Character — the accumulation of things we actually do each day

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On this Father’s Day, I’m sharing an excerpt from a 2008 commencement address that James Fallows gave at his father’s alma mater, Ursinus College, outside Philadelphia. He shared three ideas with the graduates that are as important today as they were 11 years ago: challenge, curiosity, and character. Full text is HERE.
Here’s what he said about character:

“Your parents know what I have learned from seeing my own children grow: that a lot of what we are as people, we are from the start. But we’re pushed to be the best versions of our inborn possibilities by parents in the beginning, then by teachers and mentors, and in the long run by ourselves.
Probably because he was so busy rushing through Ursinus, my dad – like another practical-minded Philadelphian, Benjamin Franklin – always emphasized that our character is the accumulation of things we actually do each day. In the end, we are our habits, so it’s worth developing good ones.
Some are obvious. Seriously, don’t smoke! Or, type IMs while you drive.
  • Get in the habit of sports and exercise – by your tenth reunion, you’ll know who has and hasn’t.
  • Get in the habit of being happy. We all have problems, which we can’t control; what we can control is how we look at them.
  • Get in the habit of being excited. It’s a big world, with no excuse for being bored. It’s fun to have feuds and enemies – I’ve had my share– but break the habit of nursing grudges. Here’s a tip: always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them. Remember that anything hostile you say about people will get back to them. Especially if it’s in email.
  • Money: you’re going to have enough of it. Use the privilege of this education to know that you’re not going to starve, so you might as well spend your life doing something you love and are proud of. By your 20th reunion, and even more your 50th, you’ll see that satisfaction in work and family is scarcer – and far more rewarding – than the money race can ever be.
  • Some people will always be better off than you, so don’t waste time envying them. Instead think of those you admire – and construct your own personal Mt. Rushmore, seeing what traits you can emulate.
  • Take every chance to tell your spouse, when you have one, and your children that you love them. When in doubt, phone your mom.
  • One final habit: Whenever you have the chance to deliver a sincere compliment, be sure to do it. My father is proud to be from Ursinus; I am proud of you; and we all are proud of you new graduates. These are sincere compliments, every one.
Make the most of this wonderful day.”

Be a High-Trust Leader: make the most of today and every day, by developing good habits that turn your values into action.

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