I think and hope that regular readers of my blog will appreciate the variety of posts I throw up-random stories, travel tips, big life ideas, etc. I live a happy and fulfilling life, and the idea is that if I make my ideas and thought processes public, over the long term, people can take bits and pieces to improve their lives (just as I’ve done from other people). This has proven to be successful on some scale.
But two thirds of the visits my site gets are from first time visitors. They searched on Google, followed a link on twitter, or were emailed an article by a friend. They don’t get repeated exposure, but rather a single shot. And, if I’m honest about it, a post like Yuka probably isn’t going to improve their lives, other than to offer a few moments of entertainment.
This set of circumstances leaves me thinking about what major themes run through my philosophy that can make an impact in a single post. Last night, as I slept in a chilly tent with no electricity, no light, and no internet, I kept coming back to the idea of always getting better.
I think the phrase in of itself is cliche and meaningless, but maybe what I mean by it, and the resulting actions, aren’t.
Most people don’t get better all the time. They get adequate and then stop. They subconsciously decide at how many things they must develop a level of proficiency, and then they get proficient. So you end up with the guy who’s good at accounting, can cook fish okay, but sucks at having a conversation with his waiter. Or the guy who can schmooze at a party, but can’t balance his checkbook or swing a hammer.
It’s subsistence level skill acquisition.
For whatever reason, I’ve been wired the opposite way. I want to find all of my flaws and conquer them. I want to learn everything. When I encounter people who don’t feel the same way, as I often do, I secretly wonder how they can stand it. How does the guy with the ridiculous temper not fix that? Does he not realize he has a temper? Does he not care? Does he not know how to change? Or what about my friend who has completely given up on ever having a girlfriend again? He obviously knows that it’s a fixable problem, but he hasn’t taken the first step towards actually fixing it.
Maybe it comes down to ego. I’ve seen people who are glaringly terrible at pickup, but delude themselves into thinking they’re great, just to avoid admitting fault. The first step of self improvement – identifying the problem – might be so painful to the ego that people would rather not rise to the challenge at all.
My friends and I are the opposite. We’re all happy all the time, but to an outsider our conversations probably seem antagonistic. I can’t tell you how many times I been on the sending AND receiving end of sentences like, “Dude… you’re being a complete idiot. You need to do _________ and tighten up your life.” The funny part is that we all relish that sort of feedback. In fact, as likely as I am to share my successes with my friends, I’m probably more likely to tell them when I screwed up. They’ll offer me a suggestion to do better next time, or at least motivate me by agreeing that doing ________ was dumb.
That’s a long way of saying this: you have to be willing to know you suck at something before you’re able to improve. The more willing you are to face your weaknesses, the less likely they are to remain weaknesses.
The goal is to get better all the time, not to be perfect at everything. There’s a difference. The former describes the process, which is always under your control, while the latter describes the outcome that you have only a hand in. The fact that you’re somewhere on the road to being a champion is important, not which mile marker you’re walking past.
People tend to do self improvement for a specific purpose. They want to lose weight for their wedding, learn pickup so that they can have a girlfriend, or meditate to reduce stress. That’s fine, but it’s better to embrace it as a way of life, to enjoy getting better because you know that the process is worthwhile. The unexpected benefits of each improvement are unpredictable and generally outweigh the reason you decided to improve to begin with.
Sure you’ll look great in your wedding photos if you lose weight, but maybe you’ll also live longer, be able to enjoy more physical hobbies, and will set a good example for your future children. Learning pickup might snag you a girlfriend, but, speaking from personal experience, it can also make you more confident, outgoing, and appreciative of other people. Meditation can lower your stress, and aside from that, can make you more focused and serene.
It’s the lifestyle of getting better all the time that provides the real rewards.
If you can believe all this and embrace it, your life can start to look different. Last week I sat in front of my computer and realized that I had fallen off the productivity train. I was getting the bare minimum done on my projects. So rather than wallow in pity, be mad at myself for failing, try to justify my sloth, or any of the many other things I could have done, I smiled.
I saw it as an opportunity to get better at something. I value these opportunities more than anything. I closed down the waste-of-time sites I was browsing and I opened up my code editor. I spent the next few hours building out some features on my project that needed to get done. And then I did the same thing next day.
I don’t think that my current level of productivity is going to become a new baseline. I don’t think I’m instantly the most productive person in the world. I know I’ll fall off the train again and, just as I’ve done a dozen times before, hop back on. I’m just happy to have found an opportunity to improve myself, to have seized it, and to have left a little better than I was before. It’s all part of the journey.
Photo is from a bridge in Shibuya… it’s extremely hard to find relevant photos I’ve taken for posts like this!
In the process of testing new gear. Don’t ask me about it before it’s tested… that’s the whole point of testing it…
By the way the Tynan.com Forums are back up! Sorry about the ridiculous downtime – I thought the problem was going to be really difficult to unravel, but it wasn’t.