9 Everyday Situations That Say More About Character Than You Think

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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.

The things we choose to make important in our lives can be silly, huh?

Like, spending an extra thirty seconds walking to a building’s front entrance isn’t that big of a deal, is it? How much would your life really change if you started intentionally parking in the most distant corner of the parking lot?

Most character growth starts when you shift your perspective to what really matters in life.

Most character growth starts when you shift your perspective to what really matters in life. Click To Tweet
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2. How you react to slow Internet

This one 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. The way we react to minor inconveniences – like a long checkout line at the grocery store, traffic on our way to work, or a late package delivery – says a lot about our character.

The way we react to minor inconveniences says a lot about our character. Click To Tweet

Life is never going to move at your speed. And you are not the center of the Universe. The next time you get stuck in a long line or a webpage takes a little longer to load than normal, take the opportunity to pause. 

Take a breath.

Acknowledge there are things in life you can’t control – and that’s okay.

And then reframe your perspective a little bit. Express gratitude that you get to live in a world with grocery stores, Wi-Fi, cars, and two-day shipping – even if they don’t always work when you need them to.

Trust me, life will go on in spite of any minor inconveniences that may crop up throughout your day. And it’s much better to spend those moments grateful for what you have than frustrated at what you don’t.

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 there are 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.

You may have to throw away most of what a critic says, but don’t throw away the opportunity for growth in the process.

You may have to throw away most of what a critic says, but don't throw away the opportunity for growth in the process. Click To Tweet

5. What you tell yourself when you make a mistake

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? I mean, otherwise the little ‘clean’ light goes off and you can mix dirty and clean dishes together – an unspeakable evil if there ever was one.

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

And if it bothers you that much, then you be the one to take care of it. Often times, being a judgmental critic doesn’t make you part of the solution – it makes you part of the problem. So, roll your sleeves up and take out the trash.

Often times, being a judgmental critic doesn't make you part of the solution - it makes you part of the problem. Click To Tweet

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 you’re the one with the correct viewpoints, the air-tight opinions, and the appropriate tone, right? The world would be so much better if everyone shared the exact same beliefs and lifestyle as you, huh?

Ouch.

More often than not, social media brings out the worst in us. Maybe it’s because we feel “safer” being cruel to each other behind a keyboard, or maybe it’s because the algorithm prioritizes things that it knows will get an angry reaction out of us (I suspect it’s both), but I don’t think social media has necessarily made us more loving, empathetic, and compassionate.

How do you react when you come across a social media post from someone with whom you disagree? Do get angry and let that anger seep into other parts of your day? Do you fire off an angry rebuttal to trigger a back-and-forth comment war (that’ll ultimately go nowhere and not convince anybody)?

Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t ever live let social media trick you into believing people are less than the sum of their parts. We are more than the opinions we hold in our head.

Don't ever live let social media trick you into believing people are less than the sum of their parts. We are more than the opinions we hold in our heads. Click To Tweet

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.

Do you leave your shopping cart in the parking lot? Do you return it in a huff, angrily slamming into other carts in the corral? Or do you return it in such a way that it’ll make life easier for other customers or store’s employees?

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

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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