So someone’s good at taking down an opponent, but that doesn’t make them more community-minded, or modest, or well-prepared for any circumstance, or more tolerant of the faults of others. Marcus Aurelius
Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re trying to improve yourself in some way. That’s a worthy pursuit, but we must be mindful of our motivations behind our goals.
One of my goals this year is to be fitter at 40 than I’ve ever been in the past.
When I was setting this goal, one of the key motivations I wrote down was, “I want to look good in the mirror”. At first glance, this seems fine, I mean who doesn’t want to look good? The problem is it’s superficial. Vanity leads to ego, and as Ryan Holiday pointed out, Ego is the Enemy. While we can decide we look good, getting validation from others is not within our control, and we should strive to avoid that.
If I were to use this as my why, my chief motivation, it is likely to be quite motivating but for the wrong reason. It’s not going to lead me towards being a better person. I don’t want to cultivate vanity. It might give me a sense of confidence, but that’s coming from a place of conceit—that I’m better than others. I can choose to be confident in myself, it shouldn’t come from lauding it over others. Modesty is what I should be striving for.
In contrast, the other reasons I wrote down for getting fitter are more virtuous. I want to play with my kids without getting out of breath or unable to keep up with them. I also want to take good care of myself, so I’m more likely to be around longer to look after my family. I’ll have more time to study and perhaps I’ll get to make a positive difference to the world in some small way. As a natural by-product, I expect I will look better.
So, yes, we all want to get better at mastering our craft and improving ourselves, but we should not be doing that at the expense of becoming a better person. Make sure that when you’re pursuing your goals, you’re not neglecting your duty to your family, friends or yourself.