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Better than whom?

Becoming better is not about becoming better than other people.

It’s about becoming better than yourself. The purpose of self-improvement is to create future selves that are more capable and more fulfilled than your present self. The goal is not to out-compete your peers. The goal is freedom. Unlike a sapling competing for sunlight in a dense forest, your growth does not need to be – and should not be – a race.

It’s a common fallacy to see the advancement of one of your peers as a judgement on your lack of advancement: someone’s sobriety as a judgement on your drinking, someone’s meditation practice as a judgment of your lack of mindfulness, someone’s physical fitness as a judgement of your being out of shape, someone’s choice to read as a judgment of your choice to watch TV. But none of these things is a judgment of your life, of your choices, or of you. These are simply choices someone else has made for themselves.

The development of others has nothing to do with you. If someone else has chosen to improve, good for them. Their actions are not because of you, they are not directed at you, and they say nothing about you. If you see their advancement as a judgement of your life, then you’re insecure. The only real judgment isn’t coming from the other person – it’s coming from you.

Give yourself permission to be human and be kind to yourself. If you’re truly unhappy with where you are, get to work. Stop comparing yourself to others and keep your eyes on the process. Remember that you, too, have an incredible human potential.

It isn’t your job to be better than anyone else or even keep up with them. Your only job is to try to be slightly better today than you were yesterday, to make sure that you’re better this year than you were last year. The point of self-improvement is to be become better than yourself.

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The Price of Admission

“Life is composed of joys and miseries. They go hand in hand.” –Bhante Gunaratana1

 

On the ride of life, pain is the price of admission.

We know pain right from birth.

Pain is with us, in ways large and small, every day of our lives. Our discomforts range from the annoying to the agonizing. Embarrassments, mistakes, and failures are inevitable. We must all face unfairness, misfortune, and tragedy.

This, I posit, is not actually a bad thing.

Pain is our oldest companion. And if we understood what pain makes possible, we would consider it a friend.

Pain teaches.
Pain warns.
Pain remembers.
Pain motivates.

The most painful experiences of my life have also been the most valuable. I wouldn’t be the man I am today were it not for pain.

 

You can’t fully live without pain.

Would pleasure feel good if we never experienced discomfort?
Would joy have any meaning if we never knew sorrow?
Can we have freedom without insecurity?
Could we experience wonder without uncertainty?
Could we have love without the potential for loss?

I think the answer to all those questions is no.

Without discomfort, pleasure offers no release.
Because I have known deeper sorrow, I can feel greater joy.
To be free is to be unsafe.
Because I embrace uncertainty, I am able to wonder.
To share your life with others is to share in their pain and, perhaps, experience the pain of their loss.

 

To feel or not to feel?

Some try to avoid pain by numbing themselves.

But this comes at a steep price, as Brené Brown explains: “The problem is … you cannot selectively numb emotion.” When we numb the bad, “we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”2

You can also protect yourself from pain by avoiding the vulnerability of openness and uncertainty, honesty and risk. But this too has a cost. Vulnerability, Brown’s research shows, is “the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”2

To some, stress is pain. But, as Kelly McGonigal defines it, stress is simply what we feel “when something we care about is at stake.”3 To have no stress is to care about nothing.

We cannot choose what to feel. We can only choose whether or not to feel. Many people choose inebriation or distraction, avoiding what is real and present and most deeply true. Many people choose to stay small, to hide, rather than risk the pain that the public eye sometimes brings. Some people even want to give up on life entirely because they don’t believe the pain is worth it.

I know.
I used to be one of those people.

Would you give up the good to protect yourself from the bad?
Would you avoid pursuing success to avoid risking failure?
Would you numb all your feelings to avoid pain?

 

On the ride of life, pain is the price of admission.
And I pay it gladly.

 

Works Cited

1 Gunaratana, Bhante. Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 2011. Pg. 91.

2 Brown, Brené. “The power of vulnerability.” TEDxHouston. June 2010. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.

3 McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. Avery, 2015.