How often are you prudent?

Today is March 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you prudent?” The definition of prudent is ‘acting with or showing care and thought for the future.’ The etymology of the word stems from Old French and Latin meaning ‘foreseeing, attending to.’ Any way of asking today’s question is “how often are you showing care and thought about your future?” The term ‘wise caution’ is also synonymous with being prudent. One may climb the mountain but should exercise ‘wise caution’ and prepare accordingly. Being prudent is an absolute strength to use while navigating the chaos.

In a 2014 paper, “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence,” Reeves and two co-authors, Kimberly Howard and Joanna Venator, focused on what they call “performance character strengths” and the crucial role played by non-cognitive skills in educational attainment, employment and earned income.

These character strengths — “perseverance, industriousness, grit, resilience, curiosity, application” and “self-control, future orientation, self-discipline, impulse control, delay of gratification” — make significant contributions to success in adulthood and upward mobility.

A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths do better in life in terms of work, earnings, education and so on, even when taking into account their academic abilities. Intelligence matters, but so does character. This is hardly a revelation: most of us would think it a matter of common sense that being able to work hard, defer gratification, or get along with others will help somebody to do well in the labor market, school, family and community.

This evidence suggests that character skills may count for a lot – as much, perhaps, as cognitive skills – in terms of important life outcomes. This is especially true for those who practice being prudent.

Prudent people are able to defer gratification and plan for the future; they can make sacrifices today in order to ensure a better tomorrow. The better developed a person’s character strength of prudence, the less they suffer from what economists call ‘present bias,’ the tendency to under-weight future utility.

They can both plan for the future and exert self-control in the moment to reach their long-term goals. With all of life’s challenges, being prudent is just one strategy to navigate the chaos.

As Napoleon Bonaparte noted that “The art of being sometimes audacious and sometimes very prudent is the secret to success.” Understanding when to exercise each character trait is part of the beautiful journey of life. As you mature it is important to remember both traits offer valuable avenues to travel as you navigate the chaos.

Have you been both audacious and prudent in your life? How often are you prudent when making a decision about your career or life?