Why Building A Personal Ethos Is The Most Important Thing You Are Not Doing

Why Building A Personal Ethos Is The Most Important Thing You Are Not Doing
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

If you stand for nothing, you’ll never stand for anything. 

Make up your own mission statement, what do you want to be in life? Until you know what you want to stand for, you will always be sitting down and you’ll never stand for anything. — David Goggins

Give yourself 30 seconds to answer this question. What do you stand for?

If you have trouble answering that question, then you may need to write out your ethos. When you do not stand for anything, you’ll end up standing for whatever happens to you in life. You’re like a log drifting in the water, flowing with the current. Instead, become like the surfer who knows how to ride the waves.

Things will happen to you in life that are outside of your control. The foundational piece is understanding how you will react to it.

How will you act when a loved one passes away? What if you were fired from your job?

Often when things happen to us, we react in ways that we do not fully understand. We may start acting out in situations we aren’t aware that we are acting out in.

Maybe you don’t feel like you do not fully belong anywhere in life and you end up joining the first group of people who will accept you but that group of people is toxic for your well-being.

Building a personal ethos will help remind you to stand for what you believe in. It will be hard at times but hard decisions never come easy.

Defining Your Ethos

The word ethos is the Greek word meaning “character” or “custom.”

In life, our foundational principles can become easily lost. People can become “wishy-washy” about their beliefs as the world has become secularized. Generally, people go about the basic ethos of society like not stealing or killing.

Where can we go deeper with this? How many times in your life have you told yourself that you’re going to do something but never do it?

How often do you tell yourself that you’re going to be more personable towards people but you never change?

Developing a personal character about how you analyze and act in the world behind closed doors will make you a better person when you are seen with open doors.

Photo by Foto K. on Unsplash

What Happens When You Stand For Nothing

Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground is a story about a man who is a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. The man is miserable and lives alone with no friends. The man does nothing but think everything.

He never takes action in his life. He has this arrogance that he is intelligent and the entire world is full of idiots who do not understand him.

The man constantly thinks about what he is going to do with the full awareness that he will never go through with his actions.

I think a lot of us can relate to this. How often have you promised that you would do something but failed to do it?

Later on in the story, the man finds himself insulted by an acquaintance and vows to himself that he is going to slap him across the face. He says that this slap is the only thing that will restore his self-respect. The man goes back to the acquaintance and cannot find him. As soon as he experiences this small obstacle, he immediately gives up.

Think about it, the man says that this is the only thing that can restore his self-respect but as soon as he experiences a slight inconvenience, he gives up.

The man holds himself in contempt after this and spirals into nihilism. He wants to watch the world burn but only at the convenience that he will be able to sit back and watch with his cup of tea. He sees everyone else as an enemy to him. He is resentful of the lives of others.

How often in your life have you told yourself you’re going to do something and at this smallest inconvenience you quit?

This happened to me recently but luckily I didn’t fully quit. I am looking to sell my car but I could not find the title to it. This requires a trip to the DMV which I did not want to take.

Inconvenient? Most definitely.

Impossible obstacle? Not even close. 

The trip to the DMV was 45 minutes of my time and $50 for the replacement title but I put in my head that it was the worst thing in the world. For two months, I procrastinated going to the DMV. At that time, I ended up paying for two extra months of car insurance that I didn’t need. All because I didn’t want that little inconvenience in our lives.

This got me to think, what are other things in our lives that put off because they’re slightly inconvenient?

Is starting that new workout routine inconvenient because you need to wake up 45 minutes earlier?

Have you not seen an old friend in a while because you don’t want the inconvenience of driving out to go see them?

Building a personal ethos can help serve as a reminder of what you stand for. Often, we allow ourselves to procrastinate because of an inconvenience because it breaks the routine we get ourselves into. Ask yourself, what kind of person do you want to be remembered as?

Do you want to be someone who allows relationships with people to drift away or something who continues to maintain the bridges they have in life?

Be Good Instead of Looking Good

No matter what you think about him when I recently saw what Elon Musk said about how people in the world today only care about looking good instead of being good, I found a lot of truth in that. Even if he’s not always acting good himself 100% of the time, the statement does carry a lot of weight behind it.

What percentage of people on social media are misrepresenting themselves? That depends on what you define as misrepresenting and is a difficult number to pin down but I can tell you when I open my LinkedIn, at least 50% of the people who actively engage are misrepresenting themselves. I know because I worked with them. It makes me wonder how many people are.

When you are being good, you’re adding value to the world. Having the perception of being good doesn’t change the reality that you’re not.

Reality always catches up to you someday. There may be a distinct possibility that it never catches up to you in your lifetime but that reality is left in your legacy. Did you produce value to the world or did you leave behind the perception of value?

It’s like someone who runs a pharmaceutical company that puts claims out that their saving people's lives when the reality is that they’re harming them. Even if the entire world thinks that they did something great for the world, the reality is the world is in a worse place than it was before. Perceptions can be altered but reality cannot.

Apply Your Ethos and Reapply

When you write down the person that you want to aim to be, you’re holding yourself accountable. However, this requires you to refresh it and hold yourself accountable. Writing down your ethos one time will not make you magically change into the person you want to be. You need to keep working towards it until who you become is second nature.

Building your ethos is a long journey. When I wrote mine out, I started with some of the main pillars in life and focused on one at a time. These pillars I have are listed as this:

  1. Health
  2. Relationships
  3. Perspective
  4. Career & Aspirations

I listed them out in this order because I believe that health and taking care of your body is a foundation for building yourself into a better person. When you do not feel good and cannot think clearly, it’s a recipe for making the other pillars more difficult to achieve.

Build yourself up one pillar at a time. It may take months until these pillars become second nature for you. The key is to keep going and chip away at it one day at a time.

Are you interested in building your personal ethos? Here’s a free 5 page worksheet that asks you the questions to get started on your personal ethos.