What is ‘character’? We’re obsessed with building it, developing it, downright finding it. Or at least I am. Yet it was only today that I truly asked myself what I believe character to be.
As a writer, I am fixated upon imagining up characters that are the right mixture of complex, intriguing and likable. To me, this is essential for a reader to stay with a book or story. It is as easy as ABC. Step one, then step two, and so on, until you have character. Boom, just like that. Next level character, unlocked.
But looking in the mirror and sizing up your own character is something else entirely. That’s a whole dimension of introspection that’s up for debate.
Of course there are things we all do not want to be. Weak-willed, cowardly, obtuse. But there is no clear path in life for avoiding flaws. Instead we stumble into sometimes painful situations which build character. What a miraculous achievement. Or it would be, if I knew what it all meant.
At the moment, my life is in flux. Everything is moving both quickly and intangibly . It feels as though the second I extend my hand to grip my life firmly, something shifts on its’ axis and I am thrown from my comfortable throne atop the island that is my life. Not every change is bad. Actually, all that is happening is so terribly, terribly good.
I am twenty-three.
I am healthier than I could’ve ever hoped to be.
I presented a story and paper at a conference in England and won an award for that same paper.
Yet, I feel a great deal of fear, nestled in my chest somewhere between excitement and anticipation. I force myself into new, intimidating situations which (so I’ve been told) build character.
As I sat in the lecture hall in Canterbury Christ Church University, waiting to be called to give my talk at the conference, my palms began to sweat and my heart rate spiked. I had to stop myself tapping my boot against the ground more than once. I am lucky to have such opportunities presented to me in life. But still, the nerves swirled in my stomach dangerously. Gratitude was not an antidote for anxiety, it turned out.
But when my name was called, it was like a flip switched in my brain.
Lights, camera, action.
Standing tall, I walked to the front of the lecture theatre with steel in my veins instead of blood. I was confident, calm. This talk was a simple performance and I was an actor of a well-honed craft. Was I feigning confidence or was I truly drawing from some well hidden well inside of me that was only visible in times of utter terror?
In truth, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the implications of that switch inside of me. Shaking in fear one moment, cool exterior the next. With control of that switch, it was undeniable. There is nothing I can not achieve, nothing I can not have.
That’s why, to me, understanding is character building. Understanding on every level. Understanding of the plight of others, the failures and wonders of the world in tandem. But also understanding of my abilities.
More ‘character building’ still, is taking ownership of one’s abilities. We are responsible for our achievements in life. Responsible for our potential. We must accept the choice we make.
Should my life become small despite what I’ve always claimed I’ve wanted, well, that shortcoming lands on me. Equally, should I choose to be content with the life I lead, small or otherwise, than that joy is also a result of me.
Character is responsibility. Character is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Character is the essence of our choices, manifested into being. Character is the deep breath we take before entering the unknown.
Character is looking in the mirror and seeing the truth, but also acknowledging the potential.
With this in mind, perhaps character is not something to be built but to be designed. A whole new craft to hone.