Character versus behavior

There is a difference between character and behavior. That is to say, between who you are and how you act.

There is also a difference between character, behavior, and the labels we put on either or both of those things.

We’ve been talking a lot about strengths and weaknesses lately, and delving into your own person truth about who you are and what makes you happy. I’ve encouraged you (and myself) to lean into your strengths and find ways to leverage your weaknesses.

At the same time, it’s important to be clear about what is and what is not you.

Your strengths

Your strengths are represented in the areas where you feel energy. You will mostly enjoy operating in your strength zone, with the possible exception of when you are experiencing growth (typically through pushing yourself or being pushed toward the limits of your current abilities.) This could be spending time with people, singing, dancing, or organizing things with spreadsheets.

Your strengths are also areas where you have built up significant knowledge or skill. For example, if you have spent the last 20 years studying marine biology, yet your inner dream is to be a writer, that time you spent studying marine biology remains a strength upon which you can draw. It’s still capital that you have at your disposal, if you will. (And perhaps it will serve you as you write a novel in which the key characters are marine biologists. Or dolphins. Who knows?)

It’s not about being “smart”

It is NOT a strength that people have long told you (or that you have felt) that you’re “smart.” Frankly the word smart feels so problematic to me that I wish we could simply remove it from our vocabulary. Nobody cares if you grew up hearing that you were smart. (For more on this, see pretty much anything written by or about Carol Dweck and fixed mindset.)

Your weaknesses

Your weaknesses, as we discussed previously, generally have an inverse relationship to your strengths, and therefore can serve as clues to identifying what those strengths are.

To use an example which is well-worn in my industry:

If you are a highly assertive person who feels a great deal of urgency to move things forward (as many entrepreneurs do) the corresponding weakness is that you are most likely not very interested in details. In some cases, you might not even realize that those details exist. And if you do realize it, you might not care much.

Here’s where I’d like to make a point to illustrate the difference between a weakness (or strength) and a behavior:

You may be that person who doesn’t care for the details. You may miss them left and right, because you are so focused on the BIG. END. GOAL. That’s a character matter. That’s who you are.

And that is not to be confused with related behaviors, such as:

-Speaking in dismissive way about those details, and the people who DO care about them.

You may be the person who cares deeply about order and details, and sees beauty in a well-functioning and harmonious system. That is a character matter. That is who you are.

And yet it is not be confused with related behaviors, such as:

-Dismissing those who do not share your attention to detail as flighty or reckless or stupid.

I think we get confused sometimes, and conflate behaviors to our strengths and weaknesses.

Remove the judgement

Our strengths and our weaknesses are part of the core of our being. And when we encounter others who do not share these same strengths and weaknesses, we may not understand them, and we can be quick to judge. Our judgement can lead to negative behaviors.

Furthermore, this is not just about how we behave toward others, but also about how we behave toward ourselves. We may judge ourselves as harshly (or worse) than we judge others.

Behaviors are not the same thing as strengths and weaknesses.

Our strengths and our weaknesses are part of who we are, and our task in life is not to change them, but to discover them. And to nurture our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.

Our behaviors, on the other hand, CAN be changed. And if they are harmful to others, OR ourselves, then change them we must.




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