An Unfortunate Lack of Depth

Posted on Posted in Character, Mindset

Do you ever wonder if this is all there is? Do you question the point of what you are working on or learning? Do you feel unfulfilled and unsuccessful despite a rather long list of blessings and accomplishments? Or on the opposite end, do you feel you’ve been dealt an unfair hand and are thus unable to be happy or successful like your more privileged counterparts?

These are the symptoms of a lack of depth. You’re not shallow; your focus is.

When we’re young, our focus is necessarily shallow. It rests not on the core of our being, but on the outside world – our exterior circumstances. As infants, we are born without much in the way of capability or character. And so we look to others to care for us and to fortune to shape our lives. Our happiness depends on what happens to us. Are we loved? Are we fed? Are we given enough rest? We are victims of circumstance.

As we begin to develop, we are pulled toward greater depth. We spend our childhood years acquiring all sorts of skills. We learn to tie our shoes, speak our native language, read and write, interact with others, etc. To one degree or another,our focus shifts to our capabilities.

The highly successful among us realize that the more we focus on our capabilities – building and using them to shape our lives – the more we can affect the change we would like to see in the world. If we wait for the right job, the right friend, the right lover (circumstance) to come along, we might get lucky. However, if we develop the capabilities necessary to find and get the right job, the right friend, the right lover, we can play a significant role in creating our external circumstances. By shifting our focus deeper inside ourselves, we gain more leverage over the first two layers of depth. Routine inconveniences and life’s certain ups and downs hold less sway over us.

Unfortunately, our development toward greater depth often stops there. Our schools and jobs focus on building capabilities and measure them with report cards and performance reports. Our “heroes” are often athletes, artists and entrepreneurs who dazzle us with what they do, rather than who they are.

Throughout history, religion called us to seek the next layer of depth: character. However, as society has leaned away from the mythology of religion, it has largely left a character focus behind as well. But in the same way a focus on our capabilities gives us greater control over our circumstances, a focus on our character, on the depth of our being, gives us greater control over all three levels.

At the circumstance level, we focus on what happens to us. At the capability level, we focus on what we can do. At the character level, we focus on who we are: what are our mindsets and how congruent are our actions to those beliefs?

There is a rising chorus of voices yearning for a character approach. Ideas like emotional intelligence, questions about personal purpose and initiatives to build employee engagement are all examples. But all fall flat when they attempt to build character via capability. Here’s an example: an article in Fast Company that explains how to be a humble leader (a focus on what you do). Do we become truly humble by learning how to act humble, or do we become truly humble by growing into a worldview that says “nobody is better than me, but I am no better than anyone else” (1).

Focusing on building character gives us the greatest leverage, as Ghandi said, to “be the change you want to see in the world.” We build character by focusing on our mindset. We must maintain continuous awareness of the beliefs that underlie our actions and seek to learn and emulate the mindsets of those rare individuals who emanate depth of character.

I have been researching happiness (Positive Psychology and Philosophy) and achievement (Neuroscience, Philosophy, Leadership & Management Literature, Self-Development) in search of the mindsets that build deep character. Here are seven mindsets that are key pieces of the puzzle and which I will continue to learn about and share in future posts:

The Proactive Mindset: I am a creator, not a victim, of the circumstances of my life.

The Growth Mindset: My abilities and attributes can be grown throughout my life through deliberate effort.

The Purposeful Mindset: I can more powerfully act with an authentic purpose, values and plan.

The Mindful Mindset: I can make better decisions with more, unbiased information.

The Unconditional Mindset: I accept what is and focus on what I can change.

The Grateful Mindset: Given that I cannot change what is, I choose enjoyment and appreciation.

The Ego-Transcendent Mindset: I am no more important than anyone else.


(1) D. Brooks, The Road to Character

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