Character: Build It Here
It’s a commonly held belief that undergoing extreme challenges or enduring unrelenting trauma will build character. If you are one who happens to be in the middle of such a character-building experience, on-lookers sometimes say, with all good intention, “Well, just hang in there, it’ll build character.”
I walk to work every morning from the subway station to my office building, taking my usual route along the Embarcadero past the Piers in San Francisco. Such a pleasant walk. The view of the Bay is spectacular and I remind myself daily that I am indeed one lucky woman to be working in such a beautiful neighborhood.
Ferry Park takes up the block between my building and the Piers. I like walking through the well-landscaped grounds, admiring the ever-changing all-season flora. Towering eucalyptus and graceful redwoods adorn the paths. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill roost nightly among these trees and when I walk by around 7:30 a.m. each day, they are screeching “good morning” loud enough for all to hear for blocks and blocks around. Thankfully they take to the skies shortly after they’re done with their morning scream session and head over to Telegraph Hill.
The other morning a homeless man asked me for money. I kept walking. I’ve found that it’s best to keep going rather than give an answer. He yelled back at me, “You can go to Hell.” I thought about that. I could have gone back and told him that I’ve been through Hell many times and that despite his urging me to make another trip, I don’t plan on returning.
Trips through Hell do have a way of building character. Extreme challenges and unrelenting trauma can weld the pieces of your life into one free-standing figure built to last. I don’t recommend it, though. There are other ways to build character.
I am a secretary for a group of investment bankers. You may be thinking that I work with a bunch of greedy wolves as they are often portrayed in the media these days. It’s the opposite. The guys I work with, and they all are guys except for two women in the group of ten, dispel the belief that only bulls run along Wall Street. These guys are more like high-spirited race horses. They run, as race horses do, with speed and alacrity, necessary to getting across the finish line. And what’s at that finish line? A new company now geared up with financing so they can grow, do further research and development that will create new technologies, new jobs, and better tools for living.
The bankers I work with are all a bunch of characters. It’s quite amusing and interesting for me to watch them go about their work. One in particular has impressed me with his daily routine. Every morning when I arrive for work around 7:30 AM, Chris is in the office. Around 7:40 he makes the same phone call every day to his wife and children. I can hear him even with his door shut. Here’s the side of the conversation that I hear:
“What’s in your lunch today?”
“Got your homework in your backpack?”
“Put your brother on the phone.”
“Hey, buddy, everything okay?’
“You got your lunch?”
“Don’t forget your jacket, it’s cold out there.”
“You take care of your mother today, alright?”
“Put your mother on the phone.”
“Great! Love you guys.”
And another thing about Chris. Whenever he returns from a business trip, which is often because investment bankers travel almost every week, he takes his wife out for dinner that night.
I’ve told the younger analysts in the office about the example that Chris sets.
This is how you build character. Find and follow the good examples. I know that the young analysts in my office have taken this to heart because they sometimes ask me if Chris took his wife out when he returned from his trip. I can smile every time and say, “Yes.”