From the Archives: Taking Stock of and Improving the Quality of your Character

UPDATED: March 30, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 30, 2023
photo of the original printing of taking stock of the quality of your character

Merchants take account of their stock at least once a year. Grocers must know if the canned goods are accumulating while half the tea boxes are empty; dry goods merchants must list their muslins, merinos, silks and ribbons to decide in what quantities to buy next time so that the coming year may be more successful than the last one.

Whatever your business may be, your character—your personality—is your chief stock in trade. Did you ever take stock of the quality of your character? How do you know you are not carrying an oversupply of qualities that are not only dead stock but also tend to lessen your success receipts? Did you ever calmly count the number of times you were rude in a day and realize that your rudeness is keeping you from customers, friends, money, advancement and, perhaps, even the love of your family?

How “long” are you on dishonesty? Wouldn’t your standing in business and society be higher if you “stocked up” on business integrity? You say that a rash venture of yours cost you $10,000—the acquirement of a little more discretion would not be a bad investment for you. A nice line of self-reliance would make a good showing on your mental shelves. People call you a “leaner.” You can see now, too late, that if you had stuck to a cherished project a few weeks longer, your long work would have triumphed over the difficulties. “Stock up” on perseverance, and you can tell a different tale the next time you undertake a big thing….

Improving the quality of your character

A merchant cannot improve the quality of his stock by simply saying, “I am going to have a better stock next year.” He must attend to details and count and calculate. It is just so with your character. You must know what your virtues and your vices are and act accordingly….

There is an encouraging thing about cultivating good qualities: Each one that is built up strengthens some other and makes less work to do in [correcting faults]. Strengthen good temper, and politeness is easy, patience is natural and you will show less lack of tact. Let love enter your heart, and charity for the shortcomings of others, generosity and politeness are half secured. Brace up your courage, and your anxiety, despair and indecision will disappear. So it is, on through the list, however long you may make it in your self-analysis. Every time you build up a success quality, you help the whole success family. Every day that you conquer some besetting fault, you make not only that fault but also several others have less power over you.

Taking stock of yourself

In January 1902, SUCCESS magazine published a “Self-Stock-Taking Chart” in the hopes of “helping its every reader to make the next year better than the last one.”

The chart was inspired by Benjamin Franklin, who, according to his autobiography, systematically cultivated the virtues he considered necessary to be a perfect man—and kept track of his progress in a little book.

The magazine hoped to give its readers a similar experience by providing a practical aid that could be “easily filled out by any person who will honestly examine his own qualities,” along with these instructions: “One has but to decide what percent of perfection in each quality he possesses. If that percent is low, try to raise it so that the next month (or the next day, if a daily record is desired) a better showing can be made.”

SUCCESS also pledged to help its readers throughout the year with articles in every issue about some of the virtues charted, how to build up different qualities and those who have overcome adversity.

It concluded with the following advice: “Run over your character invoice every day, and see if you are keeping up a constant increase of percentage in the success qualities. Every augmentation of percentage raises your general average—that is, your standing as a man or woman—as a success winner. You will be surprised to find what a difference in character constantly thinking of success qualities will make in a year, or even in a month. Your character invoice next [year] will be an encouragement to you to continue self-improvement all your life and will make every moment of your existence more satisfactory to yourself and others.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo courtesy of SUCCESS magazine.