Simple Solutions to Self Improvement

Everyday we make choices. 

As I have argued, choices are not conducive to happiness. But it is ridiculous to say that we shouldn't make them, because, well, we have to. Each day we make many choices, but seldom realize how much our personal choices shape the world around us.

Inspiration for this article surfaced while I was browsing my Google Reader the other day. I had grown weary of my dad's attempts to encourage my "entrepreneurial spirit" via Facebook messages, and finally agreed to follow marketing blogger Seth Godin. Thank you, Dad. I stumbled across a fantastic post by Godin titled "Expose yourself..." This post was short and sweet (as most of Godin's are), so I will share it with you in its entirety:

With so many options in media, interaction and venues, you now get to choose what you expose yourself to.

Expose yourself to art, and you'll come to appreciate it and aspire to make it.

Expose yourself to anonymous scathing critics and you will begin to believe them (or flinch in anticipation of their next appearance.)

Expose yourself to get-rich-quick stories and you'll want to become one.

Expose yourself to fast food ads and you'll crave french fries.

Expose yourself to angry mobs of uninformed, easily manipulated protesters and you'll want to join a mob.

Expose yourself to metrics about your brand or business or performance and you'll work to improve them.

Expose yourself to anger and you might get angry too.

Expose yourself to people making smart decisions and you'll probably learn how to do it as well.

Expose yourself to eager long-term investors (of every kind) and you'll likely to start making what they want to support.

It's a choice if you want it to be.

Is it really that simple? We become the people that we choose to be. A Mitch's recent article called for us to re-evaluate the positive in our lives. I know I am not alone when I say that his article left me wondering how I can become a more gracious person. Many commented that his article inspired them to more actively express their gratitude-- one reader posted that they had sent a letter home that very day. A Mitch's article prompts us to embrace the choices that life offers us every day. Drawing from Godin, I realized that the way for me to become a more gracious person is simple: I should do more gracious acts and to surround  myself with more gracious people.

Philosophers have been conflicted about man's powers over self-determination since ancient times. I have considered the determinist point of view, that we have absolutely no control over the choices we make. I have also considered the tabula rasa point of view, that we are born as clean slates and are free to decide where to go from there. This is the classic nature vs. nurture debate. That we have not come up with a solution to this age-old issue points us to believe that a combination of both influences that determines human cognition.

I believe that at our birth, we are given an ambiguous life path determined by our genetics and our circumstances. From this point forward, our lives are up to us. When we are young, we have little control over our characters because most of our life decisions are made by others.

Now, at this point in our lives, we have a great freedom (not complete freedom) to decide who we are. There are certain factors that prevent us from doing certain things (a paraplegic can't go ride a bike), but much of the world is ours to explore. This is why our choices are so crucial. You may not yearn to go see an optional lecture at Pomona; if you choose to go, however, you're becoming that person who is open to learning new things. You may completely disagree with an opposing argument, but if you choose to acknowledge their point of view, then you're becoming a person who is tolerant. You may be exhausted and too lazy to brush your teeth before bed, but if you choose to brush, then you're becoming a person who is disciplined. A single decision may not fundamentally change who you are, but  the accumulation of many positive choices can incite this change.

As I mentioned before, I do not buy into Locke's theory that we are all born clean slates, but I do know we are all born. And we have the decision where to go from there. Those who had the life-changing experience of reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky back in the days of middle school may remember Charlie's conjecture that, "We are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose wherever we go from there. We can still do things."

The world needs us. As tired as it may be, we are all at CMC because we are "leaders." The success of our alumni indicates that many of us are going to some day have far more influence than we have right now. With influences comes responsiblity. As the "future leaders of the world," we have the responsibility to make choices that affect more than just our immediate lives. More importantly, being leaders puts us in the most consequential position of all: a position to change the world for the better.

What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had decided to purse the career as an architect that he desired? What would have happened if Rosa Parks had made the choice to give up her seat on the bus? Change who you are today by being conscious of your choices. We cannot improve the world unless we improve ourselves. So why not start now?

As a final note, I am giving in to my sentimentality and sharing a music video from John Ondrasik's Five for Fighting. If you are ever looking for inspiration, his Vevo page should be the first place you look.

P.S. Five for Fighting not only speaks for the message I am making in this article, but also has a specific appreciation for the potential of the members of the CMC community. On his most recently released album Slice, John Ondrasik dedicated a song to one of our notable alums, titling the track "Augie Nieto."