Ok lets face it, my life is kind of a mess right now, and that is saying something since my life is in a perpetually messy state. The current messiness is one of those dips below the median that really makes you rethink things and I have spent the past several months pondering on a lot of different ways to improve my life. I know that the rest of this essay may sound like a descent into self help madness and throw around a bunch of buzzwords or phrases, but I have come to some realizations over the past year or two and have finally decided to act on them.
I am heavily committed to self improvement and spend a lot of time reading things that give me insight into the choices that successful people have made. I love biographies, but memoirs are my favorite type of book because not only do you get the person’s history you get to see how they view the decisions that made them who they are today. A biographer may guess at a watershed moment in someone’s life where they started executing change and philosophize on the influences that lead to that point, but if the person lived it then they are able to describe the events that caused them to make the change. This cuts both ways because writing about your own life takes away the lens of objectivity. People naturally want to brag and over aggrandize their impact, or conversely feel that they are bragging and try to put the emphasis on others. This inability to see oneself as who they are is part of what makes us complex, and provides a lot of intrigue as a reader. I love trying to sort through to find out what really happened rather than what the author thinks happened.
One of the common threads in most biographical readings about successful people is their use of failure as a tool. I love the idea of failing myself to success, mostly because failing is one of the things that I am really good at. Failing at anything sucks, it is easy to get off track, but those that are successful find a way to pick themselves up and get back on the horse. Finding the bright spots from a failure or a misadventure is proof that life is 90% attitude and 10% aptitude, you could be the best at something but if you aren’t willing to work at it and to overcome setbacks then you aren’t going to get anywhere.
Our society falls victim to the myth of the genius or the natural, and if you aren’t naturally gifted and succeed on the first try then you could never do it. I was the same way, for many years I thought that I had it made, and all I had to do was make it to the next checkpoint in life and everything would be ok. I fell victim to this idea that success was guaranteed, in the same way that the big fish in the small pond thinks that he had it made. I learned the hard way that while things have a tendency to work themselves out in the end, but if you aren’t continuously pushing yourself to be better today than you were yesterday then what is the point. Easy street sucks, complacency is nothingness, life tastes sweeter when you are spitting blood, whatever you want to call it. You appreciate things more when you work for them and when you are coasting it is easy to fall off track.
I have always been a bit risk averse. I may take an unknown path but I like to have as much information to back it up as possible. This isn’t always a bad thing, the idea of walking a tightrope with a safety net is comforting, but it kept me from making a lot of huge leaps forward, especially in some areas of my life. It was so easy to say “that girl won’t be interested in me so I won’t ask her out” or “There is no way that I am qualified for that job” since I was afraid of getting rejected. Sometime last year I decided that I needed to put myself out there and just try, if I got rejected then it was just the cost of doing business. Shockingly when I tried putting myself out there I didn’t get rejected that often, and when I did it didn’t really hurt. Instead of tying myself to one idea or person and building that up until it became the only option I tried to fail fast and then try to find a different situation where I could succeed. In a way it was like I was missing 100% of the shots that I didn’t take, and even when I shot and missed there were plenty of fish in the sea. This allowed me to not only reach for new opportunities, but it allowed me to explore other options and see what else might be out there.
One of the biggest things that you hear in any type of self help material is that you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with. I luckily have a large number of friends that are successful on many levels. But I really decided to evaluate the criteria that I have for spending time with people. I am a very busy guy and I have a lot going on, why was I wasting time on people who didn’t bring benefits to my life. In fact I was going out of my way to spend time with people who were actually a drain on my life and took away more than time. I think that the term “Energy Vampires” is a bit dramatic, but if someone makes you feel bad when you are around them and even makes you feel bad when you think about them then why would you want them in your life? Just because I have been friends someone for X number of years why should they be allowed to make me feel bad? I kind of feel like an asshole putting this down in writing, but I have made the decision to walk away from a few long friendships because they no longer bring me benefit. There was no blow up, or final straw, it is just time for me to go my separate way. I wish them the best of luck, but I simply don’t have room in my life for them, which is a shame, but it is part of being a grown up. It makes me think about the people who cut ties and walked away from me and how much I resented that, but I suppose that being uncomfortable is part of the equation. Having to avoid someone that you have been friends with for 8 years when you live a mile apart in a small town is no easy task, but when you are trying to help yourself you can’t let the people that bring you down into your life.
The main key to understand about self help books is that they are not written to help others, they are solely to help the author rationalize their decisions under the guise of being selfless. Maybe this essay is the same way. I am a better person today than I was a few years ago, and I will be better tomorrow than I am today. I hope that I can help others to flip that switch and take an interest in self improvement and maybe someone can learn from my mistakes. The buzzwords may sound cliche, but sometimes the cliches are right, so you might as well take a shot at it, since you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.