If you look at the animal kingdom, humans are the only species that continue to improve once they reached adulthood. Tigers don’t get better at being tigers and there are no cases of lions, that I have heard of, doing drills getting ready to go hunt gazelles. Compared to other animals, humans take a disproportionate amount of years to achieve maturity. This maturity has two different types of growth, physiological and intellectual growth. Though the physiological part happens pretty much within the same period of time for everyone, intellectual maturity is more unique to the individual, and it is based on a number of factors. The fascinating thing about intellectual maturity is that there is no end to it, which is one of the most remarkable characteristics of the human race. We have yet to arrive at the limit to our intellectual capabilities. This is to me the biggest responsibility we carry as stewards of the creation we have been given. In the same way that knowledge carries responsibility, our ability for improvement, in my opinion, carries an equal level of responsibility: to achieve the greatest level of greatness we are able to achieve. This is not to say that self-improvement comes easy or natural to human beings. Our tendency is to get stuck or settle for our current state, instead of actively seeking new levels of improvement. Yet something inside of us tells us that we should always be improving. It is as if we had a yellow “check engine” blinking light inside our heads telling us that we are not where we should be. The thing is, that unless we take purposeful steps towards improvement, it won’t happen naturally. As much as it is important and attainable, self-improvement does not come naturally to us. I have found that there are three things that keep me moving forward and that I try to strive to do:
Stay humble (The Humble Improve)
Back in the 90’s, and I’m dating myself here, Starbucks had a campaign where they printed quotes on their cups. One of them was from Wynton Marsalis the jazz musician, and it read, The humble improve. The idea is that if you are humble enough to know that you have not arrived, that you do not know it all, then you will always be ready to learn from others. This means that every interaction is an opportunity to learn. The flip side is that pride makes us rigid, and stunts our growth. If I think I know it all then I will miss the opportunities to learn from others.
Be Purposeful (Plan for Improvement)
I love the concept of GoodReads.com. Though most of the time my To-Read list reminds me that I don’t have enough of a lifetime to read all the books I want to read, it also provides a way to map out what I want to read next. Most importantly, it lets me think about why I want to read a given book next. This is important because it forces me to look at the areas of my life in which I want to improve, and therefore I want to learn more about.
Assess Direction (Old-Self vs New-Self)
This is the concept of taking stock of where I am right now in all aspects of my life: as a husband, father, friend, employee or any other roles I fill. To see what areas I need the most help. This area is related to the staying humble part because a lot of times the best way to assess direction is to ask someone to be a mirror to us, which requires a lot of humility. Allowing someone to speak truth into our lives is one of the scariest things to do, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Not only we hopefully get an objective assessment of where we are at, but also we get to, again hopefully, do the same thing for others as well.
The bottom line is that if you are not being purposeful about your growth, you are not growing. In the same way that you can’t get in shape without putting effort into it, beginning with putting your workout clothes, you cannot become a better person without being purposeful about it.