I can guess you’ve had an experience like this before. In fact, I can guess you’ve had this experience many times on a micro and macro level.
You picture yourself as the ideal version of yourself. You envision yourself writing that amazing blog post, walking up and talking to that amazing person across the room with confidence, starting that business, looking in the mirror to see that amazing body.
You’re envisioning all of these dream scenarios of being the person you want to be — the confident one who isn’t afraid of any challenge. The one who has all strengths and no weaknesses that get in your way.
But then, in real life, you fall short because you do have weaknesses that go with your strengths. You’re creative but lack the confidence for marketing. You’re organized but have no leadership skills, or vice versa. You’re confident depending on the context, and there are enough combined contexts to make sure you’ll have to overcome something you’d rather not overcome to get to the good part.
You almost never act like that ideal version of yourself. You stay locked in these daydreams of who you could be. It eats at you.
Why? Because when you’re imagining how everything will go down, you do genuinely feel that sense of confidence. The mental movie feels so close to reality — close enough to the point where you actually consider doing ‘the thing.’ But right before it’s time to pull the trigger, the mental movie collapses.
You’re still the same old you. You wonder if things will ever change. The problems and fears you have are deep-seated. You want to change, but in the back of your mind you think to yourself, “If I’ve been like this for so many years…if I’ve been like this for my whole life, how can I expect to change.”
This is a painful hell that almost all of us live in to some degree and to some context. Is there a way out?
Yes, but it, unfortunately, requires even more pain.
I’d always been relatively socially savvy. I had many friends in college, a thriving dating life, the quintessential man on campus.
I started to get serious about my writing towards the end of my time in the college town. As a result, I stopped going out as much, stopped drinking altogether, cut ties with many of my friends who just wanted to party. Then I got into a relationship that turned into a marriage.
I made my partner my entire social life, continued to say super serious about work while never having fun, and settled into a groove where I became an alienated homebody.
Then, our relationship devolved and we split. I found myself alone for the first time in a long time. Not only that, in the process of never going out for years, my social skills and dating skills eroded to almost zero.
Why am I telling you this story?
I’m telling you this story because the way I sought to fix the problem is the painful way you’ll have to learn how to solve your problems.
You have to admit you suck, admit your illusion of who you could be isn’t real yet, and throw yourself into situations knowing that you’ll get feedback that further confirms you suck.
It may not seem like it if you read my work and watch my videos, but I’m very introverted by nature. That plus the circumstances that led to me being alone meant that I had to come from a place of making the embarrassing admission that, at the age of 30, I would have to relearn my social and dating skills.
I’ve watched videos “How to Talk to People” “How to build confidence in social skills” and yes “How to Talk to Women.” I had to practice talking to people again, literally, starting at a level that was embarrassing. I’d have to watch people’s facial expressions and relearn social cues, struggle to stay present to have basic small talk with anyone, force myself to go do something as simple as saying hi to someone at a networking event. But I did these things because I have no problem being a self-improvement nerd and working on things that you’re not supposed to work on.
Society looks down at the idea of self-improvement.
You should just get it.
Just be yourself.
It’s like, if all the things you want to happen to fall right into your lap, you should forget about them.
If you don’t, you’re made to feel like a loser for having to study and learn things others pick up naturally. You should just know how to live. Most people go through life pretending like they know how to live and don’t humble themselves to learn, so they suffer for it. Most people aren’t really very good or top-level at anything. They settle into whatever grooves or paths society lays for them, pretend like they exerted agency over their lives, and ride off into the sunset of rationalizations.
They’re “themselves” but they’re a version of themselves orders of magnitude lower than what they could be. Yes, be yourself, but be the master version of yourself, be the totally rounded version, be the apex version. People walk around pretending like they have their life figured out, but then their life isn’t good. No thanks.
You have all these areas in your life that would get so much better if you just humbled yourself and admitted that you have some things to work on. You’re afraid of what other people think about said humility. Hell, I felt a little weird writing about my own struggles with social skills. Why, though? They’re valuable to learn, the lack of them caused me major problems in the past, and learning them will be a net benefit in my life. Why shy away from that at all?
Because…what will people think of me?
This is the question we ask ourselves, yet all the people we’re worried about impressing…aren’t worth impressing. All the people we want to pretend to have our shit together around…don’t have their shit together. We’ve all made this collective agreement to subtly turn our nose up at self-improvement in some shape or form.
But real self-improvement is the cheat code to life.
If you follow the process long enough, you can change, but it will certainly come at the cost of your ego.
You have to start where you’re at.
The first step in the process of becoming a successful self-improvement nerd is coming from your genuine starting place. Not the place you think the average person should start from. The place you need to start from.
I’ll use social skills because it’s such a great microcosm for the concept.
In my case, although I felt like I was starting at zero, I wasn’t. I’m in multiple Toastmasters speech clubs. Often, some of the people in the club are severely deficient. There’s one guy in one of my clubs who literally has sweaty palms constantly and can’t make eye contact for longer than a split second.
But he shows up.
He gives poor speeches. They become a little less poor over time. He becomes not necessarily confident, but a little less deficient each time. One day, he will reach a base-level that most people are born with, but will be a major win for him.
Focus on improving in a way that will be a major win for you, not anyone else.
Think about the things you really want from life and what you’ll need to do to get them. Then, simply understand that there’s a price to pay to get what you want. Often, it means doing things like putting yourself through the fire of discomfort, rejection, embarrassment, and fear.
You have a combination of two things you need to work on. You have the things you are already good at you want to enhance and then the areas of improvement you need to focus on to make sure you’re not putting a ceiling on your overall success.
So how do you tie all of this together and get the process to work?
First, figure out a way to make a brutal and honest assessment of your current situation. Think about what you want to improve — could be health, career, business, social skills, spiritual growth, whatever. Then, as best you can, accurately gauge where you’re at.
I use journaling to get to the root of how I really feel. Maybe I’ll write three pages of morning page notes about how I truly feel about the place in my life. Throughout the process of self-improvement, I’ve basically documented my entire life taking constant notes to gauge where I’m at mentally.
Second, understand what you are good at so you can take some of that energy and use it to mitigate some of your weaknesses. Here’s a full in-depth guide on the entire process.
In my case, I’m much more socially confident in business settings, public speaking, group discussion panel types of things. I take some of that professional energy and inject it into casual social situations. I know those latent skills are there, so it gives me a little more confidence to do things that don’t come naturally to me like small talk.
Lean on your strengths and build your life around them. Don’t make fixing your weakness the core part of this process at all. When you max out your value at the things you do know how to do, mitigating other stuff becomes much easier. Then, with your weaknesses, decide which level you should deal with them.
So you have all these areas of your life to work on at different levels.
What you do next determines how your life ultimately turns out.
There’s nothing wrong with having your skills be mostly earned, learned, and hard-won. In fact, it’s something to be proud of. Taking advantage of your natural skills is a prerequisite (one that ironically most people never do). If you’re able to build on top of that, then you develop superpowers.
When you have to earn your success and fight through the emotional pain it takes to realize that you do suck, to begin with, once you overcome that, you’re untouchable.
How many people have a healthy relationship with their flaws? Almost no one. The ones that do are quite noticeable. When you come across someone who seems to be at ease with life, at ease with all aspects of themselves, at ease with not being perfect, the energy is unmistakable.
I’m trying to get myself to this point and help you get there, too. No one is perfect. The minute you remove your need to be perfect and become a student of life, everything changes.
When I try to get good at stuff — both strengths and weaknesses — I always do better when I look at it as a little experimental challenge. I’m never failing. I’m just lightheartedly trying things, getting feedback, and doing it again.
Become a student of life and a student of yourself. Also, feel no shame for it.
Working on your life, even if it makes you feel weak and embarrassed, makes you more courageous than people who hide behind their rationalizations and coping mechanisms.
Join me. I’ll continue to write about my own brutal self-assessments, awkward and embarrassing steps, setbacks and triumphs, and everything in between because I want to show you what this muddy, ugly, joyful and beautiful process looks like.