As human beings we like things to be simple, so we like to give things labels, put them in tidy boxes, and decide what’s best…which camp we belong in, what type we are, and why it’s better that way.
We often use this tendency to justify our lopsided characters. For example:
“I’m creative, so I can’t be organized.”
“I’m a people person, so I can’t ever be alone.”
“I like to be spontaneous and think outside the box, so I can’t plan ahead or follow directions.”
The question is, while we all have certain strengths and weaknesses, do we really have to think about character traits in terms of incompatible opposites? Or can we attain some kind of balance? A harmony between different abilities that reflects the unique person we are…
It is this balance that I want to strive for in myself. I have tended to favour creativity over organization and the intellectual over the practical. In highschool my Mum used to call me the absent-minded professor. I could get lots of A’s but couldn’t keep my room clean and could write poetry but was awful at paperwork.
It was pretty easy to justify these things…as in the examples above: “I’m too creative to be organized.” But the thing is, what if I had tried harder to gain those skills I found so difficult or repugnant? What if I had forced myself to plan ahead a little more, set goals, follow though, etc? Gaining greater self-control though more organization would actually have enabled me to achieve a lot more creatively.
For example, you have to mail your great work of literature to a potential publisher for it to reach the world, so not only creativity and passion are needed but also envelope and stamp. Or at least the discipline and guts to hit send on your query email. So while we often like to think of artists as crazy, passionate, or extreme, I think it actually takes some balance of character traits to achieve greatness. Not being able to find your keys on a regular basis doesn’t help you be more creative or successful, unless you are trying to make rather ugly modern art by throwing all your stuff around your house as you dig for them.
During university my husband, then fiancé, and I were briefly hooked on a video game, The Sims, in which you create characters and build their houses, careers, friendships, etc. Kind of a really fancy way to play house…and escape the pressure of studying! 😉
I always made my people very nice, but left too few character blocks to fill with other virtues like cleanliness. So I ended up with friendly characters with ok jobs who left empty cans of beans on the floor and attracted flies!
My husband made characters with ambition and order, who had gorgeous houses and careers, but would sometimes drive guests away through social faux-pas.
I guess our characters needed the traits of the other to balance each other out. Maybe they should have married each other, as we did in real life!
It seems we need what we tend to see as opposing character traits: to be both responsible and outgoing, focused and friendly, but we are all are weaker in some things than others. It takes a lot of effort to overcome these weaknesses, but “upgrading” our characters has the wonderful payoff of making us both happier and more successful.
What character trait would you like to improve on? How could you be a better, more balanced you? With a little step at a time, and a lot of good humour and hope, we can all grow, so never give up reaching for the person you want to be, while still loving the one you are.