Updated on 03.24.11

Ad Ingenium Faciendum

Trent Hamm

The Latin phrase that serves as the title of this post means simply “toward the building of character.”

Character isn’t something that’s often discussed on personal finance sites in a direct fashion, but character certainly is a key component in financial and professional success.

What exactly do I mean by character? When I say “character,” I’m generally referring to a person’s durable moral qualities. In other words, a person with high character would be a person I would expect to act in a way that I could positively rely upon if needed.

How does this help with personal finance, you might ask. A person with character is a person that others are likely to call on if they need help as well as times when they have an opportunity. A person with character is much more likely to find aid in their time of need from friends and from their community. A person with character is less likely to be removed from a job that they have.

That’s not to say that any of these statements are absolutes. They’re just indicative of much better chances at a positive outcome and is thus much more likely to achieve the things that they want to achieve in life.

I’m also a firm believer that people can build character through repeated actions. The more you act in a behavior consistent with having a high character, the more you become a person of high character because those actions become normal to you.

Here are eleven specific traits that I would suggest indicates a high level of character, along with some suggestions for how to build each one.

Compassionate Do you feel sympathy and concern for others? A good way to do this is to simply ask regularly how others are doing, pay attention, ask follow-up questions, and recall those things. Many people are compassionate, but their shyness gets in the way of it. Also, if someone genuinely needs help that you can easily provide, provide it without question.

Honest Do you avoid telling lies? It’s easy to do this – simply be honest with others. Avoid telling lies, big or little. If you’re in a situation where you’re afraid you might have to lie, honestly say that you’re uncomfortable talking about that issue (I do this myself sometimes).

Fair Do you try to make sure that outcomes of a situation are positive for everyone involved? Yes, it can be tempting to try to get the best deal for yourself, but you win in many other ways for seeking an outcome where everyone wins. Step up in situations of conflict, be the arbiter, and look for a solution where everyone gets something that they want (and no one gets too much of the pie).

Goal-oriented Do you set goals for yourself and work to achieve them? Define some clear goals for yourself, create some plans for working towards those goals, and set forth on a journey of executing those plans. Goal-setting is a key part of almost any successful life.

Self-disciplined Can you stick with difficult paths toward a goal? This involves things like exercising when you don’t want to, plugging away at a challenging book, making progress on a difficult work project, and so on. The ability to keep going when there is no immediate reward in sight is a sign that a person can be relied on when the chips are down.

Sound in judgment Do you make sensible choices in all situations, particularly ones that do not put others at risk? This doesn’t mean that your judgments have to always match the ones that others make, but that yours at least make sense and do not put others at needless risk. It also means that you’re sure enough about your judgments to step forward and make those calls in challenging situations.

Respectful Do you act respectful of others? In other words, do you treat others in a way that you yourself would like to be treated? Simply be kind to others, understand their beliefs, and act in a way that allows them to exercise those beliefs as long as they don’t directly harm you. This might mean biting your tongue a bit when someone practices a different set of actions than you, but that’s part of being respectful.

Courageous Are you willing to step up when there’s a serious challenge? The person that raises their hand for a new responsibility is courageous. The person that says “I’ll tell them the bad news” is courageous.

Responsible Do you accept that you’re the one who, in the end, makes sure something important is accomplished? Parenting somewhat foists this on you, but there are many other aspects of life where you can practice responsibility. Volunteering to anchor a major project is certainly one way to practice and show your responsibility.

Community-oriented Do you make choices that benefit the community around you as a whole, and do you keep that community in mind as you make decisions? A person willing to spend his free time engaged in an action that benefits a large group of people, such as someone who coaches a youth soccer team or helps to plant flowers in the park, is a person with character.

Self-resepcting Do you do things that show that you value your body and your mind? Eating healthy is one example of that. Not dragging yourself through the mud all the time is another example. Not allowing yourself to be in situations where others can use you – and extracting yourself from such situations if they occur – is another route to building and demonstrating self-respect.

When I think of the people in my life that I know I can always rely on, they exhibit most (if not all) of these traits. They’re people who consistently do things in a successful way. They’re people that I would immediately hire if they ever needed work – but for some reason, they never do. They’re people I’ll call when I need help, and they’re people I hope will call me if they ever need my help. They’re people that I wouldn’t hesitate to give things to if I felt they needed it. I would give any of them a great recommendation if it would help them – but for some reason, they never need it. I listen to their opinions and greatly value them.

Character has value – a lot of it. That value translates in a lot of ways – financial aspects of it are just one piece of the puzzle.

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  1. tentaculistic says:

    I think this article perfectly encapsulates one of the key reasons I keep coming back to TSD – not just for the financial tips, but also the reminders to strive to improve myself as a person as well as a worker. Thanks Trent, I can always use that kind of positive message!

  2. Kate says:

    What a great post! It is so true that by acting a certain way, those actions become normal. I used to make excuses (i.e., lie) all the time, until I decided that I’d only say true things. That meant I kept my mouth closed a lot more than I was used to! But people now listen carefully when I do speak, when before they used to dismiss me somewhat.

  3. Great post! I agree that this subject isn’t brought up on personal finance websites very often. It also kind of relates to my own post today on the ethics of couponing. Saving money shouldn’t the end all/be all of every choice one makes. I also feel that many websites go off the deep end when it comes to couponing/saving money that there really has to be some balance that must be struck.


  4. This is an all around encouraging post. I think everyone can afford to work on their character and these are the things I’m working so hard to achieve.

  5. Pat S. says:

    Great points. A lot of what we talk about here and around the personal finance sites come down to the basics discussed above- only applied to the realm of personal finance. I think this post will be well received by all of us who see the building of wealth and elimination of debt as just one part of our personal finance journey.

  6. Jay says:

    Another great post! I like it that ever so often you inject this type of writing to remind us of the core values which are so often missing in this “all-for-one and all-for-me” world in which we live. Thanks!

  7. Jules says:

    I wonder, though: do you feel yourself changing? How do you know character is being built/shaped? We all know what we should do to be better people–but what does it feel like to be better than you are, now?

  8. TLS says:

    You can often see how you are changing by the way that you respond to people or situations that you find difficult. Maybe you are more patient, or show more compassion or understanding, or don’t get as upset as you did previously.

    A real-life example: a neighbor (who is kind of a jerk) recently yelled at me about a trivial matter. Instead of yelling back or bursting into tears (which I would have done in the past), I remained calm. I was annoyed, but the situation didn’t bother me very much. A few days later, I even laughed about the situation with my husband. I figure, my neighbor must have been having bad day (or a bad life) to have become so upset about a minor incident.

  9. Evangeline says:

    #6 Jules: Perhaps you realize, “If this had happened to be before I would have done so and so…” Maybe there isn’t an ‘ah ha’ moment, where you suddenly feel improved, you just behaving in a better way.

  10. Hunter says:

    I think it is honorable to strive for perfection as long as we can acknowledge the nature of mankind. I couldn’t but to think of congress while reading this post and how I believe our leaders fall short of the mark so often.

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