Character:  It's what happens when you're alone


You've probably heard a variation of that phrase before:  Character is what happens when you're alone.  It's an old adage – and I've heard it a thousand times.  But I was reminded of it's importance last week when I visited Canada to speak at a private, nonprofit event.  I arrived into the Calgary airport a few hours before the event, and with some time to kill I noticed there was an outlet mall near the airport.  So I pulled in, and went to the local coffee shop to check my email and catch up on work.  After an hour or so I decided to take a walk around the indoor mall.  Now here's the scenario:

I was more than a thousand miles from home.
I'm outside the United States.
I don't know anyone in Calgary.
I'm not famous, so I'm walking around in total anonymity.

It's exactly at this point that all those stories of executives, pastors, nonprofit leaders, politicians, and others crossing the moral line begin.  Hitting on another woman, making a fool of yourself at the bar, getting drunk, buying a pornographic magazine — whatever.  Sadly, just check the headlines of your local paper and you'll know what I'm talking about.

I was thinking about that when something surprising happened.  Standing outside a men's clothing store I got tapped on the shoulder.

"Aren't you Phil Cooke?"  The man asked.

I spun around in surprise.  The man introduced himself as a Canadian filmmaker who lived nearby.  He'd been following my social media feed, and reading my latest book "One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do."  Apparently, while shopping with his family he'd seen me in the mall, and decided to come up for a chat.  And because I wasn't doing any of the questionable things above, we had a very nice talk, and really enjoyed the conversation.

The lesson?  Even in places you've never been, people are watching.  God is watching.   Even online, you may think your email or Facebook messages are private, but once you've hit the "Send" button, you've lost control of it.   You may think you've done everything you can to cover your tracks, but the truth is, in a connected world, with instant messaging, email, and social media, word travels fast.  And as we've found with the recent NSA controversy, even the government is watching far more than we think.

The bottom line is to be transparent.  Don't have anything to hide.  Someone told me recently, "You're only as strong as your biggest secret."

If you're serious about living a significant life, believe it.

- Phil Cooke, Ph.D., filmmaker, media consultant, and author of the book "One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do."  Find out more at

Published, July 2013
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