The 8 Traits You Never Graduate From

February 17, 2023

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Focus on Building Your Character Resume

What do you think people will say about you at your funeral? What would you like them to say?

These can be daunting questions, certainly not things brought up over a typical dinner or a casual cup of coffee. Answers may or may not immediately pop into your head, but regardless, just asking the questions may challenge you to stop and consider your current trajectory and how you are building your life.

It might help us take a step back and identify if we are constructing our lives around what commentator and author David Brooks calls our “résumé virtues.” The things that look good and sound good, but that under all that glamour may actually be hollow.

Or, asking and answering questions like these may help us illuminate a way of living that’s far more profound and impactful; a way that’s built around what Brooks calls our “eulogy virtues.” We all have an innate desire to do significant things. We’ve been wired with gifts and talents that God is inviting us to strategically maximize for His glory and the good of the world around us.

Whether you’re growing up through your teenage years, graduated from college, or are well into your professional career, we all share a desire to contribute and make an impact.

But if you’ve spent any time at or around a funeral, you know that the stories that are told and the things that get remembered aren’t necessarily a person’s accomplishments, or what filled up their resume. It’s a person’s character that often gets remembered the most.

He was wise and kind. She was gracious and loving. He could always make you laugh, or she was always looking out for the people around her. It’s who you are that often matters more than what you’ve specifically done.

In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek shares that to live with an “infinite mindset,” that is, a mindset that leaves a lasting legacy far beyond your time here, then you should aim to “live a life of service.”

If we are to be people who embody these “eulogy virtues”, something needs to shift in how we view significance. We need to realize that life isn’t a series of “finish lines,” or a collection of “graduation” moments.

If we want to build something here and now that has a lasting impact far beyond us, we need to recalibrate our focus back toward the foundational traits that undergird men and women with servant-hearts.

These are the traits that have no finish line. These are the characteristics that are useful and respected in every corner of the world and in any iteration of work.

While there are many we could choose from, I’ve narrowed it down to 8; the 8 traits that you never graduate from. By focusing on these, you might change everything about how you move forward into what God has planned for you.

1 - Humility

Creative thinker and writer Jason Dyba once said about humility:

“Humility is not an abdication of one’s own talent, value, or qualification. You can acknowledge your gifting and still be modest. Being humble is the generous expectation that everyone else is also gifted in their own way.”

This is in line with what Rick Warren said on the subject, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

There will never be a time in your life when humility is not of utmost importance. Humility is not the opposite of skill, talent, or significant contribution. Rather, humility is a spirit of being willingly second. It is a private, and often public, recognition that though you possess a unique skill set and gifting, you are not solely responsible for this gift. Therefore, you are not the only one worthy of credit.

Humility can feel similar to unrecognition, especially for those who are earlier on in their careers or professional development. But humility isn’t about being unseen, because even if no one else sees you, God always will. Humility is the way of valuing significant things while also being willing to set yourself aside. And as such, it is a character trait that you never graduate from.

2 - Learning

In his magnum opus, Dune, Frank Herbert wrote:

“Grave this on your memory lad. A world is supported by four things: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valor of the brave.”

Men and women throughout history have extolled upon the values of learning and keeping a studious spirit. But in today’s society of instantaneous and near-limitless access to information, we’re often tempted to exchange a posture of learning with a posture of knowing.

We think our knowledge will set us apart and contribute to lasting impact, but it’s actually our humble spirit of learning that will mark us as different and will contribute to long-term significance.

You’ll never reach the point in life where it’s beneath you to take on the role of a student.

3 - Listening

It’s never been easier to raise our voices and share our opinions. In many ways, this shift in culture has been helpful, but it’s often come at the expense of understanding the power of a slow-to-speak and quick-to-listen spirit.

You’ve likely heard it said that you have two ears and one mouth and that the frequency of our behaviors should mimic this distinction. It’s not uncommon to associate listening with those who lack experience and speaking with those who are more advanced.

While this has some merit, the need to listen doesn’t disappear the further along you get in life. In fact, as the voices around you get louder, the ability to listen and listen well will be a character trait you’ll find yourself grateful for.

4 - Empathy

When we attempt to graduate from empathy, what we’re really saying is that we no longer feel it necessary to try to understand where people are coming from or what they are walking through.

We begin to think that our significance and our contribution sets us apart from the common human experience and we start to see people, talents, and resources around us as means to advance our impact rather than the gifts that they are.

Empathy is unmasterable, which is fantastic news because as human beings, you and I will continue to need the empathy of others around us as we grow and become all that God has called us to be.

No matter where you’re at on your journey, you want to be someone that strives to understand and appreciate the cost, the calling, and the circumstances of others.

5 - Wisdom

Ezekiel 28:17 says, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor."

Have you ever felt that sting? Of corrupted wisdom for the sake of splendor? Maybe it’s a blurring of lines in the name of accomplishment. Maybe it’s a small compromise in the vein of standing out.

Wisdom is not just a heightened sense of decision-making. It is a way of living that corresponds with God’s good and right path even though your steps may be shadowed. It’s an alignment. It’s getting in the tidal flow of God’s intentions and bringing light wherever you go.

There is no cutoff for wisdom or graduation from foolishness. Being wise is a day-by-day, slow and steady accumulation of vision that can set your life apart.

6 - Patience

Trees don’t rise up overnight. Healing rarely happens in a matter of minutes. We know both from creation and from our own experiences that good things often take time. And yet, it’s easy to wish for and want the opposite.

We live in an era of microwaves, instant messaging, and quick fixes. We tend to think that if something takes too long, it must be wrong. But patience is a fruit of the Spirit for a reason. Our contentment with the process or our acceptance of the long arc is a great indication of growing strength and maturity.

When we embrace patience, we are poised for significant contributions.

Just because something doesn’t happen quickly doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen.

7 - Sacrifice

The nuance of sacrifice might look different throughout life’s many stages, but the necessity of sacrifice remains constant. There will always be a cost associated with building something that lasts.

The secret of sacrifice is learning how to not lean away from the tension, but to embrace it with joy and trust that what you’re giving up is worth what you will gain. It’s to keep giving without reducing, minimizing, or becoming embittered at the cost.

Although we might wish for it, there is no secret moment when all of a sudden we no longer have to pay the cost of the sacrificial mission we get to be a part of.

So rather than despise the difficulty, strive to embrace the truth that you never graduate from sacrifice.

8 - Gratitude

Last but not least is the trait of gratitude. It’s not an understatement to say that you could put into practice the previous 7 traits, but without gratitude, they would be like stale bread or stripped screws.

Gratitude is what gives perspective and panache. It is what transforms your attitude from martyr to contributor, from “not-where-I-want-to-be” to “I’m-not-done-yet,” from frustrated to faithful.

Show me a grateful person and I’ll show you someone who can go the distance. Find someone who practices gratitude and you’ll have an anchor for any and all circumstances. Be someone who embraces gratitude and watch as joy transforms you and the tide of contentment lifts everything else in your life.

Growing Up > Growing Old

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old.” - Maya Angelou

If we’re not careful, we can spend the majority of our lives just growing old. We can spend our passions, talents, and unique giftings on our resume virtues, and neglect our eulogy virtues.

We can cross the various finish lines in life: the end of school, the first job, marriage, kids, etc., and we can never stop and think about what we’re truly building and standing on. However, that doesn’t have to be your story.

You can embrace a life of significant service and you can continue to deepen your roots by focusing more and more on the traits that you never graduate from. You can construct a life that you love and that gives value to others around you, but it’s going to take intentionality, focus, and a willingness to keep pushing forward into things like humility, learning, listening, empathy, wisdom, patience, sacrifice, and gratitude.

If you commit to these traits, you’ll leave a lasting imprint on your work, your friendships, and the community around you.

To learn more about what it means to make a kingdom impact in the world, sign up for the Scatter Email!

Written by Jake Daghe

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