Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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My thoughts on improving myself.

Published: 07 Jul 2011

I try to always improve myself. Daily rituals, even. Sometimes it’s physically, other times mentally (or what people may call spiritually) but often it’s intellectual. I try to always learn something new and interesting. Sometimes for the wrong reasons but there is usually a valid reason.

I was discussing this with my wife. She said it’s perceived as a negative thing to talk about doing this. Natural talent is a good thing. Nurtured and grown talent is not. People like to think those inspirational awesome figures were simply born that way.

What a depressing way to think and I’m not sure I believe it. I’m not sure I don’t believe it though.

John Steinbeck so famously said, “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” (or at least the Internet says he said that).

If this is the case, why do people not always acknowledge that the way to not be a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, but just a plain old millionaire, is through hard work and continuous improvement.

A lot of people talk about this. 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and all that. If it is common knowledge (at least enough for the quotes to enter cliche territory) that one must work harder than anything else, why is this confused?

Why is it seen as bad form to publicly dedicate time and energy towards improving yourself? Why is it taboo?

People in general don’t seem interested in improving themselves. A lot of people will seemingly put effort into making people who do improve themselves feel bad about it.

We should celebrate and praise those who actively work to improve.

I understand it’s hard to give praise to someone who brings out a feeling of shame. When I listen to people who have read countless books on software development and can digest them down into a simple, unified summary I can understand I feel guilty. I try so hard to show my appreciation for them and hide my guilt, rather than turn it around and blame them.

Praise shouldn’t be reserved for the entrepreneurs who create disruptive companies. It should include the retired cop who still runs every day and spends his days reading about history. It should be anybody who works hard. I read stories about athletes who get heckled and shamed for showing off, but then hear how they spend hours every day beyond other athletes perfecting their game.

These people are all making the world a better place. To be dramatic, I think these are the only people making the world a better place. If you aren’t improving yourself you are damaging those around you. Everybody has a foot print. Either negative or positive. Not improving yourself moves to the negative. Not improving means you may be subversive to those who are. Everybody loses. There is no reason to not improve. We’re here on this Earth right now and it makes no sense to spend it in misery.

I hate being made to feel lazy or ignorant. I think the hate for that feeling is what pushes me to try to improve myself. When I close my eyes to try to sleep I think what I’ve done through the day. If I’ve not improved myself I lay there and think why. Why did I not do what I promised myself I would? I turn my shame into some constructive advice for myself. New ways to stick with it.

I’ve consciously been working on this for about 8 years. It’s still not any easier. I still have to nag myself. I still feel shame when someone has knowledge that I should have had. That I would have had if I wasn’t being lazy. I am calmer now. Instead of trying to redouble my efforts I try to make it easier to want to continue.

I want to always enjoy myself, and frankly sometimes improving myself is just not fun. That’s ok. I try to think of ways to make it fun. Then, indirectly, I’ve just improved myself by finding ways to do that are more enjoyable. Sometimes it works.