Wonderful people are made, not born. (NYT)

brandfiercely1From the CEO, People + things that inspire us

*Image from http://www.arkprojectnow.com/ from TODAY

I just loved the article by David Brooks in the New York Times this morning called “The Moral Bucket List.” It instantly grabbed my attention and my heart because as one human being to another, I watch for the very same things in people that the author was intrigued by, and I ask myself the same curious questions. What makes people good? What makes people kind? And how can we all be more like them? At Fierce, we have taken this exploration to heart and have established kindness as a core value for our company and we hold each other to this standard daily—with ourselves, each other, our families, our clients, and our creative partners.

I have seen the beginning of this transformation Brooks speaks of in my own life, too—going from a little girl who lived in a very black and white world in my twenties to intimately coming to understand my own weaknesses and core sins in my thirties and forties. I’ve learned that I am deeply flawed and that we must always show kindness and patience and love to others. I’ve been through difficult heart-wrenching situations with people I once trusted, and have learned what utter dependence means through a terrible car accident. I am daily learning what love means through my twenty year marriage and through the profound gift of motherhood—and what humility really looks like and why it matters.

As the author says, it’s about turning moments of struggle and weakness into occasions of radical self-understanding. It’s a daily and sometimes hourly journey about being better today than you were yesterday, and the people we meet along the way who are kind and good and full of love cast so much light and clarity on the adventure.

Brooks says: If you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

I am so grateful for the people who have been through the authors following process of self-transformation and who teach us every day to be better human beings:

THE HUMILITY SHIFT We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

SELF-DEFEAT External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.

THE DEPENDENCY LEAP Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.

ENERGIZING LOVE Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

THE CONSCIENCE LEAP In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

You can read the entire article here.