As I’ve listened to and read many accountings of stories from his life, from his time in the military, to his capture and holding as a POW, to his release, to his service in politics, to his family life, the thing that is so interesting is the steadfastness with which he travelled his time on this earth. As people who knew this man well, and some who knew him not as well offer their memories of him, each story sounds the same. The setting and the characters are different of course, but the theme is always exactly the same. Anyone who seemed to interact with this man, in the spotlight, behind closed doors or in the quiet of his own home, discovered they were always dealing with the same man. He did not seem to be one person in one setting and then become someone different in another. He was consistently himself. As far as I can tell, that meant he was someone who was honest, kind, who put country before politics, and who believed that service to something bigger than himself was what gave his life meaning.
It’s very easy to write these words. It’s very easy to think that I could aspire to this standard. In reality, he made it look much easier than the rest of us find it to be.
Times like this give us pause. For those of us who are introspective, it is times like the death of someone who is greatly admired that cause us to wonder, even if only for a brief moment, what our enduring legacy will be.
I can never be a John McCain. I’m relieved to know this. It is far too much pressure to try to be someone else. Goodness knows, I have trouble enough being myself some days.
As I’ve thought about Senator McCain this week, I’ve pictured people going to see him for the past sixty or so years. Some may have been seeing him in his place of work. Some may have seen him at public events. Some at family events. Some may even have seen him in regular everyday activities. What people seem to have been saying is that no matter where they saw or interacted with this man, they always knew what they would get. They would get the exact same person every time. What a comfort this is.
It made me think of times when I have gone to see some incredible wonder of our world. How disappointed I would have been if when I had seen the Rocky Mountains for the first time, they had decided to be less majestic. Or if when I had gone to Niagara Falls, they had decided to back off on their force. Or what if the elephants and giraffes had all chosen to lie down on the plains of the Maasii Mara when we had our safari there. Or if the sand on Bondi Beach had decided to turn grey when we walked that shore.
Recognizing that each of my examples involve non-humans, the idea remains. We long for things to be exactly how we know they are at their best. This holds true for humans. This was true for John McCain and it sounds, by all accounts, as though people were not disappointed. This too holds true for each of us. When others choose to spend time in our presence, they long for us to be exactly how they are hoping we will be; they long for us to be at our best.
The question becomes then, what does it mean to be at my best? It does not mean to become like John McCain, although that would not be a bad thing. It does not mean that I can never have a bad or weak moment. It does not mean I cannot be disappointed or hurt or in grief. It does not mean that each seminar, workshop, client appointment, and meal I create must be a work of art. It does not mean that each bike ride or run I go on must be better than the one before. It does not mean I need to smile when I am sad, or be the life of the party when I am weary.
It does mean I have a responsibility to myself, to figure out what makes up my character, and to act with integrity to align to that minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. Our character is something we chose. It is not gifted to us, nor can it be taken away.
I have a fairly good understanding of what I want my character to be made up of. I strive to live with integrity, to hold an open mind, to learn to be less fearful of things that are unfamiliar, to have a loving and welcome home, to encourage others in their pursuits, to be a good friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother and partner, to be a contributor, to add to society and to continue to challenge myself. I hope others find acceptance in my presence. I also strive to recognize my shortfalls, apologize when I notice it is needed and to find joy in all places in my life.
I hope I never get there. It would be such a disappointment to wake up some day and think that I have become as good as I can be. I think if John McCain had been given another ten years on this earth, he would have continued to have put himself in situations that challenged his character; I also believe he would have found ten more years worth of ways to make his character shine through.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What part of my character am I revealing?’
Elizabeth is a life and leadership coach in Calgary, AB. She provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups and she creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups. Contact Elizabeth to help you or your organization to figure out how what character you hope to be known for.