these things gives me valuable information about myself if I’m willing to pay attention to it.
But sometimes I ignore these things because I don’t like what they’re telling me; I don’t like what they say about my character.
I love the fact that the word for “character” in a book, and the word we use in English to mean “the essence of who we are,” is the same. It makes so much sense. They are connected, if you ask me. A character in a book develops over the course of a story, and we develop as characters over the course of our lives too. Our “character” isn’t some mystical or intrinsic part of us we can’t change.
It’s simply the compilation of small actions and experiences over time.
And of course we can’t control all of our experiences, but the closer attention we pay to our “character,” the more power we have to carve it into something we can be proud of in the end.
I think most of us understand this intrinsically, and this is why we are so concerned over what pieces of information we share with others. We’re worried about what it says about our character. Nowhere is this reality more prevalent than on social media. Thanks to Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, we all understand how what we eat, where we live, and what we do on the weekends says something about us.
There is an incredible pressure to perform.
The problem I keep encountering is this: the pressure to perform is the one thing that keeps me from gaining great character. It is the thing that blinds me from the actions and experiences that don’t represent the character I am trying to become. It is the one thing that keeps me living under the shadow of fear and comparison.
Fear of not “having what it takes” all because I’m comparing myself to people who are a different character, in a different story, than I am.
As I consider the takeaway from all of this, I think it’s fairly simple.
I can know a lot about myself based on my actions. Not just the actions I put on Facebook, but the ones I do in private, while no one is watching. And if I’m honest with myself, and willing to put in the hard work to change, I have what it takes to carve a story, and a character, that will live much longer than me.