Character: When it Comes Down to it—Who Are You?

Person showing what is character

How to use adversity to build character and be more attractive!

In this article we’re going to take a look at character; what it is—and isn’t, how our character is formed, why it matters, and of course, what you can do to develop yours!

Character doesn’t get talked about a lot, but I think it’s really important. Here’s why:

People with character are interesting

There’s a lady I sometimes see around town. She walks hunched over with age, and yet she’s always immaculately dressed with handbag, dress shoes and long styled grey hair. You can see an inner spark. On an island where women don’t wear make-up and people are proud to wear scruffy clothes I wonder who this person is. She interests me and I want to get to know her: she has character!

Why talk about character now?

Character develops as we overcome life’s challenges. We were all challenged during the pandemic. And we continue to be challenged by world, economic and climate events.

  • It’s in adversity that our true character is revealed; because what we do when times get tough shows who we really are.
  • And every challenging experience we go throughif we can really look at it, feel it, process and learn from it—strengthens us.

So, difficulties give us a unique opportunity to consciously explore and grow our character.

Adversity both reveals and develops character

Why adversity develops characterBuild Character Get Off Hamster Wheel

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller

Adversity delivers a shock to our system, forcing us off the hamster wheel of life. We cannot continue as usual, and are forced to think and act not out of habit, but from who we are. Under pressure, we’re stripped back to our essence, revealing our character.

So, whether you noticed or not, we each responded in our own unique way to the COVID pandemic.

Were you gung-ho or cautious, optimistic or pessimistic? Were you crotchety or upbeat? Were you flexible and open to change or did you fight it every step of the way? Did you want all the ‘facts’ or did you trust your instincts? Were you careful or more carefree? Did you rise to—or shrink from—the challenge?

No response is right or wrong. It just is.

So, what is character?Older characterful couple

Our character is formed from our unique and distinctive blend of qualities, thoughts, habitual acts as well as our responses to life circumstances, situations and other people.

Character could be said to be our unique “style” of being and interacting with life.

I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character! Theodore Roosevelt

People with character worry less about what other people think and focus on what they think. And when we call someone a “character” we know they’re being their authentic selves.

One of the things I particularly love about character is that our physical appearance is irrelevant. It doesn’t care about age, size, skin colour, knowledge, skills and abilities, class, gender, physical ability, financial status—or anything else. Instead character is all about the individual—and the more individual the better.

Character is ‘equal-opportunity’

What forms our character?

While character comes from within, it’s not something we’re born with.

Instead, every major experience we’ve ever had in life builds on the previous one to form our unique approach to the world. It’s not the experience itself that’s character forming, but how we feel and respond to each event. Eventually this builds up to form our unique way of being and interacting with the world. This is why even identical twins can end up with very different characters.

The most character forming experiences are usually challenging or difficult. And importantly they are not chosen, they happen. So whether it’s COVID, an unexpected loss, a betrayal or a big failure—character is formed from what we do with these experiences.

Think about your best and worst experiences in life: How did they shape you? How are you different as a result?

We don’t grow without difficulties and challenge!

Character makes us more likeable, despite our faults!

As humans we like people who are unapologetically themselves—even when they may be slightly irritating, and especially when they’re unconventional!

Without (at least some) character, people appear lifeless, flat and grey. People with character have a twinkle in their eyes that suggests there is more to them than you can see…

Have you noticed that people generally LIKE the prickly and feisty old ladies played by Dame Maggie Smith? We admire her “characters” like Lady Violet Crawley in Downtown Abbey, Minerva McGonigal in Harry Potter or Muriel Donnelly in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. We admire her for speaking her mind—and always reacting to life in her own unique way, even when she may be ‘in the wrong’.

And what’s empowering about character is that we can all develop it. It’s about the force of character that shines through—it’s about being willing to be different.

What Character is not

A tree full of characterCharacter is not your skills and talents. It’s not your knowledge or experience and it’s especially not your personality—which flexes according to the situation and the company you’re in.

Your character is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, it just IS. It defies moral judgements, it’s simply who you ARE.

Interestingly, character isn’t personal either. I bet you can think of a house with character, a tree or even a rock!

I don’t like the word ‘strong,’ because a strong character is never an interesting character. A character is made interesting by their vulnerabilities and their weaknesses. Helen Mirren

And importantly your character is not just strength. To be real and characterful there must also be human frailties, faults and weaknesses.

Character is who you already are!

Here’s how I’m using the idea of character:

I have found exploring character transformational! Whilst I have oodles of confidence professionally—I still ‘battle’ with confidence personally (socially amongst friends for example). My critic constantly finds fault and worries I  have been too intense, thoughtless or annoying.

But in writing this I had a BIG revelation. I have character! Yes, I have flaws (big ones)—but I am feisty! I have different ideas—and I like to challenge the status quo.

This idea of having ‘character’ is a powerful counter-argument against my inner critic, and it’s helping me let go of my fears. Instead of worrying, I focus on having character, and it works—I feel free to be unapologetically myself!

So if this resonates with you, when your critic starts up, try reminding yourself that you’re developing character—and this makes you interesting. Remember that your difference, your unique thoughts, behaviour, flaws and mistakes etc. are needed, because to have true character we MUST be imperfect!

Character embraces imperfection, flaws and vulnerabilities!

So, your character is a muscle to build!

Woman building character muscleWe accumulate character over our lifetime—it’s not fixed. And you can build character by paying attention to your thoughts, values and reactions, unflinchingly seeing—and being—all of who you are.

When you know and accept yourself, you can choose how you respond to other people—and life itself! You can express more of yourself—who you are—boldly and courageously, thus growing character!

Like building muscle, we must choose to grow our character—and exercise it regularly!

Do more than cope, thrive!

Will you grow from your challenges?

Adversity gives us the opportunity to sit up and rethink our assumptions about life—and ourselves.

Will you just ‘cope’ with a crisis or challenge, or will you pick yourself up and respond more brilliantly than you—or anyone else—expected? Are you willing to use a difficult situation to look at yourself honestly and courageously?

Will you take this opportunity to develop character for yourself?

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. Eleanor Roosevelt

Here’s how to grow your character

The simplest character-developing tip for you is this: Ask yourself regularly, “What do I think about this?”

Then if you’ve got that one down, or you want to take it further: I recommend keeping a journal or notebook (there’s nothing quite like writing out your thoughts and seeing them on paper). Observe yourself and the world around you during this pandemic – and write down what you notice. And finally, set aside a little time to answer the questions below to take your observations deeper.

Your questions to answer:

1) Who are you?

Any crisis is an opportunity for you to get to know yourself more deeply and see how you respond to difficulty. What will you learn about your character and who you are?

  • Observe who you are: What am I doing differently to others? This isn’t about comparison, but about using others as a kind of baseline, and saying I see others doing _____ and I am different here, here and here.
  • What’s working – and what’s not? Which of my qualities are helping me handle this situation well, and which qualities or traits are working ‘against’ me?
  • What capabilities are you finding inside of yourself? In particular look for capabilities you’ve forgotten you had—or didn’t know you had!
  • Will history be kind to you? If people were to describe you 75 years from now, what would they say about you? What traces would you leave behind in history? Would they say, “They always rose to the occasion”, “She liked to challenge authority” or “He was intolerant and rigid”?
  • How could you develop your character? Finally, consider what’s important to you. What would you like said about your character? Write down some ideas of how you could make that possible.
2) What do you see around you?

What are you learning about your world right now? Seeing the unvarnished truth of things can be painful, yet very instructive and character building!

  • Observe the world around you: What do you see around you that you like—and don’t like?
  • What has surprised you? What have you noticed about your world or society that has disappointed you? And what has been a pleasant surprise?
  • What could you do? Thinking of both the disappointments and pleasant surprises, what could you do differently to make the world a better place? What could you do more of, less of, keep doing, start doing and stop doing?
  • What will you do? Of all the action ideas you’ve identified above, what actions will you commit to? People with character concern themselves with doing what they think is the right thing.

Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness. R.J. Palacio


We can get through any crisis and be stronger if we connect to—and develop—these 3 areas (a crucial part of Fierce Kindness):

  1. A connection to ourselves. We must pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, wants and needs—so that we can take care of ourselves. AND we can also use a crisis to GROW our self-connection by developing our character.
  2. A connection to others. Will you use whatever life challenge you face to increase your connection to others? Consider how we all turned toward each other during the COVID pandemic. Every one of us reached out—and was likely reached out to. We re-forged and discovered new depths to friendships. So, keep embracing the beauty and essentialness of human connection and support!
  3. A connection to something bigger than ourselves. We can build this connection by seeing the bigger picture and pitching in to help. It’s about creating meaning from this situation and creating purpose from what we find.

You may also like:


Image of Woman full of character by PT Images via Shutterstock

Image of Hamster stuck on wheel by @olenakurashova via freepik

Image of Unhappy man hugging dog by Daxiao Productions via Shutterstock

Image of Tree full of character by RegalShave via Pixabay

Image of Woman building character muscle by OmarMedinaFilms via Pixabay

Image of Woman journalling to build character by Ginny Filer via Shutterstock

Image of Characterful Couple by Roman Samborskyi via Shutterstock

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