Character Still Counts

Kevin McCarthy '85CC, '91GSAS, of the Columbia Career Coaches Network,
reflects on recent life advice he gave his sons.

After little sleep last night I woke up this morning and struggled to find ways to explain to my two teenage sons that character still counts, that a good man is ultimately defined by his actions and they are still expected to do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because it might bring attention, fame or wealth.

Recently we have had quite a few chats about character. Both of my boys are soccer players and I am a soccer coach, so a topical one was about "locker room talk" and whether it was banter from an Access Hollywood bus or a college soccer team, the "boys will be boys" excuse is unacceptable. What you say matters and what you do matters.

So this morning there were dueling mantras in my head; one full of despair and one hopeful, but ultimately both offered me a path forward.

The dark song in my head was from a Yeats post WW1 poem, "The Second Coming." Not a vision of cheery optimism by any means. Though tempted to use the line a "rough beast slouching..." toward Washington, D.C., I really did not want to send them to school today with that image in their heads.

I did read them the lines, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold..."

Over breakfast we talked about our center—our core values and that we control them. We agreed, our values will not fall apart; our center will hold— no matter what.

The other thing I kept saying was "chop wood, carry water" (from a Zen proverb: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water").

As you might expect, they said, "What are you talking about Dad?"

Stay centered. Go to school, be a good friend, respect kids with different opinions, play FIFA... "chop wood, carry water" reminds you to live your life fully and always try to do the right thing because it is both simply and profoundly the right thing to do.


Kevin McCarthy is an alumnus of Columbia College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as well as a member of the Columbia Career Coaches Network. He provides transformative leadership and expertise in connecting core values, character strengths and peak performance. Learn more about Kevin here.

You Might Also Like:

By Lynn Berger '84TC, '90TC of the Columbia Career Coaches Network As we progress in our careers and lives, we begin to truly understand what motivates us and how we can make the best choices. For...

By Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC of the Columbia Career Coaches NetworkThis article originally appeared on My latest Forbes post covers how to use the summer to keep your job search going, but you can also use the summer...

By Rosemary Bova '71SW of the Columbia Career Coaches Network Disengagement has become a crisis in the American workforce—from top managers to hourly employees. Its impact is felt from personal to global levels. I offer...