Foundational Character

Character. 

First, let’s start with the definition. Character is what you do when no one is watching. If this is the case, what does that even mean anymore? We post everything we do on social media. We post what we eat, what we wear, what we’re listening to. The only things it seems we don’t post are things we are ashamed of, which honestly, if you spend too many hours on YouTube you’ll realize is not much. 

As a high school teacher, I can tell you that positive reinforcement is drilled into teachers in almost every training we go to. Studies show that positive reinforcement tends to work even when the reinforcer leaves the equation, so we started using it in education all over the place. Teacher buy loads of candy, do treasure chests, have games with prizes, all so that students can feel an immediate positivity about reaching some kind of goal or exhibiting some type of desired behavior. This, of course, is a push back against old school academics with paddles and other punishments or negative reinforcement (when you withhold a reward) for example no recess. 

It sounds simple enough, and works a lot of the time. Students will respond quicker if they know they can get something out of it. So, great! That’s the answer then! …Right? 

Let’s take a minute before jumping on board here. What are we teaching children when we reward them every time they exhibit the behaviors that we prefer? Are we teaching them to value hard work? Are we teaching them to enjoy doing the right thing? No.. we are just teaching them to keep their eye on the prize. At best that leads to self-indulgence, cowardice, or short-sightedness. At worst, moral bankruptcy. 

See, we’ve stopped teaching children about integrity and character. Not all parents of course, but this, sadly, is the trend. We have learned that everything we choose has a consequence. We make our choices based on those immediate consequences and that’s that. What we are missing is who we are becoming in the process. Life is not about what you can accomplish, what grade you end up with, how much money you make, or anything else. Your job, your family, your schooling, your children, everything in your life is only the means to an end. That end is not any of those things in and of themselves but rather who you spend your life becoming. When we are hard pressed, that’s when we show our true character. What happens when cheating gives you more of a benefit than studying hard and ending up with a lower grade? What happens when having an affair gives more of a short term benefit than being loyal to your spouse who is struggling at the moment? What happens when you adopt a child who is exceptionally difficult and it would be easier to just give them back? Who will you be when the going gets tough and the positive reward doesn’t always come along with the morally correct choice? 

I will tell you that the end, and all the means to that end, will leave you with one thing: on your death bed, will you be proud of the life you lived? Will you know that you made a difference while you were here? Will you be confident that when you enter heaven, God says “well done my good and faithful servant”? 

Next time you are faced with a decision ask yourself: Which choice will make me more of the person I hope to become? Make that choice, not because of what reward you will receive or punishment you will avoid if you do… but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Character and integrity, they are the only things no one can take away from you. Protect them with your life because when character is lost, everything is lost. 

I love myself: An open letter to millennials in search of confidence

Dear Millennials,

imageWe grew up in a generation where we were told we were not enough. Not smart enough (maybe you have ADHD- get some meds), not happy enough (Prozac), not creative enough (take every lesson on the planet but also have time for homework), but at the same time make sure you don’t pursue all that creativity and choose a job that is not too unrealistic. Most of us were brought up in a lose lose situation. Here are some examples from a Kacey Musgraves song I just love.

“If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore.
If you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a whore-able person.
If you won’t have a drink, then you’re a prude.
But they’ll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one.”

It’s hauntingly relatable. This is what we were taught! These are smaller examples but at it’s core the message is: we are too much and not enough all at once. Self confidence is almost impossible with these standards. And the irony? The ones who fake it till they make it are the ones with the most success in this world. The ones who feign confidence until they’re putting down everyone in sight because it’s the only way to keep the pseudo confidence alive. There is something seriously damaging about this upbringing. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in life it is that you are responsible for your reactions to everything. You are not responsible for what happens to you, but you are always responsible for your response. And this goes for our cultural responses as well.

I was a huge fan of Meghan Trainor. I seriously listened to her last album on repeat so many times on my long runs I probably have every word memorized. It’s almost embarrassing.. but also not, because it was a GREAT album. Very clever, musically brilliant (the 1960’s feel was the bomb), and right with the times as far as the message about loving yourself exactly as you are. So, I went to listen to her new album today and I have to say I was sorely disappointed.

“I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.”

Yes, we all heard the bass that she was all about. She is very confident and it was inspiring. I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years about learning to appreciate and love yourself. I’ve learned that you can’t give to others when your well is running dry. You have to take care of the source and you truly have to protect your self image. Create boundaries. Learns to say no, learn to say yes, and all of that. But this? It wasn’t just this song either. It was the whole album. One was about her friends and how they’re the best friends in the whole world, which is great until you hear about how her mom is better than everyone else’s mom and her life is better than anyone else’s life and how you should be jealous because of how famous and awesome she is. And then, “I love me. I love me, hey. I love me.”

Is this what our upbringing has turned us into? I know older people are constantly referring to our generation as narcissists with all the selfies and posting on social media about every second of the day. AND I know how belittling that is and how they don’t understand our generation or technology as a whole. But the root of their complaint comes from a true place. We act like narcissists to mask how small we feel. How unimportant we feel.

Brene brown did a study on narcissism in our society and this is what she found:

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

So this isolating image of overconfidence with a complete lack of humility, this is our solution. We are all feigning confidence to the greatest extent possible (because apparently it works- #1 on the Billboard charts). And we become this. “I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.” We become the people that make others feel less than. We become the people that told us our whole lives we weren’t good enough through hidden messages like “maybe she’s born with it… or maybe it’s Maybelline.” Only, we’re worse. We’re not hiding behind these cultural messages.. we’re walking billboards that you are not enough, because if I am not enough then you can’t be either.

Listen, I know confidence is not easy to find. It’s not. It’s maybe the hardest thing on this earth to find. But I believe we are all better than this. We ARE enough. We are capable. And we are also responsible. Let’s create a world where everyone is allowed to be beautiful and everyone is allowed to love different things and have different dreams, just like we wish we had growing up. Let’s stop putting others down because of our own insecurities and becoming ugly people in the process. I always say the most beautiful people in my life are the ones that make me feel beautiful just by being in their presence. The same is true with confidence.. true confidence makes me feel confident as well. There is no scarcity in this. There is enough to go around.

I love me, but I do this so that I can love you.

Because you are also enough.

-Joy