Several years ago, I heard about a 5th grade boy who showed character during a summer all-stars baseball game that was intense and high-stakes.
Both teams were determined to win.
The boy, named Michael, made an amazing stop at short stop. Everybody in the stands thought he’d caught the ball for an out, but it was questionable whether the ball touched the ground before landing in his mitt.
The umpire asked Michael if he’d caught the ball. The crowd grew silent as everyone leaned in and listened closely. Michael knew that if he said yes, he’d be the game hero. His team and their fans would be thrilled.
But Michael chose to be honest instead. He admitted that the ball hit the ground before landing in his mitt. Immediately you could hear the crazy parents in the stands grumbling about the call and the missed catch.
Michael’s mother, on the other hand, was so proud of her son for choosing to tell the truth. Her pride grew when a father from the opposing team emailed her after the game to congratulate Michael on his honesty.
Now, all of us like to win, and it’s probably fair to say that most of us would love to be heroes. And while the desire to win can be good and motivating in pushing us to work hard, be brave, and achieve our goals and dreams, it stops being good when it overshadows something far more important.
What is character? Character is the way you conduct your life, and who you are when nobody is looking.
Character is making a habit of good choices, and practicing virtues like honesty, kindness, patience, and respect.
Character is how you treat people who can do nothing to help you.
And character is doing the right thing on a small level every day, because these small choices prepare you for those big choices that put your true character to the test.
At some point, we all face moments like Michael. In a matter of seconds, we’re forced to choose between doing what’s safe, easy, yet wrong and doing what’s hard, risky, yet right.
And if you put yourself in Michael’s shoes, it’s easy to imagine the temptation to lie. It took courage for him to be honest even though he knew he might disappoint some people and even make them angry.
Michael took a risk, but it was a risk worth taking because he kept his integrity. He proved that he’s the kind of person who others can trust and respect. More importantly, his choice allowed him to feel proud of himself. It enabled him to feel that deep inner peace we all want and crave.
Living in an area of very accomplished people, I’m surrounded by winners every day. I see highly successful adults raising exceptionally talented kids in this community of champions where the bar is set high.
In many ways it inspires me. I love watching people use their gifts to help others, serve God, and reach their full potential. With each generation the standard of excellence gets passed on, which makes the kids of my community well-equipped to become world changers by the time they leave for college.
What I’ve realized over time, however, is how easily the drive to succeed can create blind spots in communities like mine. Being overly focused on outward success – and overly impressed by tangible signs – can make character an undervalued commodity when the pressure to excel is intense.
I often have to remind myself that I want more for my kids. I want my children to care more about their substance than their show. How my kids feel about themselves is far more important than whether they look like a big deal to others. And while I certainly want them to strive for excellence and do their absolute best, I also know deep down that real excellence begins with character.
Because it’s not trophies, bragging rights, or bank accounts that will make children winners at life.
It’s not a running streak of victories that will teach them how to win and lose with grace.
It’s not big salaries that will lead to meaningful relationships.
And it’s not a perfect résumé that will fill the emptiness inside them as they wrestle with who they are and what purpose they were made to serve.
Winning is awesome, and I hope every child on this planet experiences the thrill of winning many, many times as they grow up.
At the same time, I hope my kids and other kids always value character over winning. I hope they see that character is really about moral fiber and understand that when they seek moral excellence first, excellence in the rest of their life will naturally follow.
I applaud parents like Michael’s mom and the dad who emailed her because they get it. They understand how Michael’s character win was a far greater victory than being a 5th grade hero.
And what the rest of us can learn from their story is to make sure we celebrate the right things at home. Our kids should have no doubt that what thrills us more than them being named Most Likely to Succeed is for them to earn a reputation of being Most Likely to…
*Comfort a classmate who is upset;
*Stand up for someone being bullied;
*Admit their mistakes and face the consequences;
*Agree to be PE partners with the least athletic person;
*Congratulate a friend for making a team that they didn’t make; and
*Work hard and keep a positive attitude, even when everyone else complains.
Kids with great character attract friends with great character. The perks of this are obvious. So if we really want to launch our children into positive relationships, and help them become the kind of people who earn the trust, respect, and admiration of others, we must value and cultivate the quiet strength called character that helps turn them into class acts.
Any child can catch a baseball, but only a handful of kids would have the guts to choose a moment of honesty over a moment of glory. If you ask me, that’s a strong clue of a superstar in the making. That’s the kind of child I hope to raise, and the kind of person I hope to be in my own character journey.
Thank you for reading this article today. If you found the message helpful or compelling, please share it through the social media below.
Also, I’ve written two books for teen & tween girls designed to empower them through faith. The newest one, Liked, is available everywhere books are sold. It’s getting a fantastic response as a resource for the digital age, and along with the bestselling 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, it’s being used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.
Have a great day, and thanks again for stopping by!