Quality of Character is So Much Better Than Success

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

I don’t value success or frame my goals or life around it at all. I’ve never thought much about it, but in May I had a major shift where I consciously focused on “quality of character” as an alternate to success.

People have limitations, and learn as they go along. The quality of their character is fully in their hands, especially as they become aware and wiser. Yet even someone aiming for a profound good, with the skill and dedication to do so, can see their plans destroyed by a disaster out of their control, unexpected. Even if expected, there are many disasters you can’t prevent, just protect against and survive.

I watched as the last year of my life was one disaster after another. A house that originally was to be a co-operative community investment turned out to be futile, a total mess that brought me to the brink of ruin. I drowned in other people’s debt, wrongfully lost my job, lost my best friend of 10 years, my other close friend died, things were stolen (a lot), broken, lost, fights, abandonment and irresponsibility, and my health was on the brink of hospitalization or worse.

I didn’t survive this and come out of it much stronger and wiser because of my success, but because of the quality of my character. I put my values and hypotheses to the test, and proved much of it true while also learning it much deeper. I got to see what I was actually capable of doing, what kind of person I became when I needed to confront people in harsh circumstances.

It’s an absolute tragedy that wonderful and wise people would remain invisible because their life circumstances prevented success. That’s literally saying “you can’t be successful because you aren’t successful.”

It’s so addictive to construct success-based stories for your life, and write yourself in as the hero of a pre-determined structure, that you don’t become the real hero of your real life, and rob yourself and the world of your greatest potential gift. This can lead to the “hero’s complex”, where a person’s success story drifts further and further from reality on separate paths. It drives them into madness or ego-corruption while also completely lacking real life understanding of the step-by-step processes.

In other words, attachment to success guarantees not just failure, but ego-corruption.

The powerful difference is responding to life as it is, and fully embodying your autonomy by recognizing it’s natural limitation. It’s not omnipotence. Without limitation there is no definition; without definition there is nothing to choose- no autonomy. Success is a story, and over time it removes us from our own needs, and connection to values beyond the narrative. What stays true and good that cannot be destroyed; what is pure at the soul. Even if this too is used as a story, limited by language, its structure can liberate us from the successful prison.

It happens. It can be redefined. Paradoxically you could define my success as the quality of my character. But no matter what language you use, the framework is completely upside down from the traditional story. The underlying values are about morals and gratitude for each other as human beings, gratitude that we still have each other and wise people after storms in their lives. If you understand this going into the storm, you will be able to surrender to it, and learn how to play the game of life in a whole new way.

You will watch success not only be redefined once, but again and again, as you discover new responses and outcomes. The very concept falls apart, and you will see a greater vision over time.

A vision where suffering is transmuted into liberation itself.

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