360 Degree Character Building

Building character is hard work.

In my first HR gig, the VP of HR asked me to hold a new hire orientation meeting.  “What?” I thought, “I was still trying to understand co-insurance!”  She saw the look of panic in my eyes and said, “You can do this and you’re going to be fine.  Trying new things builds character!”  Over the next 8 years, she gave me that line about building character over and over again.  Soon enough, I was using it at work and at home. I believed it then and I still do now.

Whenever I did something new and uncomfortable, regardless of the outcome, it certainly molded my character.  When my children were in high school, I was constantly telling them, “Take a risk, step out of your comfort zone – it builds character!”  It was my mantra and I was confident saying that because I had been stepping out of my comfort zone throughout my entire career.

The last 12 months have been filled with change.  In fact, I scored 268 points on the Holmes and Rahe Stress ScaleA score of 300 or higher would put my stress level at a high risk for physical illness. You can easily pooh-pooh this type of thinking but the power of the mind shouldn’t be taken lightly.  I have a new job in a new city.  My kids finished their freshman year of college, are living at the beach for the summer, and I see them only on weekends.  I’ve been spending a lot of time managing the change with my kids and my empathy level is at an all time high.

What I didn’t realize was that while I was managing these changes, I wasn’t embracing my own personal changes.  This realization stopped me in my tracks and I’ve been pondering why this was happening. I’m the proponent of change.  My favorite saying is from the lyrics of a Melissa Etheridge song, “The only thing that stays the same is change.” So, what’s wrong?

Embracing change is different for everyone.  For me, not embracing it meant that after I moved to a new city, I went to my apartment every night after work, exercised, ate dinner and went to bed.  Night after night.  I didn’t explore my new town.  There were two social events held at my community and although I was kidding myself by putting the flyer on the fridge, I knew I wasn’t going to attend.  All I can hear shouting back at me are the words I’ve repeated, “Take a risk and get out of your comfort zone!”

Driving 650 miles a week gave me plenty of time to think and I realized that I was building my character and stepping out of my comfort zone – by day, at work.  My new position is the most challenging one I’ve ever held.  One of my responsibilities is implementing change in the organizational structure and creating an objective performance management program.  Each day brings a brand new set of challenges, many that I haven’t encountered in a prior position.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we have varying degrees and speeds of character building based on our life experiences and events.  I have plenty of growing and developing to do and it won’t happen overnight.  Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy by placing high expectations on myself.  My character will evolve, on an ongoing basis and at its own pace.  I’m okay with that.

I would love to know what expectations you set for yourself to build character — will you share them with me?

About the Author

Kimberly Patterson

Kimberly Patterson is the founder of Unconventional HR. An HR pro turned consultant, she has 25 years of progressive experience as a strategic HR and business leader in a variety of industries. Her hands-on and innovative approach allows her to create and deliver HR solutions to meet business challenges and needs by managing human capital, talent acquisition and technology. Connect with her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kimberly_patt, or at kim@unconventionalhr.com.


Trina Wardell

Great thoughts Kim. I agree with Peter that its great to have someone push you forward provided you have some mentoring to parallel this. I know I am currently at a point in my career where I find myself in “uncomfortable” situations but in order to get to the next level I have to keep seeking out these opportunities and always feel a sense of accomplishment after the fact.

Meghan M. Biro

Great thoughts Kim. Change is inevitable and most definitely all around us! 360 Degree is a very accurate title.

I hear you. I find stepping out of myself to be a powerful way to connect with others who may be experiencing similar dynamics and thoughts. Conversely, I’m a mentor and share these tips with others I’m coaching. Often just communicating openly and honestly can be downright cathartic. Such a simple concept yet so often we close off to others when life/career seems overwhelming. I’m making weekly connection and communication a priority. The two-way street approach works wonders.

Tammy Colson


I too am engaged in massive change right now, and I’ve spent the last weeks sort of in a bunker, assessing what exactly I should be doing to tackle all this change. Being “in my head” so much hasn’t been the right place to be.

This week I’ve been attacking one problem a day, in small steps. Perhaps taking one step out of the comfort zone is all you can do right now, with the challenges you have at work, but consider it as just one small step. The hardest part is the making the first move.

You’ll get, just like I’ll get it.
One step at a time.

Peter Lanc

I think its good to push so long as it comes with guidance and mentoring. To push people to grow on the outside ” to go outside their comfort zone” We need people to grow on the” inside” to give them the fortitude. After all an Oak tree comes from acorns and they needed nurturing along the way.

I like it Kim makes the reader think!

Stephen Watt

I feel it’s perfectly fine that you are stepping out of your “comfort zone” by day in your professional life, and maybe letting a fridge with a few flyers on it get a bit dusty. The fact is, you are still growing as a person and learning more about yourself. I think there is always room for improvement, however. If you ever get a feeling that you can handle less time in your comfort zone, and maybe more time at the community barbecue, then I say go for it. However, to ask someone to step out of their comfort zone for every aspect of their life would be, well, rather uncomfortable.

Laura Schroeder

Your first HR boss sounds terrific. And, few people can embrace change on all fronts at the same time. We’ve all snuck home after work after a hectic day for a bit of quiet time.


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