Who we are is a process of becoming ourselves, of making choices that determine who we are. We each have a background, a history, a culture, and sub-culture that has shaped us. The trips to the park to play ball with Dad. Baking cookies with Mom in the winter. And some not so pleasant memories of trying to fit in with the other kids and not quite managing to do it. Looking back now, so very many years later, it still hurts and I wouldn’t change it. That experience shaped me. It gave me a first look at one of the tools I’ve used my entire life: being able to focus on what was in front of me. We call it ‘compartmentalizing’ now.
That’s the outside part. How to deal with this situation, this circumstance, this problem. The inside part answers the same questions but in a much different way. It is the basis for what we call character and the foundation for who we become. There is a saying that ‘adversity builds character’ and another that ‘adversity reveals character.’ Both are true and both point to the source – where we need to look: ourselves. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What do we want to see when we look in the mirror?
I got started on this train of thought this morning because of a problem with my eye. And yesterday it was my lower back. It would take too long to list all the little and not so little things that I’ve learned to manage or will have to learn to live with. As much as I still think I can do what I could do when I was 35, my body knows it’s 65. Doesn’t mean I can’t, it means I have to choose.
What does that mean? Choose what? I have to choose what part of myself I will develop, what part (or parts) I will work on, how I will spend my time, and what I want to accomplish.
I was reminded of so many others of my generation of competitors (1985-2000) who all had something to overcome. We don’t do what we do because everything is perfect; we do it because we have something we want to develop, something we want to do, something we are drawn to. And learning that, becoming that, whatever that is, is all that matters. It’s not easy. Never was. Never will be.
My choices back then focused on my practice. How can I learn more? How can I become better at what I’m doing? How can I become a better person? I found that was the most important.
There are some skills that can only be learned if the person who wants to learn them can be humble enough. There are some skills that can only be learned if the person is ready inside to learn them. In part, being ready inside means making peace with ourselves. That’s not a trivial effort. And there are others that we only learn through adversity.
“Neng che ku? 能吃苦？” literally, Can you eat (the) bitter (fruit)? 能。 Neng. Can.
I went through many things and gave up many others in order to keep my practice and continue my studies. There were good times with great adventures. There were all the hours of practice and study, alone. There is no other way to find out who we are. Others cannot tell us. We have to go look for ourselves, at ourselves. The choices we make as we are becoming ourselves will shape our character.
So when we talk about adversity building character or shaping it or revealing it, we should also talk about becoming ourselves. The choices we make in what we will do, what we will not do, and how we look at ourselves are what character is made of.
I learned early to focus on what is in front of me. Not behind me. What’s in front of me. What will I do today, what can I do today that will shape who I am tomorrow? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become?