This past week was supposed to be self-improvement week, but I got a little distracted by a pair of Hollywood legends passing on, and didn’t have a chance to finish up our articles. I’m going to do that now, so don’t feel like I abandoned you.
So far we’ve talked about getting the most at the gym, more productive complaining, and how important it is to plan, but now we’re going to get into something a little bit trickier. As I get older, I find that I have gotten better at most aspects of my life. I’m stronger at time management, better at my job, and far more decisive. I also find that as a result of all of this I have less patience for my fellow man than I used to have in certain social situations. I frequently sit and am supremely annoyed when someone cannot make up their mind in the Subway line or is consistently complaining about the same thing over and over again, and yet doesn’t take advice or seem to remotely want to put any effort into addressing their problem (admittedly I occasionally do the latter, so this is occasionally a hypocritical annoyance). Me in college would have sat for hours with someone trying out different “polite” ways to tell them my opinion, but years later I find that that's not a solution worth trying and the polite thing to do would be to help them solve the problem, even if the solution comes across as harsh. I’ll have all the sympathy in the world for someone if they are genuinely trying and failing, but if all they are doing is complaining and waiting for their dreams to come along, then I just don’t have the time.
There’s a weird thing in society these days that seems to revolve around everyone needing everything they are regaled with to be positive. I cannot tell you how many people simply don’t watch the news because they cannot handle all of it being bad (ignorance be damned!), and are supremely afraid of telling someone something bad because it will hurt their feelings. I’m all for packaging something, particularly if you can tell someone is sensitive about what they’re telling you, but I think it’s about time that tough love came back in style.
The reality is that I have learned more from people giving me complete and honest feedback than I ever have from a sugarcoating or a compliment sandwich. Frequently, the only thing you genuinely want when you ask for advice (even if you’re not aware of it) is reassurance that you are doing the correct thing, but that’s not really what advice and learning should be for.
I feel like some examples are in order so you know where I’m headed here. Let’s say that you are constantly trying to find a significant other, but keep having the same bout of bad luck. You ask your friend, and I guarantee you will get some version of “he’s out there, you just have to wait, if he’s like that he’s not the right one,” which is kind and comforting, but not remotely helpful and if you’ve been on a string of bad dates, infuriating. A better response to this would be honesty, even if it hurts. Saying something like, “I love you, but you’re way too picky” or “you always seem to self-sabotage” or “you find fault with everyone and dismiss them before giving them a chance” or even the truly tough “you keep going for girls that are way out of your league” is apparently hurtful on the tongue, but it’s probably the nicest thing you could do for someone. Personally, I feel that we’d all be a lot better off if at the end of a first date that we didn’t want to see the person again we’d tell them why so they could keep that in mind in the future, but that’s not going to happen-your friends being honest with you might.
Because the hard truth is that sometimes, as much as no one wants to admit this, the problem isn’t the "them" or the situation or the many loves who didn’t happen-it’s you. This isn’t something we’re supposed to say in an increasingly “everything is awesome” societal attitude, but it’s true. Maybe the promotion you’re not getting isn’t because your boss hates you-maybe it’s because you don’t apply yourself enough to prove that you deserve the promotion at work. Maybe the diet that you’ve been on for months isn’t working because all you do is walk and you take too many “breaks” from the diet to make it sustainable. Maybe that novel that’s sitting on a shelf isn’t getting done not because you have writer’s block but because you’re afraid to fail. And maybe all of those guys you have first dates with aren’t jerks or crazy, but instead are just turned off by something you bring to the table.
The reality is that it takes a lot of self-awareness and potentially a hard hit to the self-esteem to find these things out for yourself, but it’s an important step if you want to improve. People rarely can solve a major, perpetual habit without changing something specific about themselves, and it’s always worth looking inward if you need to solve a problem. This does not mean going on a pity party (THAT HELPS NO ONE!), but instead being self-aware enough to realize that you are potentially the contributing factor, and instead of feeling bad, feeling empowered. I frequently say when someone is trying to play the blame game about an issue or a project that “I’d love it if I was the one who made the mistake-that way I can easily fix it in the future.” That’s the sort of attitude to have about your problems; so frequently in life we are given a lousy hand, but if you have a hand that you can actually change, that’s probably the best you can hope for when you’re running low on success. So don’t be afraid to tell people if there truly is something impeding their success, and make sure that you are actually willing to listen when you ask for advice and not just reassurance. And most importantly, make up your mind about what you want on your sandwich at Subway before you get to the front of the line!