Last November, I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon sponsored by Tulsa Business Forums with guest speaker David Brooks. Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, a commentator on "PBS NewsHour," NPR's "All Things Considered" and NBC's "Meet the Press." I found out about the opportunity from a dear friend of mine who knew about my obsession with NPR and thought I might be interested in attending.
A Talk About Business
Of course I was! The title of the talk Brooks was scheduled to give was "Impact of Business and Politics," which seemed vague, but interesting nonetheless. As a doula and childbirth educator, I am relatively new to the world of being a business owner, and know very little about politics, but if I've learned anything thus far, it's been from paying attention to smart people outside my realm of understanding and figuring out how to apply their knowledge to my industry. That's called thinking outside the box. That's what inspires me!
Not What I Expected
I arrived prepared to hear about politics and Obamacare, how politics affects what happens in business, and how lobbyists are controlling the world. What I actually encountered was something very different. I didn't even come with a notepad, but as soon as Brooks started speaking, I knew I needed to be writing things down. I scrambled to find an envelope in my purse and shoved aside the bazillions of plates and dinner forks, and salad forks and dessert forks and coffee cups and saucers to start scribbling down everything I could.
I came for a talk about business and politics and instead got an incredible lesson on Character. Brooks wrote book called The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement. In the book, David Brooks illustrates how success happens. By telling the life story of a composite American couple and pulling from an abundance of relevant research from a variety of disciplines, the author demonstrates a fresh new understanding of human nature. The key component, he argues, that affects our decision making, and therefore life trajectory, is character.
Character and Destiny
One of the key things I picked up on was when Mr. Brooks started talking about the difference between good people and not so good people and their connection with success. He said that you don't have to be a good person to be successful, initially, but you definitely have to be a good one to stay successful. He brought up the Watergate Scandal and said that if you're not a person of character and integrity, eventually you're "Watergate" will come no matter how successful you are. Success, of course, can be defined many different ways; true success, I believe, has to do with prosperity that involves both finances and positive influence on people inside and outside of your social circle. If you don't have any skeletons in the closet, you don't have to worry about anyone finding and exposing them.
Character and Roots
If you try to focus on just things that will make you money, without building your character, you won't have a backbone to support the flow of income and decisions that have to be made to keep it coming and put it in the right places. You must have character and integrity in order to build the relationships necessary to put roots on the beautiful tree that is your business. The people connected to your business, who will support it and promote it are your friends, family, colleagues and customers and they will only back you up if they care. Character is what will move them to care.
Character and Failure
Many great entrepreneurs failed. Many great entrepreneurs failed many times, and learned immensely from each failure so as to succeed in the future. Thomas Edison learned how to innovate from his failure, and ultimately invented something without which most of us couldn't make it through a single day: the light bulb! David Brooks shared that failure leads to humility, which leads to success.
In his talk at the business forums luncheon that day, Mr. Brooks lined out several activities that build character. Engaging with one or all of these will no doubt develop and grow your character, and consequently your business. Among them were:
- Acknowledging weaknesses but fighting against them
- Service to an organization
- Vocation or a public cause
At the end of the day, you're the only one who truly has to live with you for the rest of your life. Growing your character to reflect someone that you want to be around is worthwhile. What are you doing today to build your character?