Some years ago, like most women in their twenties, I found myself seeking direction. I thought I had it all figured out at first but little did I expect that my life took a turn as I struggled through an identity crisis – Who am I? Why am I here? What is truly important to me?
As I searched for answers, I discovered that the self-help books directed at women have become an avalanche of information. From losing weight to aiming for the next job promotion, to becoming better mothers, women are under so much external pressure to achieve goals for so many roles that it’s hard to take a step back to understand the big picture – discovering and being our authentic selves. The need for approval from society seems to have distracted women from pursuing their real passion, or driving us away from connecting genuinely with our relationships, community and even faith.
So, I began to understand – having success is not necessarily determined by external rewards. It is so much more than just nailing one achievement after another. Instead, it is cultivating our inner well-being - our character - that makes all the difference. While I can’t always control the circumstances I am given, I know that by expanding the knowledge and strength of my character, I will be able to stay true to who I am and handle any circumstance that comes my way.
What exactly contributes to character then? By gathering common themes from positive influences, I derived a list of eight core character virtues. These virtues acted as a guide for me to understand and grow my character as a woman through time.
Here’s a brief description of the eight character virtues and how they have influenced me:
When we are able to recognize and understand our beliefs, emotions, personality and actions, we know where we are heading and make changes to improve ourselves. Improving my self-awareness has not only helped me to understand myself and what’s important for me, it has also enabled me to build stronger relationships as I become aware of treating others the way I want to be treated.
When we don’t know what our purpose is, it is easy to feel lost and disconnected with the world. For a while, I was confused by the concept of purpose, as I thought that it only had to do with my interests. However, this is only half the truth. Purpose comes by finding your passion as well as being part of something bigger than yourself. Instead of being self-focused, I tried to figure out how my passion can also contribute to the needs of others – and that sparked the turning point of my career.
A woman of confidence is one who is assured of herself. When I was younger, I had trouble accepting myself for who I am and I realized the harm I was causing myself then. Through years of understanding myself, I’ve now learnt to appreciate my skills, strengths and resources without having to over-compromise my needs. More importantly, I’ve understood the importance of being comfortable in my own skin - taking care of my own mind, body and soul.
There’s a saying that goes: “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” To accomplish long term goals, we need a combination of talent and effort, and the importance of the latter often outweighs the first. When I made a career switch, I knew that pursuing my dream would be tough. I had to discipline myself to persevere by focusing on the big picture. Through some blood, sweat and tears, I managed to carved my career in the mental health profession. But the effort doesn’t stop here. To live intentionally, I have to persist in being consistent and careful with managing my time and resources. We can be clear and certain about our purpose, but without a persevering attitude, we will struggle to accomplish aspirations for ourselves.
Humility is a quiet strength that may often be misunderstood as low self-confidence. Being overly apologetic or unwilling to accept credit does not mean that we are humble. It took me a few incidents to learn about it since I found it tricky to balance having a modest attitude about yourself whilst accepting credit when it is due. After some observations, I noticed that humility is not just about a lack of arrogance, it is about wanting to let others know that they are just as good or better as a way to encourage them. Humble individuals are also usually more accepting and respectful of differences between one another.
Sometimes when I encounter a problem, I make snap judgments and find myself feeling negative about it. However, if I remind myself to stop and take a moment to wonder and be curious, I begin to open my heart up and perceive obstacles in a different light. I'm still learning to embrace a childlike spirit - to explore life’s possibilities freely. I believe that if we teach ourselves to see challenges as opportunities, we will grow in maturity and wisdom through each condition.
Courage is the ability to take necessary action despite having fear. To me, courage and confidence goes hand in hand. You can only have courage when you are confident of who you are and what you are capable of. As I build my confidence, my courage is also stretched. Be it saying “no” when feeling pressured, speaking up for the underdog, apologizing for a mistake, or continuing in spite of failure, there are opportunities for me to practice courage every day.
As natural caregivers, women usually have the ability to notice and empathize with the pain and suffering a person is going through. We are able to show understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes. However, there was a period where I struggled with showing compassion. I was suffering from burnout as I was not treating myself with compassion. I was ignoring my stress as I thought that my needs were not as important. But I was wrong. I am also human and imperfect, and I needed to treat myself with kindness and care. With this, I’ve learnt - to stay compassionate towards others, we have to be able to first practice compassion towards ourselves.
These are just little examples I gave of how these virtues have guided me over the years. Using these virtues as priorities, I have come to realize what character entails and what it means to be fulfilled. It is an ongoing learning journey, and I am still being shaped by these virtues day by day.
For the last 9 months, I have been investing my efforts into a new mission – to help women to empower themselves through the understanding and practice of these eight virtues. Since studies have shown that journaling is an effective way to increase self-understanding, I have created a self-coaching journal using these eight virtues as a guide for women to build their character. With my contribution, I hope that more women’s lives will be transformed by understanding what it means to live meaningfully through the application of these virtues.
Here’s my encouragement to you - Take time and space to understand yourself and build your inner resources instead of concentrating on external validations. Don’t base your decisions on somebody else’s roadmap. Choose to nurture your character in the midst of any situation, and you will certainly progress into stronger and wiser woman in time to come.
More About Celeste
Celeste Cai is an advocate for mental wellness, a nature lover, and an arts enthusiast. She is a registered psychologist in Singapore and has recently moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she is a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
Celeste founded Her Words, Her World to harness the therapeutic power of writing as a tool for self-coaching to help women realize their potential by building character.