Being a Spartan Is About Character and Virtue, Not Muscles and Medals

Who is the world’s fittest athlete? Which sport do they play? What attributes do they have that set them apart from the rest? We have been trying to answer this question for 2,500 years — and are still trying to answer it.

Enter the Spartan Games, a four-day event back in October that brought out the best and most badass athletes in the world. I wasn’t there to see the whole thing unfold, but I was regularly updated by my team, which sent incredible unedited footage. When the weekend wrapped up, I received a text message from one of the competitors expressing gratitude for the event, and thanking me for all the hard work my team put in to make it happen. It was awesome, and it reaffirmed that Spartans aren’t just defined by muscles, obstacle completion rates, and VO2 max.

They are defined by character and virtue.

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Ancient Spartans held character and virtue in the highest regard. They believed that you demonstrated your commitment to character through your actions, and by the way you held yourself accountable. They sought out mentors and leaders who showed them the way, rather than teaching wisdom through the written word.

The way that Spartans built character reminds me of my own childhood. My neighborhood was a metaphorical battleground, a crime-ridden area where the strong and savvy survived and the weak and meek fell by the wayside. But if you were observant enough and tuned in to what worked and what didn’t, you figured out how to rise.

Keep Your Friends Close (and Your Leaders Closer)

Research shows that if you want to build your self-esteem, you surround yourself with individuals who have healthy self-esteem levels and engage in positive relationships. I believe that the same is true for building strong character. When you surround yourself with rude, dishonest, selfish individuals, you’re bound to become just like them. But if you keep a tribe of awesome, honest, and trustworthy people close to you, you’ll observe their traits and adopt them. You'll learn to weave those qualities into your own actions and will build moral fiber.

Take a good look at the five people that you are closest with. Would you say that their character is solid? Are they honest, morally in-tune individuals who you trust to make ethical and sound choices? If so, awesome. Keep them close and let yourself learn more from them. If not, it's time for a gut check, as hard as that is to accept. Are they really the type of people you want in your inner circle?

Take Inventory of Your Own Actions

When people are rude to waitstaff, it bothers me more than you can believe. No "thank you?" No "please?" No kindness whatsoever? That's bullshit, and to me it’s an immediate indication that this person’s character needs work. Character isn’t built from grand gestures of support or sweeping savior-like actions. It's molded by smaller, more meaningful gestures of integrity that go unseen by many, and aren’t for public consumption on Instagram. I truly don’t care how awesome you think you are. If you can’t say a simple "thank you" to someone who is putting together a meal for you, then you’ve got serious work to do.

Remember, It's YOUR Choice

The nature vs. nurture argument is ever-present, but thanks to groundbreaking neuroscience research, we have enough data to know that our brain is neuroplastic. What does that mean? It means that through interactions, challenges, and experiences, we can actually change the neural pathways in our brain.

What that tells me is that we can CHOOSE our own character. Sure, the cards may be stacked against you if you’ve grown up around adults that have little integrity, but it’s not a life sentence. And frankly, I’m sick of the excuses that people point to when they're exposed of not treating others with respect and integrity.

Every day you should be asking yourself, "What kind of person do I want to be today?" Aspire to be GREAT. Surround yourself with people whose character is awesome. Do some serious gut checks about your own behavior, and be your best self — even in the smallest moments.