As a psychology major, I took many personality tests- some for fun and some for school purposes. One after one the tests would tell me that one of my strongest personality traits was something called “conscientiousness.” As a young college student, that was just some big word that I didn’t understand. I would always just gloss over it, maybe reading a little blurb that went along with it and think, huh, okay, sounds like a good thing. Whatever. After completing my Master’s degree and entering private practice as a counselor, I heard the word again, and this time it peaked my curiosity.
I was in a supervision meeting with fellow counselors and in response to something I had said, my supervisor said, “Well, that’s because you’re a conscientious person.” There’s that word again! This time, it was a person calling me this though rather than some test result on a piece of paper. What did that word mean anyway? What was he calling me? Was he calling me a bad name or a good name? What did it mean to be a conscientious person?
conscientious – adj. 1. (of a person) wishing to do what is right, especially to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly 2. relating to a person’s conscience
So basically a conscientious person is someone who is very driven by their conscience. In other words, I place a high importance on doing “the right thing.” I will do the right thing no matter what it costs me because it feels very wrong not to do the right thing. I am a person of my word- always reliable. If I borrow something, it will drive me nuts until I return it. If I tell you I’m going to be there at a certain time, I am distraught if I’m 2 minutes late. More importantly, I will not sit by and let someone be abused or neglected if there’s something that I can do about it. Why? Because that’s the “right thing” to do.
As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I have learned a lot about myself. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m a VERY conscientious person. No wonder that word kept popping up! It’s a dominant trait of mine, for sure. And there have been some hard lessons along the way as I learn what it means to be a conscientious person. In fact, I’m in a life situation right now that is bringing all of this to the surface in a stronger way than ever before.
4 Challenges of Being a Conscientious Person:
- We are misunderstood, thought to have some other agenda for our actions. I have had many motivations attributed to my behavior by people who don’t understand what it’s like to be driven by your conscience. In one particular situation, I was told that my motivation was fear, resentment, and a desire to punish someone. In reality, my motivation was to stand up for a child who had no voice because my conscience wouldn’t let me do otherwise. I could not sleep at night or stand before God if I didn’t take action. I truly had no other agenda or motivation, no ulterior motives. None. I just had to do the right thing for that child. My mind wouldn’t let me rest if I didn’t. However, people always want to think that I must be driven by something that is giving me a thrill or benefiting me in some way. No. Nope. Actually, the truth is, my conscience compels me to do things that give me zero satisfaction and even hurt me sometimes. The only benefit I get is to sleep well at night knowing that I did the right thing no matter what it cost me.
- We are seen as “holier than thou.” People think that you think you’re better than them. I never do the “right thing” because I’m trying to be better than someone else. Never. Again, my motive is to do the right thing because that’s how I achieve personal inner peace. Yet, people are threatened by my commitment to my conscience. And again, they think my motive is something else, some desire to be above them. In reality, it’s just a drive to always do what’s right. I’m not trying to be better than you. I’m just trying to be the best me that I can be. It has nothing to do with you.
- We are lonely because not many people will stand up with us. At times I feel like the loneliest person on earth because I am willing to speak out against injustice when others aren’t. I’m willing to hold people accountable, create waves, have conflict, speak out, and even take people to court if that’s what it takes to stand up for what’s right. I’m often viewed as the one causing trouble because I’m the only one brave enough to call things out and speak up. I’m not trying to cause trouble. I’m trying to do the right thing. I am not afraid to lose relationships. I am not afraid to lose money. I am not afraid to lose my life. I am much more afraid of being voiceless, of settling for less, of contributing to the continuation of wrong things. I would rather die for something I believe in than live knowing that I was too shy, too afraid, or too spineless to stand up and speak out. But most people would rather keep quiet, keep everyone happy, and not get involved. Not the conscientious person. Not me. My own approval means more to me than approval from others. If you accept me because I’m quiet, that does me no good. I need to be able to accept myself. I’d rather love myself and have the world hate me than have the world love me and hate myself.
- We overextend ourselves and do too much for others because it always feels like the right thing to do. Yet, that type of attention is seldom reciprocated by other less conscientious people. When someone asks me to do something for them, if I am able to and feel it would benefit them, I say yes. Or even if I’m not asked to do something, I will volunteer to do things because they are good or right things to do. I end up with too much on my plate at times. When I am in need, I don’t always receive the same type of treatment in return.
So what should we do? How can we cope with ourselves?
Here are 4 things I have found to be helpful:
- Remember that there are people who truly know your heart and your intentions. When people attribute motives to me that are incorrect, I don’t have to get upset. I can call people like my husband and some of my close friends who really know me. They will reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and that they see my motives for what they really are. They know my heart.
- Remember that you are not responsible for how someone else feels in your presence. If being around me makes someone feel inferior because they think that I am better than them, that’s not my fault. I do not walk around acting pompous and belittling people. Quite the opposite, I am giving and loving and helpful. There are always people who will be inspired by our conscientious efforts. Seeing us stand up for what’s right will inspire them to do so as well. But there will always be those who internalize it and use it to beat themselves up. There is nothing we can do about that. We don’t have to own their feelings.
- Remember that God is on your side (for those of us who are born again). When I feel alone, I remember Jesus. I remember how He was mocked and hated for my sake. I remember how He died on the cross for me. Because of this, I am willing to do whatever it takes to do the right thing for someone else, to stand up for someone else, to defend a cause. Jesus told us that we would be persecuted. He told us that we were taking the narrow path. Take pride in your actions and lean on God.
- Remember that you are only one person. There are many causes to defend, many people to help, and many voices that need heard. Can one person possibly do it all? No way! Choose your battles wisely. Pray for direction about which areas God is calling you to and which areas may be someone else’s to handle. This will keep you from overextending yourself. It’s not your job to save the world.
I’d love to hear about your experiences as a conscientious person. What are your challenges? What has helped you? Can I get a witness?
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.