Five years ago, I was a loser. I no longer wanted to be a loser, so I went searching for answers and stumbled across self-improvement.
Through luck, divine intervention, I don’t know, I got the opportunity to share what I’d been learning through writing.
The rest is history.
I’m not perfect, but I’ve learned many valuable lessons in the process of becoming a student of life. That’s all I am. I’m not a guru. I’m just as fucked up as you are.
We’re in this together, my ambitious yet insecure friend. Our struggles are similar. So are the solutions. We all know the solutions, but we have to drill them into our heads until we actually follow through with them. That’s all this self-improvement game is.
Anyway, here are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in this past half-decade, lessons I hope will help you create a life-long arc of your own.
When you start your self-improvement journey, or if you’ve been on it for a while, you feel like you know this secret the rest of the world doesn’t know. Other people seem “asleep.”
You see the “masses of men and women leading lives of quiet desperation” and you’ll feel the need to save them to preach to them to pull them out of the quicksand with your newly acquired wisdom.
After a while, you realize the sobering truth — many people are set in their ways. When you live your life a certain way for a long enough period of time, you almost have to accept it because the alternative is believing you wasted the vast majority of your life, which is unsettling, to say the least.
So most people create an elaborate set of rationalizations to cope with their life until they die. Either that or they’re genuinely content with their lives, which also means you should just leave them the hell alone.
Becoming a student of life should only serve two purposes — to help you make your life better and connect with other people who want to do the same. At this point, I don’t care what anyone thinks. I mean, I want the work to resonate and I hope it does, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’re all adults and people can do as they please.
When I first started writing about self-improvement I felt the need to be judgmental and talk from a pedestal, which is stupid because I had spent years of my life being a loser and only recently decided to change. Who the hell am I to tell people how to live? You know what I think to myself now? Who the hell am I to tell people how to live?
I’m no one. I’m just a guy who loves to write about life. And more than ever I want you to understand that everything I tell you is a suggestion. I’m making educated guesses about what may or may not happen in your life depending on the decisions you make. I don’t know. Nobody does.
Take everything I say with a grain of salt and take the plank out of your eye before observing the speck of dust in the eyes of others. I’m working on the latter every single day.
Self-improvement isn’t hard. Getting worldly outcomes isn’t hard. They’re time-consuming. Once you realize the goals you want to achieve are, for the most part, literally a matter of time, you can calmly work toward them.
Sure, you may never become a billionaire or own a Lamborghini but that’s not what you really want. You want to look back at your life and say “Damn, I can’t believe I did all of that.” And you can easily reach that goal with…time.
I started my writing career with zero readers. Millions of people now read my work each year. I reached this point by, mostly, writing 1-2 hours per day for a few years. That’s it.
That’s the unsexy process that works. We all want to avoid the unsexy process that works because…it’s not sexy! We love the bells and whistles, the little tricks, the optimistic jolt of energy that comes with believing in a get rich scheme we ultimately know won’t work. People mostly use self-improvement to get those feelings, to get high on their own potential. It feels good. It feels good to feel like you’re beginning to work on something.
But most people fall short because of the unglamorous parts of what it takes to be successful. I love writing, but I don’t love putting together software, answering emails, creating a schedule, doing outreach and promotion, editing (I hate editing), but I do all of these things because the juice is worth the squeeze.
You have to find something compelling enough that you’re willing to both work on the fun and not so fun parts too. And then you just have to spend time.
When you spend time truly doing the work, you gain a more reliable source of energy than those jolts of motivation you get from your fantasies. You get real, earned confidence that doesn’t fade when you hit a little roadblock.
The good news? If you reach a certain tipping point in your life, you’ll never quit. You’ll have invested too much, your skills will be too worthwhile, and you’ll have too much evidence against your own self-doubt to want to quit.
Focus on reaching that point.
I’ve been meditating for a half-decade now. The major lesson meditation taught me is the fact that my thoughts are insane. When you watch your mind at work, you realize how constantly full of shit you are almost one hundred percent of the time. All these worries, anxieties, BS future projections, ruminating on the past. My goodness.
You know this logically but embrace this next sentence emotionally.
You don’t have to believe the things your mind tells you.
Your mind isn’t you. If it was, you could control it better. Your mind is this demon toddler with rabies trying to ruin your life. Treat it as such. Of course, you have to be able to avoid or suppress your own mind long enough to do the work. How the hell do you do that?
You do the work.
At this point, I’m reducing my writing to the most obvious things possible. Why? Because during this five year period of trying to discover the secrets of self-improvement, or whatever, I just get closer to the answer that there are no secrets and ultimately you just have to kinda-sorta somehow fill that gap between your thoughts and your actions and just pull the trigger. Revolutionary. I know.
There are ways to help you get there, productivity routines, habit-building, inspiration. The first few years of trying to get my dreams off the ground I bathed in inspirational content to brainwash myself into doing the work. But still, I had to close that mental gap myself and just do it.
That’s why I’m here for you. That’s why I write what is essentially the same article in hundreds of slightly different ways. It’s hard to get this to sink in and it’s hard to do the work long enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The light definitely exists. And unless you’re just the unluckiest least talented person on planet earth, you can get there. Just take my word for it. I’ll guarantee it. Put five years of your life into real self-improvement and executing your ideas, and you’ll get what you want.
God damn self-help can be so cheesy sometimes, can’t it?
I’m a self-help writer and there are several aspects of the industry that make me want to puke in my mouth a little bit. But I also know that self-help is the saving grace you can use to change your life.
Self-improvement is “Lindy.” It’s been here damn near forever. In 2020, we’re just repeating greek philosophy with updated language. There’s a theme of wanting to get better and learning how to deal with life, how to learn how to live, that’s been prevalent in our storytelling since the beginning of the written word.
As a human being, you just have the urge to improve. You have the DNA of people who built civilizations in you. What you do with that DNA is on you.
I get why people are jaded toward self-improvement. The tone of its teachers can be condescending, the concepts can play on your insecurities, and much of it is predicated on the idea that you’re not enough unless you achieve certain outcomes. I get it.
Still, I can’t help but see the longing for a better life even from the detractors of self-improvement. The desire almost seems stronger from these people. They have this defense mechanism — reject self-improvement because they can’t get it to work or don’t think they can get it to work. Hide behind this air of nonchalance or point their rage at an unfair system. The energy has to go somewhere.
I choose self-improvement because I know at the end of the day I have to be with myself one hundred percent of the time. I can put on a front for the outside world all I want but that won’t change the dreams I feel inside, the way I view myself on the inside, the truth I know about the world on the inside regardless of how much I try to shove it down.
The same can be said for you. You know your thoughts. You know what you want. You’re afraid. And it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to trepidatiously take steps towards a better life, even if you think self-improvement is a little bit of a BS endeavor. You can have both of those thoughts at the same time.
I’d hate for you to die not having lived the life you wanted to live because you thought you were too cool for self-improvement or because you thought you weren’t good enough for it.
You are good enough.
Time and time again I always see the same phenomenon — as soon as jaded skeptical people get a little bit of success they end up liking it. It’s okay to want to win.
None of this shit matters my friend, regardless of the angle you take. If you don’t believe in God, you’re but a speck of dust in the infinite expanse of time. If you do believe in God, your bases are already covered and you’re going to heaven.
Why spend any of the time on this earth trying to be successful?
To be honest, I don’t have a super-strong sales pitch as to why you should.
I just think it’s fun.
And I’m trying to share that fun, that joy, with other people who might have fun doing it too. If nothing matters, why be scared? Nihilists come to the wrong conclusion. They think that nothingness is a sign to avoid trying while I think it’s the number one reason to try.
If we’re all in the Matrix, some computer simulation, I want to be Neo. Why would you want to be the “NPC” the extra in the movie blended into the fucking background? Again, maybe that’s just me. Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. Maybe I’m wrong.
Only you know.
Don’t do anything in your life for me or for anyone else. Do it for you. If you don’t want to be a hero, then don’t be one. But if you do want to be a hero and you’re rationalizing those feelings away, stop bullshitting yourself.
If you’re content, be content. Share your secrets with me, actually. But if you’re playing content because you’re scared, stop bullshitting yourself.
If you really think the system is rigged and you’re going to overthrow the oligarchy, give it your best shot. But if you’re using the system to justify your own inaction, stop bullshitting yourself.
Why? Because even though nothing matters, everything matters to you.
Maybe your brain is mapping a territory that either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, but as long as you’re alive you’re going to have to traverse that map.
Might as well try to do it right, right?