You know the list – run a marathon, write a book, do a MBA, work at so and so, travel to France, start your own business and so forth. Should you make an effort to do that unending list of things that “they” claim will make you happy, successful, accomplished?
Eric Karjaluoto, the writer of the article “Forget Self-Improvement,” argues very eloquently that perhaps you shouldn’t. Karjaluto makes a compelling argument for the already compelling idea of abandoning a life of doing unpleasant things you don’t love, to do things you truly love.
Self-help books and workshops arm us with ways to trick ourselves into doing things we perhaps should, but generally don’t want, to do. I ask whether this lack of will might actually be the universe trying to tell us something?
Maybe you aren’t supposed to bother with the tedious stuff. Perhaps the reason you haven’t done it yet, is that you weren’t meant to. Might achievement, as a goal unto itself, be pointless? Could this need to have done something notable, simply be greed in a more socially-acceptable form?
More than all of the rest, though: What if the missing part of the puzzle is not a lack of willpower, but instead a lack of love?
You can spend your life fretting about how healthy, interesting, or successful you are. In fact, a whole industry depends upon this, and is eager to help you make plans to change.
On the other hand, you might consider simply finding what you love, and letting the rest take care of itself. – (Deliberatism).
What He Really Means
All Eric is saying – in a very roundabout way (I read through the 90+ comments on his blog to make sure) – is that you can either motivate yourself to do things you have no interest in, or you can find what you truly love and it will all naturally “take care of itself.”
4 Problems With This View
While I agree with Eric that many of us struggle primarily because our hearts are not attached to our ambitions, I think there are at least 4 critical problems with his ideal:
1. The circular problem.
Many of the things we end up loving dearly in life are painful, hard things we would surely have quit midway if given the opportunity. They were not things we loved, knew we loved, or would have known we would love (especially because that are so hard). They were painful thing which we hated.
Ask many children crying on the way to piano lessons if they think they should continue – absolutely not. Ask many of the same kids, when at 14 they get to play for a major artiste on tour.
2. Without help many of us will love far lesser things than we should.
How many people do you think would do anything more than stay home, watch TV, eat and probably go out to the movies once in a while, if they were guaranteed all their bills would be covered for life?
Lets be honest, some of us have no real or admirable ambitions on our own. Left to our own “loves,” many of us are simply “far too easily pleased.” If not for this alone I know I need to improve myself, continuously.
3. Self-Improvement is actually meant to help many people do better at things they love!
Eric is partly wrong when he says “self-help books and workshops arm us with ways to trick ourselves into doing things we perhaps should, but generally don’t want, to do.”
When you grow up like I did – a very wild and undisciplined child, and then you suddenly find yourself tossed in the middle of a great big structured world (like law) where your mistakes may cause you to lose the things you love – then you recognize how valuable self improvement is.
4. There are things we should do whether we love them or not.
With all due respect, this is a ridiculous statement: “You can spend your life fretting about how healthy, interesting, or successful you are….”
You don’t have to run a marathon, but you should think about how healthy you are. Further, you should do something about your health if you can. You don’t have to be the life of the party, but God knows you should try not to be a total bore if you can.
Furthermore, consider the title of this TIME article:
Eric’s argument sounds great but deep in our hearts we all know that the only ugly people that are happy are the ones that don’t know. (Its true!) Improve your life where you can man. Live with passion whatever you do, but approach the quest for “doing what you love” very carefully.