Building Character


I took up running in the fall, and discovered (to my surprise) I really enjoy it!  The coach and leader of the run club had us out in weather where I would normally be staying cozily at home.  She would say things like “we’re not out to set a personal best on a day like today – today is all about building character!” when it was raining, snowing, windy or cold. 


The book “Against An Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives” by Ronald Rolheiser said something similar that I’ve been thinking about.  “it is not our strengths that give us depth and character but our weaknesses … we grow first by falling apart … almost always deep growth takes place through … our deaths, our losses, our dark nights of the soul … our souls, precisely insofar as they have depth, strength, compassion, and hold interest for others have been shaped by [times when we experience powerlessness].  It is not that these are good in and of themselves; it is just that when we listen to them we grow deep.  These inferiorities, these humiliations, are not things to be cured from, things to be solved, things to be ignored, things to be buried as private and past shames.  They are to be listened to.  They are entries into the depth of our souls.”


Hmm.  I can see this at work in my own life in one example – in elementary school when the popular girl (L) of our class didn’t like me.  I don’t remember details particularly but I was often on my own, and came home in tears a lot.  I did have some other kids to hang out with, but I’ve always been a bookworm so I found a lot of friends in books too.  My family & my mom were just wonderful – I remember a conversation with my mom where she said “I wonder what is happening in L’s life, that she needs to try to tear another person down so that she feels better?”  It’s a question I’ve often asked when I’ve seen this kind of behaviour around me at other times.  Because of the love and acceptance of my family, I got through this experience and became a stronger person, more self-reliant, less susceptible to peer pressure, more confident and resilient.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for a happier school experience at that point, because I don’t think I’d be who I am today, and I like those things about myself.  (as a side note, L ended up alienating a number of people in the class by these behaviours, and in gr 8 it had all balanced out).


But, take the experience of IF.  I suppose it brings certain gifts with it – perhaps a deeper relationship with your spouse/partner, certainly more compassion for others and a much greater appreciation of what a precious gift a child is.  I can see how a person might say “even though it was hard, I’m glad I went through IF”  if they do eventually achieve their dream.  But what if they don’t?  What if no tx work, or there isn’t enough $$ for adoption or more tx, or the window just passes and the couple knows that CF is the best decision for them?   I’m guessing not everyone would say “I’m glad for the experience of IF.  It has enriched me so as a person, I wouldn’t have missed it.” 


And what about other tragedies – like natural disasters, accidents, poverty, disease, war and violent crime.  I understand that bad things happen, and there’s only so much we can influence that.  I understand that how we respond to something beyond our control is really the key.  Maya Angelou, Victor Frankl, Harold Kushner, and even my grandparents and mom show great examples of responding in a “life giving” way.  But one could easily respond with anger and bitterness.  And even if you find a way to respond positively, can you really say you’re grateful for these events?  Maybe it is, and I just can’t see how at this time.  Maybe something needs to help us transcend these tragedies.  I would call it God’s grace, but I’m sure it has other names to other people. 


On the other hand, maybe we just tell ourselves we’re building character in an attempt to find a positive throughout all the negatives.  Perhaps it’s that little white lie that helps us persevere and survive.


If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to read them.


17 thoughts on “Building Character

  1. DC says:

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog to say hello!

    I LOVE this post. I also had a difficult time socially when I was in grade school. I went to a very small private school and got picked on mercilessly because I skipped a grade so (a) I was the youngest in my class; (b) I was a total nerd; and (c) I was always the “teacher’s pet.” I finally grew into my nerdiness and, by high school, had a very successful social life. 🙂

    I often wonder why we are each dealt our particular cards in life. I agree that I am a stronger person because of many of the struggles I’ve endured; however, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the universe is somehow conspiring against me. Does that make me sound paranoid??

  2. MoxieMamaKC says:

    From one Kris Kristofferson fan to another…thanks…reading your posts I can tell you are SO incredible…thank you for reading and understanding. I’m blog rolling you as an incredible woman with Moxie…I can’t get enough of Can-Do kinda gals…

  3. panamahat says:

    Being very under the pump today I have had but a cursory skim through all the posts in your blog and there seems like a lot I want to go back and delve deeper into. I wish I had time to do your post justice but also feel like quickly making contact is better than nothing.

    I am here from NaComLeavMo and you can find me at

    Hope we talk soon!

  4. Amy says:

    Oh, the clique-ishness (I think I made that word up) of the snotty girls. AG’s been battling this all year with one kid in her class. But the rest of the girls are an amazing bunch of kind, intelligent and thoughtful girls, and it’s been sort of heartwarming to watch them all refuse to play this bully’s game.

    One thing I’ve noticed about moms who strugged with IF or even just took a long time to get pregnant—they have this amazing grace and attitude towards the pregnancies when/if they occur. I’ve always been impressed by that, the way they’re grateful for the body changes, the lack of sleep, the nausea, and the stretched skin and accept them all with a smile. It’s a wonderful thing to see.

  5. Candelaria says:

    Into each life some rain must fall, even people whose lives seem perfect. My mother once told me that if I could see all the troubles in the world hanging from a tree, I’d inevitably pick the ones I have again.

    I’ve come to believe this. Everything is so interconnected that if you change one thing you can change other things that you would not want to alter.

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. (NaComLeavMo participant)

  6. Seriously? says:

    NaComLeavMo brings me your way and I found your post very interesting. I was not popular in school ever and often picked on for many things (red hair, weight, glasses, smarts). I always feel that it made me a better person (at leas now I feel that way, then I cried a lot).

    I also feel that this is challenging me in ways I am not sure I am ready to deal with. Can I deal with babies, pregnant friends, a childless life (if it comes to that)? I don’t know, I haven’t been able to do it yet (I avoid babies, pregnant people, etc.). My DH says that it will only be that much sweeter when it happens for us. I hope so. I mean I am a complainer but I think now if I get pregnant I will just be happy that it happened and not complain about the little things. Life challenges us and teaches us lessons if we are ready for them or not and if we want to learn from them it is our choice.

  7. Heather says:

    Wow … reading this post was like reading my own life in parts. Even the comment from your mom about the “mean” girl sound exactly like what MY mom told me way back when. I do have one child but struggled with unsuccessful fertility treatments for 4 yrs after his birth; I don’t know that I’m GRATEFUL for those years, but they have made me a far better person.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. In reference to what you wrote, I’ve never read Georgette Heyer but it seems EVERYONE is talking about her right now. In fact, there’s even a Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge going on over at Historical Tapestry – you should check it out!

  8. On the other hand, maybe we just tell ourselves we’re building character in an attempt to find a positive throughout all the negatives.

    I don’t think this is true- I think that bad experiences can completely reshape an individual into something better. This reminds me of when I learned of the Indian god Shiva- Shiva is the god of destruction, and it struck me as odd that one of the main 3 gods would be about something as terrible as destruction. It was only later that I realized that in order to rebuild our lives, in order to reshape our minds and our hearts, we first have to tear down.

    You are the better person if you continue to grow from your experiences.

  9. shawna says:

    I am one of those people that, in retrospect, is very grateful for my IF. I know that I am a better person/parent because of it. However, I don’t know if my perspective would be as such if I had not been able to conceive my little bean (he is now 4). I think that had I never had the opportunity I might have been more bitter than grateful.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Hey, it’s Jonathan from The Limelight. Just wanted to stop by and say hi and thank you for visiting my blog. I must say I really aggree with your thoughts on building character. Without adversity, there is no growth. Just look at Paris Hilton.

  11. Kim says:

    I too am now grateful for my IF experiences. Your post really made me think about how I would feel had the outcomes been different. Thank you for writing such a thought provoking post! Here from NCLM.

  12. Jendeis says:

    Here from NaComLeavMo. I enjoyed reading this post. I’ve been grappling with some of these questions in the past few days and am still not sure where I end up.

  13. annacyclopedia says:

    I’m another here from NCLM. This is a wonderful post – I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always found that the really difficult times are the ones I’m most grateful for (once they’re over!) The quote you shared is really lovely, too. Another good book along similar lines is “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. It’s very Buddhist, but contains a lot of wisdom about difficult times that applies universally, whatever our spirituality. It’s so contrary to our instincts to embrace suffering and learn what it has to teach us, so I think if we want to grow and change, it’s especially important to cultivate an openness to the “character-building” stuff.

    Thanks for this great post. And I’m going to snoop around for more of your good recipes – I’ve got some food issues, too, and the puffed kamut thing sounded quite good!

  14. Duck says:

    I’ve too thought about this, and I’ve come up with this, I already have enough character, I don’t need anymore. People are grateful for their infertility experiences only when they are no longer experiencing them, when all the pregnancies are behind them and they have their family they can sit from the comfort of their couch and say, yes that made me a stronger person.
    Like when you come home from a war.

    But what about those of us, that don’t make it home?

  15. Jenn says:

    Hi there!!!
    Thank you for the kind comments over on my blog!
    I too have wondered what if, after this long rotten journey through
    IF, we end up CF……… and how would I cope with that…… I guess everyone
    has their own personal point where enough is enough. I wonder if I’ll ever reach
    that point?!
    I like the “building character” school of thought…….interesting concept!!!

  16. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Your comment really hit home for me and I like your attitude to look at IF as a medical issue and not as a failure. Thanks for that.

    I am still in the thick of battling this IF stuff and while I definitely do not want to be here, at times I try to remind myself of what it has brought me besides the tears, financial strain, and question of self worth. I don’t think I will ever be grateful for the experience, but I am thankful that it has taught me to have more compassion and understanding for others – not talking about how great married life is to my single/divorced friends, giving people the benefit of the doubt as I don’t know what struggles have caused them to behave in a certain way, etc.

    I guess “hindsight is 20/20” really holds true. It is much easier to look back after the fact than to not know what is in store. Thanks for reminding me to keep looking for the positive. Some days this is very hard to do.

  17. I am so struggling with feeling like a lesser person because I don’t have children but I still have hope. You sometimes need a super powerful telescope to see it but it’s there!
    There are a series of books by Lee Strobel in which he makes arguments for the existence of God. To the age old question of why God allows suffering or if there is a God why is there so much suffering he theorizes that suffering is what brings people to God.

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