I want to elaborate upon an idea I broached last week because, as some of you know, the brain never stops. And, with that being the case, I like to use the momentum created by rabid gray matter to propagate the expansion of ideas. Those ideas could, and often do, come in the form of improving the Rams front seven, pondering the evolution of man, disparaging the rotten president, or making a 95-part list to subtly improve my domicile.
Could be anything.
But the most common form of improvement I contemplate is self-improvement. As I indicated with my palaverous mission statement last week I am always seeking to be a better Tom. So that begged the question, the kind always epiphanized in the shower, “who is Tom?”
Now I know Tom pretty well, I ought to after 51 years of studying the guy. So when that question pops in my head I find myself delving into new perspectives on the illusion of self. Oh, it’s my favorite illusion of all.
It all started with the rather innocuous question (in my private journal), “What is more important, edification or contentment?”
This question came after realizing I hadn’t read 100 pages of any book since July, after reading religiously in the ballpark of 30 pages a day for the entire first half of the year. This led to “why?” and to the realization that without the forcing of myself into pages I don’t generally make time for them at all, most days. Why? Because I’m actually happier not forcing myself to do much of anything. If I am content, why force edification?
Wait. Before you answer that, I already did:
Because contentment is fine, of course, but it leads to complacency. Edification combats complacency and stimulates growth.
So if forcing myself to edify – to grow – requires effort, perhaps even strain, then I should make that effort. I should want to grow.
(and so should you)
This conclusion led to another query: “If my time is limited, shouldn’t my edification then be focused on things that specifically target my own individual goals?”
So, then, what are my specific goals? Do you see where this is going?
I enjoy reading, studying, and talking about a great many things, but let’s be honest … I am never going to be a national politician or a pro football general manager. Come to think of it I’ll never run a comic book publishing company, either. But I do so love the history of politics, of football, and of comic book publishing. A good book about any of those things makes me positively giddy. But a really good book about anything is particularly hard to find, at times. Sometimes we’re 100 pages in before we even know it sucks. At 2 minutes a page, that’s a lot of wasted minutes.
Bear with me, I’m getting to a point.
The next thing to come up in my private journal yesterday was this:
“I need to enjoy this pattern but also strive for continued improvement. Never settle. I’m 51 years old and happier in this time than I’ve ever known, more satisfied with who Tom is and what he surrounds himself with, but I can still get better.”
Which led to the shower question. Of course it led there by way of another revelation, that it is more important to know who I want to be than what I want to do. For a living, I mean. I’m not a dollar chaser, never have been, so even though I intend to be a businessman in the white goods industry, I intend to do that to make a living. And making a living is my side gig. It’s what I do for money, and I only ever need enough of that to put a safe, secure roof over my head in a decent neighborhood while I explore my greater interests in life. One of those being persistent self-improvement.
So, the shower question again. If my goal is to be the best Tom that I can be, the question becomes how to define “Tom” and how to define “best.”
My enneagram tells me I’m a Type 5 and 7 and 3 and 8 (in that order). Type 5 is “the investigator.” If you’ve read this far you already know that’s true. Type 7 is “the enthusiast.” I’m sure you saw that coming! Type 3 is “the achiever.” I suppose that’s true to somewhere near the 58% match they gave me. Type 8 is “the challenger.” I am indeed “strong and powerful” and do “stand up for what [I] believe in” a good 56% of the time.
Really none of that was revelatory nor did it help to define the base level of me or provide a roadmap for the desired best. But it was fun. You should try it.
That is where I stand now, in my personal quest. I am in the best place I have ever been and if it were “more of the same” for the rest of my days, I would be content. I would be in a happy form of complacent. If happiness is the entire goal of a human life then I get to ring the bell. But it isn’t, not to me. It is the baseline. It is the point from which all else may spring.
Once that baseline is set, the question becomes about goals. What is your baseline? What are your goals? I’m asking. I am particularly interested because your perspective influences mine. Do you waste days, like I feel I do, in complacency or apathy or even in the furious pursuit of nothing in particular? Are those days necessary? Honestly, they might be. But where do you want to be, and who? It is the destination, I think, that decides the navigation.
In the past few months I’ve tried to read Fukuyama and Huxley and Chemerinsky and Snyder and nothing took. It isn’t about them – they have produced fine works — it is about me. I’m in transition. Tom in flux. I’m wiping out my reading list, I’m starting over. I’m screwing around with my priorities again. Enthusiastically, I am investigating the challenge of what I really want to achieve.
What I read about and write about and think about and do will not depend on what I should read about and write about and think about and do … but on what I ultimately want to be.
A better me.