9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself

Sometimes progress in life can be tough to measure.

You might feel stuck right now. Or just the opposite—you might feel like you’re making incredible progress.

But are you?  How would you know?

Of all the areas in which I want to make progress in this life, character (which is inherently tied to spiritual growth) is the greatest.

How do you know how your character is doing…really?

It’s important because, in the scheme of life, character trumps gifting. The headlines are littered with gifted people whose character (or lack of it) caused their downfall. Your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.

Surprisingly, your character isn’t just revealed in your best moments. The truth often breaks out in the little moments.

If you want to know how your character is really doing, check yourself in these 9 everyday moments we all encounter.

Your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you. Click To Tweet

9 Everyday Things That Reveal Way Too Much About Your Character

Before I jump into the list, just know I have failed every one of these tests at some point in my life.

Okay, sometimes I still fail some of them. But you have to have something to work toward, don’t you?

1. What you think when someone takes ‘your’ parking spot

You know that moment when you get to the mall parking lot and see the empty space, only to have someone else dart in? Yes. That moment.

Or the parking space you always park in at work that someone else had the audacity to use yesterday? And no, it didn’t have a reserved sign or anything…but the planet should know that’s your space!!!

What happens inside you in that moment?

That’s your character speaking.

2. How you react to slow internet

So this is a major fail for me. If the state of my character could be entirely summed up by my reaction to slow internet, I should probably be locked up from society at large and I would certainly miss out on heaven. I only throw things on the inside, but inside my little mind, there’s not much left standing.

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life.

Apparently the Holy Spirit and I have some work to do around internet connection speeds.

3. The gap between what you think and what you say when someone compliments you

Christians are famous for false humility. Thanks, that wasn’t me…it was the Lord sounds good but has several problems with it.

First, the Lord probably doesn’t sing or preach as poorly as you do. How many nobody’s-told-me-how-bad-I-really-am Christian singers or preachers have ascribed their gift to God?

And second, let’s say you really are gifted. Even if you are decent at what you do—or great at it— there can be a gap between what you say publicly and what you think privately.

What you say: Thanks. It really wasn’t much. 

What you think: Yes, I kind of rocked it, didn’t I?

What you say: Oh, I’m not sure I deserve that. 

What you think: Yes I do. Finally someone noticed. 

So what do you say when someone compliments you? How about ‘Thank you. I’m grateful it helped’?

And then how about privately thanking God for the way he might have used you in that situation?

That’s a decent start.

As C.S. Lewis said, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. C.S. Lewis Click To Tweet

4. How you respond to critics

Haters gonna hate.

But do you hate back? Or start listing off a thousand reasons why they’re wrong? Or try to subtly undermine their reputation?

Critics used to trigger a defensiveness in me that was primal. Now…for the most part…they don’t.

What if when someone criticized you, you said thank you instead (silently or out loud)? There’s usually something you can learn from them. And often there’s a kernel of truth…even if it’s very small.

Even if you have to throw away most of what a critic says, you don’t have to throw away the learning.

Even if you throw away most of what a critic says, you don't have to throw away the learning. Click To Tweet

5. What you tell yourself when you make a mistake

So what self-talk loop plays in your head when you make a mistake?

For too many of us, it’s unhealthy. It can range from You’re so stupid to You never make mistakes…other people do. 

Neither is good.

Again, mistakes are tremendous learning opportunities. They are rarely fatal.

And one of the keys to success in life is not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get up. To be successful, you only need to get up one more time than you got knocked down.

To be successful, you only need to get up one more time than you got knocked down. Click To Tweet

6. How you react when someone overfills the trash…and doesn’t take it out

This one’s all about the expectations you have about other people.

Yes, there’s an unwritten rule that people who overfill the trash should take it out. Isn’t there? Isn’t there?

And isn’t there a rule about the person who opened the clean dishwasher being the one who has to empty it…because otherwise the little ‘clean’ light goes off and you can mix dirty and clean dishes together…an unspeakable evil.

But there’s also an unwritten rule about not being a jerk about it either when the rule gets broken.

7. Your social media voice

So you’re complex. You have moods, nuances and fascinating parts of your personality that are oh-so diverse. But chances are your friends could sum up your personality with a single adjective.

If you’re not sure that’s true, flip the equation. You can probably sum up your friends’ social media voice in a single word. As in…he’s angry, or she’s so insecure.

If your friend summed up your social media voice in a single word, what word would they use? Snarky? Bitter? Braggy? Kind? Cynical? Hopeful? Petty? Helpful? Jealous?

Yes. You have a voice. What is it?

Your voice may be who you really are or pretend to be. But is it who you are called to be?

Your social media voice may reveal who you really are. But is it who you're called to be? Click To Tweet

8. How you react to other people’s social media voice

So, of course, you do a much better job than other people on social media, don’t you?

Because your voice—my voice—is so beautifully appropriate.


(I’m so arrogant.)


9. How you return the shopping cart

It was a random tweet years ago by my friend Jeff Henderson that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Jeff tweeted “You can tell an awful lot about a person’s character by how they return the shopping cart.”

He’s right.

You can tell a lot about a person's character by how they return the shopping cart. @JeffHenderson Click To Tweet

The Little Things Are What Everyone Remembers

So why is any of this important?

Well, believe it or not, your character is what your spouse and kids will talk about after you’ve died.

As a pastor, I’ve done my share of funerals over the years. In over two decades of helping families after a death, I’ve never seen a son pull out his dad’s résumé at the funeral. I’ve never heard the kids discuss a parent’s net worth while they stood around the casket or urn. I promise you, nobody close to you will be reciting the stats from your final quarter at your celebra- tion of life.

When I meet with families after a death, the legacy of the person who died becomes apparent within minutes. Sadly, it’s not always great. I’ve seen some very hurt spouses and kids try to find nice things to say but come up with only a few awkward phrases that mask years of pain. I’ve also seen hearts that over time have grown dull and even indifferent to the deceased. Sure, nobody’s glad she’s dead, but they’re not necessarily sad either.

So…how do you work on your character?

That’s one of the 7 greatest challenges everyone no one expects but everyone experiences, and I write about it in my new book, Didn’t See It Coming.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

What about you?

What are you learning about faith and the little moments?

What would you add to this list? Scroll down and leave a comment!

9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself


  1. Craig Walker on October 4, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Hey Carey, I just read your post and said, “Dang, that’s good.” So, I read the whole post out loud to my wife. The one on, what do you think when someone parks in “your” parking spot, got me. Like you, I didn’t say anything, but on the inside… That was a different story. I make it a point to park farthest from our church building to leave room for others to park close. Then one morning the youth pastor started parking in that spot. And he did it the next day, too. I wanted to fire him (only on the inside).

    Awesome article!

    I have recently retired from the lead pastor role and I turned the reigns over to, guess who, the youth pastor. It was a great decision. He’s doing an awesome job. I just can’t wait until someone parks in “his” parking spot. JK.

    On a side note, I’m launching a new career that I know very little about, coaching pastors. One day I’ll get the courage to reach out to you for a chat. 🙂

  2. Logah divine on September 28, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I want to know if that is my really character from my maker

  3. Brian Donald Oscar Collard on September 19, 2019 at 8:57 am

    I guess I’m pretty screwed up in the head then. Most days I really don’t know what to do or where to go, or even how to handle different situations with tact.I was taught to just dive in and do it the way I think it should be done. Boy I’ve got a long long way to go. Am homeless at present and sitting g in a Tim Horton’s store to keep warm and safe from the elements. Maybe I really don’t know what to do or where to go in life. I’ve not been schooled in achienving at all I guwess. Feeling lost and let down, most days are a disappointment, no friends, no real relationships. Just alone with no real hope ortrust in myself anymore.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 19, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      Hey Brian,

      I am so sorry to hear this, you are in a tough spot.

      If you are realizing that you need to make a change in life, I know that there are lots of programs designed to help you in your current situation. I would heavily reccomend entering one of those with an open mind and ready to learn and grow.

      Better days ahead,


  4. Steve Lanning on August 19, 2019 at 7:51 am

    I’m a new guy on your blog. Just found you, Cary…love how you write. Great God-honoring wisdom!
    Thank you for using your gifts!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 19, 2019 at 10:09 am


      Welcome! So glad to hear my blog is helpful.

      I’ll keep it up!


  5. Kam on August 17, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Wow! LOVED this piece on the 9 character tests (Reminding me of the 9 characters of the Fruit of the Spirit). Actually, the tests are a test of the Fruit that is growing in us by our putting them into action.

    I am looking forward to reading your book; any recommended mode to purchase a bunch for a good discount? Are you selling them directly?

  6. Julie Cheney on August 17, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Hey, Carey. Love your stuff! Gotta help a preacher out, tho. At the risk of triggering numbers 4 & 5 (yikes!), the humility quote is often mistakenly ascribed to C. S. Lewis, but Rick Warren is the real author. Keep up the great cause of helping pastors be better. We need it!

  7. ERIC on August 17, 2019 at 8:52 am

    That is all you are going to say about the shopping carts? Come one…you have to give us more on that. Great article!

    • Mike Gilson on August 17, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      Agreed, there are so many nuances when it comes to shopping carts – Do you take it back or don’t you? How close to taking it back is close enough? Do you just do it, do it with joy, do it with a bad attitude? Are you mad when the area to receive the carts is full, and worse, when they are not nested properly and therefore the area is full? Do you make a game out of it, by stepping on the back bar and riding it back, or even shooting it from across the aisle to score! What does each of those things say about your character??

  8. Hermila Sweigart on March 28, 2019 at 2:30 am

    Really good blog, thank you so much for your time in writing this post.

  9. Phoebe Klemz on November 12, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Donald Trump is crushing my spirit. I’m angry all the time at his selfishness and disrespect for others. He reminds me of the cult leader I was raised to “love”. He lies all the time like the cult did except the cult I grew up in were better liars. I actually thought I loved the psycho woman who led our religious cult and would have said I loved her the day I got kicked out at 14 years old. Now I’ve just suffered PTSD my entire life because of how evil and sick she was. When I see Christian’s accept Trump it breaks my heart because I see right through him. I don’t know how to stop panicking.

    • LarrycGee on August 17, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      What were your personal thoughts of
      Hillary Clinton?

  10. Karla Oliver on September 3, 2018 at 3:37 am

    How you react to drivers in heavy traffic, especially when they tailgate or cut you off. My reaction to someone tailgating me cost me a speeding ticket and about 6 hours of my time for an online safety course, but my attitude adjustment was priceless.

  11. Dianne Ramster on September 2, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    thanks for this post Carey – its one of those – “ouch but I needed that” ones. Excellent exhortation.

  12. Dianne Ramster on September 2, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Number 4 – reaction to criticism is a big cause of disunity in a church. What is the big deal in just saying thanks for the input instead of taking personal offence? If nothing else, that person’s opinion represents the view of a portion of the congregation who may say nothing. Taking offence seems to be the root cause of much conflict.

    • Michael Misfeldt on September 2, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      How you respond to a down sizing in your department when one of your co-workers has recently had a disability that limits his participation.
      One of my co-workers recently came down with an unexpected lung disease that affects his ability to complete some physical jobs but has no problem doing some administrative work. A few workers are looking to take advantage of the situation or urging him to quit when he can still outperform them in other aspects of the job. The manager has been made aware of the situation and hopefully will deal those who are responsible (will continue to pray for a repair in their character) or if possible their restoration.

    • pstbob on September 2, 2018 at 11:31 pm

      Dianne, I think it’s all in how a criticism is given. If the attitude isn’t right the one receiving the criticism will notice that and will have difficulty with it. But yes if it’s done in the right spirit, it’s true that we can say thank you and consider the concern.

  13. PD on September 18, 2017 at 9:07 am

    How you respond when your church is criticized for not meeting the needs of its members but the ministry for that need is in place at the church.

  14. JenM on August 6, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels on Facebook, though I put away my shopping cart and offer strangers my place in line, if I blow my top in my own home, it profits me nothing.

  15. Jerry Sweat on May 7, 2016 at 7:15 am

    How you treat a waiter or waitress at a restaurant.
    Great article, Carey! So very practical!

  16. Andy Minard on April 2, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Great article and title. It helps to know that even if no one is watching, God is. And He rewards the passing of these little tests like the shopping cart.

  17. Brittany Nicole Cissna on July 25, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I was surprised to fail not even one of these. So I have to suggest that you add “when someone makes you late”. This recently happened to me and I got really angry. I threw a fit and was yelling at my sister (even AFTER I declared aloud forcefully that I forgive her to myself before she returned). I could feel my behavior hardening my heart but I kept yelling. Anyway, we eventually got there and it ended up not mattering. I felt awful and I received the Lord’s forgiveness and offered myself as a living sacrifice again.

  18. Carey A Grady on February 26, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Great Article!

  19. Melissa Milbourn on February 24, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Great Stuff.

  20. 5 for Leadership (2/21/15) - Gary Runn on February 22, 2015 at 10:43 am

    […] 9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself  “Sometimes progress in life can be tough to measure. You might feel stuck right now. Or just the opposite—you might feel like you’re making incredible progress. But are you?  How would you know?” This is insightful and you will be challenged–from Carey Nieuwhof on his blog. […]

  21. Vicki on February 21, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Excellent food for thought. In this hurry up, hectic, all about me world, character or lack of does stand out. I’ve been guilty of all those mentioned and more. I actually had to teach myself to start using proper manners again. Thank you, please, and other things my parents taught me. Time to slow down and look in the mirror. This time with the sunglasses off!
    Thank you for taking the time to put this together and share.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 21, 2015 at 9:23 am

      That attitude will take you far in life Vicki. Way to go!

  22. Leadership Roundup | Worship Links on February 19, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof shares nine tests of character that all church leaders should look at: […]

  23. Tom Cann on February 18, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Ouch. GREAT post.

  24. JustinTime on February 17, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I think another good one would be – ‘How you line up at Conferences’ – that’s very telling of one’s character.
    There’s always that group that just walk up near the front of the queue and lurk about till its time to head in…….very spiritual.!

  25. Caroline Poe on February 17, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Makes me smile! I have a long way to go 🙂

  26. Luanne on February 17, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Yeup, I’ve failed at all of these. But here’s a ‘solution’ for the dishwasher: we made a black & white magnet for the door. When the dishwasher is loaded & washing we put the white side of the magnet up. After it’s unloaded and dirty dishes are going in, the black side is up. No more guessing!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Great idea Luanne…saving marriages everywhere. 🙂

  27. Joseph Marron on February 17, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I once heard a song called “Small Graces” (or similar) that mentions the way the teller returns the change, or how you close a drawer. The thought has stuck with me for years. Just like this post! Little things say a lot about us . . . if we’re willing to listen.

  28. Good Reads | Second Chance Pastor on February 16, 2015 at 11:23 am

    […] *9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself – by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  29. 'Nova Stevens on February 15, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Ouch! I was a very perfect guy until I read this.
    Lord have mercy.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 16, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Ha ha. That’s all of us. Thanks ‘Nova.

  30. Chris Shumate on February 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Each of these should be used as premarital counseling exercises.

    I’m sure the trash, for you Carey, is a bigger deal than for me. Your boys are older. I’m lucky my 5 year old puts stuff in the trash sometimes. Ha! So I’m okay on the trash. However, mine is certainly the dishwasher and clean clothes left unfolded. It’s something I have the opportunity to grow in especially within my marriage.

    And for humility…well, I am the most humble person I know, so I certainly don’t have a problem with being humble towards critics or when people compliment me…

    In all seriousness I see myself in 7 of the 9. I’m sure if my wife read this, she would answer differently for me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Chris…so honest…and funny! Thank you!

  31. Joshua Wilson on February 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I read this just as some lady completely deliberately cut in front of me in line at the MacDonalds. Ouch.

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