Writing For Myself

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

How often do we do things for ourselves? So much of our mental CPU is dedicated to pleasing others. Exceeding expectations from parents, bosses, friends, and critics. It's exhausting. What about us? We don't do enough for "me". Getting a haircut or a cup of coffee doesn't count. Buying new clothes might give you temporary satisfaction, but the results are short-lived. I'm talking about doing things that will make you a better person.

Finishing school is one example. You can make it in America without a degree, but society makes it infinitely harder without this simple piece of paper. Learning a new language, learning to cook, pretty much learning anything will benefit you for years to come. But it's not always learning. You can also do something for yourself through accomplishment. You can pave the road for others with your actions. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo. She paid the ultimate sacrifice for her bravery, but she also demolished gender biases with a single flight.

This morning I watched the film, "Seven Years In Tibet" starring Brad Pitt. There was one scene in particular that stuck with me--comparing the Western philosophy of personal achievement with that of Tibetan monks . In "Western culture", we praise those with social status be it wealth, fame, or both. Yet in the Tibetan culture, they admire those who are most humble. They perceive a person's sacrifice of self as the greatest possible achievement in life, and the path to enlightenment.

Who's right? What's more noble? Should we pursue our dreams to far off lands, wealth, unconditional love, and admiration of others?  Or should we live selflessly, with compassion for all living beings? I don't expect an answer. And of course this is a scenario where there are equally strong cases for either argument, suggesting the logical answer is somewhere in the middle, drawing the best from both philosophies.

Adam Smith said if every person looked after themselves, the world will prosper--a "capitalist" argument. I'd even add there's an evolutionary predisposition to look after yourself first. It's counterintuitive to "assist the child seated next to you" in the event of an emergency. The rational brain shuts down and survival instincts kick in. Yet when we're not under immediate life-threatening danger, we're constantly helping others.  It's what makes society as we know it possible.

Where's the Goldilocks medium? How much time and attention should we focus on ourselves versus the people we care most about?  In many ways, the people who love you share in your successes, so doing what's best for you is a good thing. Also, by accomplishing the things that you wish to achieve, you give others (who might be waiting for social certification) permission. I.E. the Earhart effect.

But doing things for yourself feels wrong. Selfish. Like you're ignoring your duty to society and building your own world. Though, I assure you this isn't the case. This post was for me. I needed to read this. There's a Gandhi quote that says, "Be the change you wish to see I the world."  Essentially whether it's business, art, writing (which I consider an art), flying, hop-scotching, whatever you do, it should be for you. 

George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to summit Everest. His response is famous, "Because it's there." We only get a little bit of time to do all the things we want to do. If we're lucky, we get about eighty to ninety years, and if we're really lucky, we get one hundred. In these handful of years, you determine the kind of person you want to be. You can decide how you want to be remembered. And you can choose to live a life that's your own, and in doing so, help millions of other people do the same.