Character Is Your Financial Destiny

The experts get stuff wrong all the time.

In the late 1800s, William James, the founder of Psychology, made a dramatic claim.

“By age thirty, character has set like plaster and will never soften again.”  

Recently, this declaration was turned on its head.

In an experiment, social scientists recruited 1.500 entrepreneurs in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. They assigned the men and women to three groups. The first was the control contingent. The other two included cognitive and character skill training groups.

The cognitive skills training focused on finance, accounting, marketing, and all the other aspects of running a successful business.

In the character skills group, psychologists were the instructors. They focused on applying proactivity, discipline, and determination.

The results eviscerated James’ character is plaster theory.

The founder’s group, concentrating on character, displayed remarkable progress. After just five days of training, their firm profits escalated by an average of 39% over the next two years. This tripled the growth of the cognitive skills-based group.

Finance and marketing knowledge help run any business. It turns out that proactivity and discipline taught in the character group were the difference-makers. Founders could generate opportunities and anticipate market changes rather than react to them.

When the inevitable financial crisis reared its head, the character-based group didn’t quit and was resourceful in attaining needed financial support.

The bottom line is that character isn’t cement. There are no age restrictions regarding its attainment.

Adam Grant describes this attribute in his terrific book – Hidden Potential.

Character is often confused with personality, but they’re not the same. Personality is your predisposition- your basic instincts for thinking, feeling, and acting. Character is your capacity to prioritize your values over your instincts. If personality is how you respond on a typical day, character is how you show up on a hard day. 

There are many “hard days” on the road to building wealth. Success or failure is determined by how you show up to face them. Overweighting character in your portfolio is a core holding, not market-timing.

For example, it’s pretty easy to bail out of a well-constructed financial plan when the market’s nabobs of negativity broadcast their attention-seeking siren calls. It takes character to hold the line and withstand the inevitable short-term portfolio blood-letting.

Mistakes are part of the game. How you react and learn from them is what’s vital. Not taking ownership and blaming others isn’t a wealth-building characteristic. Assuming agency and adapting is what it means to show up on a hard day.

Sacrificing present selfish consumption is a hard choice that takes discipline. Life insurance, estate planning, and college funding are long-term endeavors that take discipline to see the fruits of your labor. Character shows up when you’re thinking about others rather than yourself.

Many wealthy people believe they did it“all by themselves.” Not noticing that they, like everyone else, have no control over when and where they were born, They didn’t pick their parents. Luck plays a critical role in accumulating your fortune. Those with character realize this and eagerly give back to those less fortunate through charitable giving or other means.


Everyone is born with specific traits. What you decide to do with them is what matters.

The good news is your personality isn’t your destiny. It’s your tendency.

Doing the right thing in troubled times isn’t easy, but we all have the potential to make the right choices at any age.






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