If Life is a Classroom, You Better Sit in the Front
Editor’s Note: This weeks post is a special guest post by one of my favorite bloggers. Positively Present is Dani, a twenty-something who, after years of living under a dark cloud of woe-is-me, has decided this will be the year she focuses on the positive. This will be the year she lives in the present, turning all of her attention toward making her life more positively aware. You can visit Dani on either of her two blogs—Positively Present and Hope Springs Internal—or follow her on Twitter @positivepresent. Big thanks to Dani for this wonderful post!
Life, if you haven’t noticed already, is a classroom. It’s the place where we can choose whether we want to sit in the back and doodle in our notebooks or whether we want to sit in the front row and diligently take notes. We have a choice. We can coast through life or we can commit to gaining something from it. Every day, we can coast or we can learn.
Me? I used to be a coaster. Maybe I wasn’t sitting all the way in the back of the classroom, but I certainly wasn’t in the front row waving my hand eagerly. I would handle the assignments life gave me, but I wouldn’t really learn from them. Like most things, I rushed to get through them, knowing that as soon as I finished with the hard stuff I could move onto something else more fun and less challenging. Now I know that it’s the challenges that make life interesting. It’s the desire to constantly be better than we were the day before, the need to find ways to improve our lives, that really is the most fun of all.
Lately, I’ve stopped coasting. I’ve committed myself to self-improvement. I’ve been working every single day to learn about myself, about my life, about the world I’m living in. I’ve committed myself not only to learning about these things, but to finding ways to improve them. I’ve come to realize that it’s easy to coast through life, not trying to figure out what could be better within you or the world, but it’s boring. I want to experience new things all the time. I want to leave life’s classroom better, smarter, and more fulfilled than when I came in.
Each person’s commitment to constant improvement in life is different. What you want (and need) to improve is unique, tailored to you and only you. For me, self-improvement is the focus of my life right now. I went through some really hard times and I’m striving to rise above them by finding new and exhilarating ways to learn from and improve my life. Self-improvement is a task that requires constant attention and, in my opinion, will never truly be complete. There is always something new to learn and grow from. I believe most kinds of improvement are this way. Whether you are seeking to improve your job, your family life, your social interactions, or yourself, you will need to do it constantly.
The thought of improving on something constantly may sound daunting, I know. Trust me. Sometimes I think about this self-improvement path I’ve started down and I say to myself, “Oh, wow, this is going to take forever.” But I’m beginning to realize that’s okay. Improvement can be – and perhaps should be – constant. Though I’m just a beginning to look around, seeking ways to better my life, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned so far with you. Here are ten tips to work on constantly improving any aspect of your life:
- Never limit your learning. You can learn from everything, everywhere, if you just open your eyes and ears. You want to improve your work ethic? You might find inspiration on the subway. You want to be a happier person? Your dog might show you how. You never know where you are going to learn new things to help with your improvement so don’t limit yourself to courses or books or lectures.
- Read anything you can. This goes along with the first point I’ve made, but it’s so important that I’ve given it its own number. One of the best methods I’ve found in my quest for constant improvement is to read. Read the paper. Read signs. Read books. Read the expressions on others’ faces. Read everything. You’ll be surprised how much you can improve your life from reading alone.
- Put in a lot of effort. I recently read an article in The New Yorker by (author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers) addressing the secret formula for underdogs who win. You want to know the secret? Substitute effort for ability. You might not be blessed with a specific ability, but you do have the ability to put in a ton of effort.
- Work on improvement daily. It’s important to work on your improvement, whatever that may be, all the time. If you put it on a shelf and say, “I’ll get to that later,” you might never come back. Work on it all the time. Find little ways to work on it constantly. One great way might be to start a blog that shares what you’re working on improving in your life.
- Accept that there is no end. Constant improvement is just that – constant. There isn’t an end. You have to accept this or you will drive yourself crazy wondering when you will get “there.” There is no there. When you are committing yourself to constant improvement, you are growing and changing and learning all the time. Accept this and you will be a lot less anxious, searching for some “The End” that just doesn’t exist in the world of constantly working to better yourself.
- Support yourself. You might be lucky enough to have a great support system, a group of people who want you to develop and grow and improve, but you might not. Either way, it’s important to be your biggest fan. You may be unpleasantly surprised that people will be jealous of your desire to improve yourself. You may encounter criticism and trivialization from those around you. Ignore all that and believe in yourself. Always.
- Don’t give up – no matter what. You may want to throw in the towel because there’s no definite end in sight. But don’t. Constant improvement will lead you, always, down a better and more interesting path than simply coasting through life. Giving up is the equivalent to going to the back of the classroom and slumping in your seat until someone calls on you. Do you want that kind of life? I didn’t think so…
- Practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve identified some ways to work on improving an aspect of your life, keep doing them. Let’s say you want to have a better relationship with your wife and you find that couples therapy really helps out. Keep going to sessions. Or, let’s think about how you want to be a healthier person and you find that getting up early to exercise before the family wakes really works for you. Keep getting up early. Practice your improvements over and over and over again and don’t be surprised when they become habits.
- Give back to those who teach you. When you learn from others, it’s important to give something back. This doesn’t have to be literal (you don’t need to send flowers to the woman at the pharmacy who accidentally inspired you). Think of ways you can give back by helping others with their own commitments to improvement. Don’t by chocolates for the husband who wants to lose weight. Help your boss look good because you know she is really working hard to get promoted. Remember, what goes around, comes around…
- Remind yourself of your progress. If you’re working on improving an aspect (or all aspects) of your life on a daily basis, you deserve a lot of credit. It’s not easy for people to seek to better their lives. Most people coast along, sitting in the back of the classroom, bored and waiting for something better. By being proactive, by seeking to make your life a better place, you are making not only yourself but the world a better place. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back every so often.
Committing to constant improvement is not easy, but it truly is the best way to make your life the one you want to be living. As I’m sure you’ve heard countless times before: no one is going to do it for you. You have the power to seize control of your life and to make it better. This is your life and it is up to you to commit yourself to constant improvement. So don’t sit in the back of the classroom, wishing longingly for graduation. Instead, embrace life. Pick up your things and move to the front of the room. Raise your hand. Ask questions. Learn. Be active and interested and work hard and you will improve your life.
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Posted on October 5, 2009