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12 Type He
DEC The importance of self-improvement
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If there’s one habit I’d advocate as being the most important for living a fulfilled
life, it would be self-improvement. Self-improvement is so important that for Essay
most people I’d even say it was essential. As humans, developing new skills and
Journ
growing as people is central to our vision of self-worth and sense of achievement,
but I think it goes deeper than this. Mart

Thou
Humans are industrious creatures. We don’t like to stagnate. We hate jobs that
lack purpose or ones where every day feels the same. We like to be challenged,
and we like to feel progress. If we’re staying in the same place for too long, we Archiv
become lethargic and our spirits dulled. We need changes of scenery and new
horizons; a continued influx of reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
Februa

Self-improvement and me Septem

For me personally, self-improvement has taken on a central role. Part of the August

thought process of deciding how I want to live my life involves observing the June 20
habits and lifestyles of people who exhibit the kinds of values I want to achieve in
my own life. One thing I noticed was that it was rare for me to hold in high regard January

a person who didn’t own and read a lot of books – after noticing this I made an Decem
effort to start collecting and reading more books myself.1 Adopting the habits of
Septem
people whose characteristics you admire seems a useful heuristic for developing
those same characteristics yourself. August

Self-improvement over the years has become the main method for achieving my April 20
goals in life. I’m lucky that I was probably always that way inclined – in the
Decem
beginning I didn’t need a reason to try to learn new things, I just found them
interesting, but by actively pursuing these things I’ve allowed my appetite to grow
and consequently I think I’ve become a much better person for it. Actually, some Recen
of the biggest things in my life I believe are directly attributable to it – it makes for
an interesting experiment for me to look back at my life and wonder how
different it would be today if I hadn’t spent so much time trying to learn new Twee
things.

My relationship with self-improvement started in secondary school. I didn’t enjoy
the school curriculum (it actually pushed me away from enjoying most subjects
Facebo
until sometime in college), but fortunately I developed at that time an interest in internet
computers. I learnt various programming languages and became interested in sites. no
hacker culture,2 and this provided me with an early talent and obvious direction
to steer my career towards. By the time I started university, my personal
programming projects had made much of the university material already familiar
to me, which I remember being very appreciative of, so I was able to spend more
of my time either socialising or working on personal projects such as games
programming or playing piano.3

Between my second and third years as a student I was hired by CERN4 as a
computer scientist and lived for the year on the outskirts of Geneva, and
following my graduation (now about six months ago) I was able to take a job We vote
working as a software engineer for a large multinational company. Aside from
Embed
giving me my career, it pushed me at the beginning of college to start practising
aikido – something that’s now become part of my identity.

All of these things I feel very privileged for, and all of them I feel have directly
resulted from my original ambition of simply wanting to better myself. I hope you
can of course excuse me for indulging myself in listing what I feel are some of my
personal achievements, but I hope it shows how large an impact my life has felt
from adopting self-improvement as a habit to make time for.

This website is in fact itself a result of time allocated for self-improvement: both
for writing the code (I hadn’t written a website in a while), and for attempting to
improve my writing and quality of thought.

I find it remarkable though how easily my life could be so much different, and I
look at figures like Benjamin Franklin and see how much self-improvement
altered their lives’ trajectories,5 and I can only conclude that it’s a fundamental
component for maximising a person’s potential. Indeed, you’d be quite lucky to
maximise your potential without investing vast amounts of time into personal
development – or, perhaps, unlucky.

Self-improvement for a fulfilled life
At the beginning of this essay I said that self-improvement wasn’t just important
for maximising a person’s potential, but for living a fulfilled life. Living a fulfilled
life requires a person to know what they want – knowing what will make them
happy. There’s not much worse than living your life according to someone else’s
idea of what will make you happy and then finding out at the last minute that it
wasn’t for you. Self-improvement isn’t just about skills, it’s about learning.

I quoted in a previous essay Socrates’ remark that “The unexamined life is not
worth living.” I think he’s completely right. The most important aspect of self-
improvement is understanding who you are, and what constitutes success to you.

Success to me is completely detached from financial reward; I’m not swayed
either by the idea that the success of my life can be gauged by how high I climb
the corporate ladder, and nor do I subscribe to the idea that I should necessarily
settle down with a wife, have 2.5 children and maybe a dog, or any other
prescribed measure of personal success society wants to dole out.

To me, success means being happy (and making others happy), which means
settling down with a wife and having 2.5 children if that’s what it means, or not if
not.6 The point I’d like to make is that understanding how to be happy requires
self-improvement. The process of self-improvement naturally includes both
questioning yourself to determine what you could improve in your life and then
the putting of your answer into effect.

People often give the advice to others, “be yourself.” What I suspect they mean
isn’t just “be yourself” – surely you’re doing that already – but “be your best self.”
Know what you want and endeavour to do what it takes to get it. Don’t let fate or
anything else unduly dictate to you who you should or shouldn’t turn out to be7 –
be who you want to be. Get an idea of what your best self looks like and work
towards it.
Without self-improvement, we’d just drift along wherever the current might take
us. Some few would happen to end up where they would have wanted to go had
they stopped and thought about it, but most generally wouldn’t. For most of us,
we need to continually reassess our lives and keep kicking in the direction we
want to go. The fulfilled among us are those who feel they’re heading exactly in
the direction they want to be, and self-improvement is the mechanism for getting
us there. I owe my life to the habit of self-improvement, but I can’t wait to see
where it’ll take me in 20 years more.

1. Currently I have a room in my flat whose main purpose is simply to house
my books – it’s a small room, but there’s something wonderful about being
able to call one of your rooms your library. ↩

2. ‘Hacker’ here meaning both the media sense of gaining access to
information I hadn’t the permission to access, and also the sense of simply
solving problems and overcoming obstacles. ↩

3. I’ve played for years now but have come to the opinion that I might have
the wrong mentality for it. I tend to approach the piano too analytically,
and the result seems to be the rote memorisation of music rather than an
developing an appreciation for their feeling and character. However, I still
enjoy it nevertheless! ↩

4. CERN is one of those remarkable places where it’s easy to get the
impression that everyone is smarter than you – almost everyone’s an
expert in their field. You could learn so much simply by being privy to the
conversations between the scientists. Nice restaurant too. ↩

5. If you haven’t read it, I challenge anyone to read his autobiography and not
find something useful to learn from it. ↩

6. I tend towards the ‘not’ side, unless having children includes adoption
which I’m a strong proponent of. I’d like to have the dog too, but it would
unfortunately conflict with my vegetarianism. ↩

7. A difficult request to make if you’re a determinist like me, but worth the
effort anyway of course. ↩

Matthew Bowen Posted in Essays education, life, motivation,
personal, self-improvement 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The importance of self-improvement”
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Improving Slowly - December 30, 2013 at 4:53 pm Reply

I really enjoyed this. Self improvement is important to me too. I’m glad your interest in
programming and computer science led to great opportunities for you.

Great stuff.

Matthew Bowen - December 30, 2013 at 9:03 pm Reply

Thanks for your comment. I checked out your blog and what a great idea! I wish
you every success with it.

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