Self-improvement is the great thing everyone talks about today. Self-raparation is not. Are you truly impoving yourself or just repairing your gear?
A few weeks ago I a subscriber called Warren Wantoobe recommended me to read a book called “The 4-hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. Apparently, Warren has had great success in his life by using the methods that Ferriss writes about. Coincidence or not, that book has been laying on my shelf for many years so I decided to dust it off and read it during my train rides to work and home.
Are you engaged in self-reparation?
After reading a few pages, I stumbled upon an idea that really opened my eyes, which is very simple: emphasize your strengths and do not tweak your weaknesses. Here is a quote from Ferriss, and I translated it from Dutch, so it might be a bit different from the original one:
“It’s much more lucrative to use your strengths, than to try to repair all defects in your gear.”
I re-read this quote a few times and I started thinking. I looked at myself and at the people around me, and it hit me that a lot of people are wasting their lives trying to fix their weakness while neglecting the qualities they already possess. That’s why I think you should make a proper distinction between self-improvement and self-reparation.
I want to explore this topic even a bit further, asking the question: when is self-reparation recommended and when is it not? I will give share some of my own experiences and observations and wrap it up with a conclusion. Now, let’s get into it.
Focussing on self-reparation
Last month I ran 10 miles at a race. I’d never expected myself to do this, because I’ve never been good at long distance running. I’ve never had the stamina for it, and my body is clearly not made for endurance. I have short muscles and I’m a bit more gifted when it comes to explosive activities like sprints or a game of squash. I’ve no problem putting on some muscle mass either.
Anyway. I had never attempted long distance running, so when I started training I really had to build myself up from scratch, meaning that I could barely run a mile in the beginning. Especially considering my humungus alcohol and cigarette consumption in the past, this wasn’t so surprising. Well, on and off, it took my a good year to get myself to the level that I was able to run 10 miles in one session. So I signed up for that race. I ran 10 miles under 110 minutes.
When you are just not talented
10 miles under 110 minutes is way below average. A guy I know ran the same day, he barely trained, and ran it in 90 minutes. My younger brother even ran it in 75 minutes once. And although I’m glad I did, and really enjoyed it, I had to conclude that I simply have no talent for long distance running. Overall, I just don’t have a body made for sports. I’ve known this since elementary school. I sucked at soccer, sucked at basketball, sucked at baseball. I was OK at racket games, hockey, and actually quite good at gymnastics and anything that involved sprinting and blunt muscle power.
But, somehow, I just wanted to prove the world that I could do that 10 mile run, and getting there took me a tremendous amount of work. I still do run every week, for the physical and mental benefits, but I’m focussing on short distances now. So what I want to say with this story is that focussing on the things that you are not good at, will take double effort and give you half the results. Nevertheless, I needed to engage in self-reparation.
Public speaking hell
I’ve got another story. I hate public speaking, and I’m not good at improvising. I’m a slow and deep thinker, and most of the time, an introverted person. On the other hand, I’m good at writing and can make nice PowerPoint presentations. So if I’m able to use visuals and am allowed to read my story from the paper then I can manage it. Despite the nerves. Basically, give a presentation in front of a group costs me a lot of effort. The results are often mediocre.
This fact has been bothering me since my first year in college and a few years ago I decided to get some help. I joined a local Toastmasters group. This helped me to reduce my nerves a bit, but I’m still not a gifted public speaker. In fact, the majority of this group isn’t. Most of them are people that are continually putting enormous effort into self-reparation, thus, their inability to give a great speech.
One day, I just thought: well, I know that I can manage it if I really, really have to. But I’m not going to spend all this precious energy into upgrading poor skills to mediocre skills at best. I’d better put my energy into things I’m already good at and get great at it.
Focussing on your flaws
In my life I have spent a lot of time trying to fix myself and to mold myself into something different and trying to develop these qualities that were not naturally given to me. When I was a kid, this behaviour was encouraged by some people around me. They told me that my creative pursuits were just bullshit and structurally pointed at flaws and weaknesses instead of strengths . This ingrained in me the false fact that I was deficient and in perpetual need for repair.
That’s how I started to approach life. I spent years doing exactly the stuff that I suck at. It’s only much later that those people started to see the value in my creativity. This happened after I had some success with it.
What you see with a lot of these dating coaches and self-help gurus is that the earn off your weaknesses. They try to sell you this package of human characteristics and skills. It’s all about “you should this, you should be able to do that” etcetera. They set a goal for you and offer you the tool to reach it. What they are basically selling is the idea that you are dysfunctional and incomplete, and that you are in dire need of repairements. They sell you the idea that you are somehow less of a person if you don’t reach the goals they claim to push you towards.
For example. if you don’t have the women lined up to date you, if you don’t earn six figures or more, if you are not that macho Alpha Male. So first, they shame you and then sell you the cure for the thing that you feel ashamed about. Quite clever, isn’t it?
When self-reparation is recommended
So when is self reparation recommended and when is it not? Well, I certainly wouldn’t advocate to not self-repair at all. For example. You could have a crippling form of social anxiety, maybe so bad that you can’t even leave the house anymore, or you could be suffering from severe depression. Maybe your life is being ruined by an addiction to drugs. Perhaps you might have anger issues so bad, that you’ve lost your job, your family and your friends. And because of it and are now spending your time punching against the wall with bleeding knuckles.
There are endless cases in which self-reparation is actually recommendable. It needs some self-reflection to identify these cases, so you need to spend some time looking in the mirror and being brutally honest to yourself. Because if you are truly in need for self-repair, I think there is no room for self-improvement. Or put differently: you can optimize your self-improvement if you repair the things that sabotage you to do so.
The myth of going out of your comfort zone
Nonetheless, we still see so many people spending their lives repairing themselves instead of using the qualities they already possess and developing them. Isn’t developing your qualities – i.e. your strengths – the definition of self-improvement?
This reminds me of a few articles that I’ve read in the past, which I was able to retrieve on the internet, about, let’s call it, the myth of going out of your comfort zone. You know, you hear this one often: “get out of your comfort zone”. Okay, well, let’s take the next train to Syria, and run around naked over there. We get either bombed the shit out of, or we will be shot because running around naked isn’t quite appreciated over there, as far as I have understood. But you get out of your comfort zone, that’s for sure!
Messi isn’t going out of his comfort zone
How about the famous soccer player Lionel Messi? Author and speaker Richard Engelfriet writes about Messi in an article (Dutch!) and I quote:
Is he truly so successful because he gets out of his comfort zone every day? Or is he successful because he persistently stays in there?
End quote. Simple but thought provoking, right? I mean, what if Messi (who’s 5 foot 6) would aim for the NBA? You know, just to get out of his comfort zone? It is clear that it’s in the interest of the NBA and Lionel Messi that he stays IN his comfort zone. This is playing soccer, in other words, doing what he is good at. Yes, I know that getting ahead in life often goes hand-in-hand with pain and exposure, but you can still get ahead within the compounds of your comfort zone.
Freelance journalist Jacq. Veldman wrote an article called “Life isn’t a party”. She states the following about the comfort zone:
The myth of “stepping out of your comfort zone is just one out of many, from the prescriptions and insights that have spread from the therapist narrative, about how to live best and reach a happy state of being. Those self-help mantras have become normal in a sly manner, which people use for themselves and others.
So let’s wrap this up with a final thought. Self-improvement is different from self-reparation. The latter evolves around repairing your gear, i.e. working on your flaws and trying to develop qualities that you simply don’t have. In some cases it can be rewarding, but most of the time it’s just a waste of time and energy. I think that as individual men, focussing on self-development rather than self-reparation is golden.
We are going our own way. What the hell is stopping us from mastering our strengths and developing the greatness that we already have in ourselves? Well, nothing! Except those self-help gurus that are shaming us for being deficient while offering us the cure to be complete. But being deficient and complete are subordinates of their own subjective ideology. And that’s precisely the thing they want to sell us.
You’re not an Alpha Male, you’re poor, you’re not charismatic. Shame on you!
Well, perhaps you are a great programmer, an empathic listener, a gifted car mechanic. Focus on that, I’d say. And get those aspirations of repairing your flaws and shortcoming of your shoulders. Repair only the flaws that are sabotaging your ability to improve your strengths.