I have been into self-improvement for a long time now. For almost five years now I have religiously followed a number of authors who speak to becoming a bigger, badder you.
However, the pursuit has always felt a little hollow to me. Becoming a better you has always felt to me to necessitate an overly inward eye. Many years ago I took a pledge around a campfire to live my life for others. While I was just a kid at the time, the pledge is still something that I take seriously, something that has been fed by my activities since.
This campfire experience is one that came back to me several years later when I sought to learn more about Buddhism. My interest was academic rather than spiritual, but I was struck by something on a deeper level nonetheless. I was watching a video series with basic information about what it was to be a Buddhist, and I was struck by a statement the monks said ad the beginning of each installment. "... to achieve enlightenment for the betterment of all beings..."
That is how self improvement reconciles with altruistic, charitable living.
That is how I want to live my life.
In an attempt to follow this ideal, I redouble my efforts to become a better person. It is my belief that through becoming a more tempered, centered, and generally better person that I can make the world a better place. The improvements must be of a certain type, as self improvement can lead to conceit, but with proper care improving yourself can be a benefit to those around you.
This blog charts how I seek to become a better person for the benefit of my fellows. This blog follows me as I seek to live life more fluently, meaning with ease, for the sake of charity. At this point in time the blog also follows me as I seek fluency in the realm of foreign languages, my chosen vehicle for self-improvement. Yet the scope of this blog is fluency in foreign languages. I feel that the focus of this blog will change as I continue on my journey. I can only help that it might serve as a help to others in its own little way.
I begin this process by looking back at who I was in this last year, where I was in my life, and how it all worked out. I look at how I could have done things differently. I look at what worked and what didn't, and then I make goals for myself for the next year. I seek a balance between building on my previous experience and skills and creating new ones.
Below is a sampling from this year's process.
Where I was
I was a student, and then a recent grad with no real idea of what to do with life. I was clinging to a failing relationship, and along with that a reality that was entirely in my mind. Yes, life was good in many ways, but I was deeply in denial about my situation, attitude, and future prospects.
I was in an obligatory period of underemployment where I sought any way to make my life more meaningful. Not being a student anymore was a rough state of affairs, and it took me a long time to find what I valued. I was in a rut, but also in a time of discovery. I was at an non-fulfilling job that filled me with desire to do something more with my life.
I was in a coffee shop a lot. I was hanging out with a few choice, amazing people who built up my dreams and helped keep me from talking myself out of projects. I spent a lot of time in front of a computer writing blog posts, which while not all good were at least good practice. I also wrote a book of roughly 30,000 words. While not the best or most focused piece of writing, it was great practice and contains material good material which will be recycled for other projects.
The overwhelming desire to become more lead me to take a job in another country. With a bittersweet taste in my mouth I departed from my loved ones and support structure into the unknown. Since, I have been in alternating states of euphoria and dysphoria. Once again my expectations of the future meshed harshly with reality. The result was culture shock, which was compounded by poor health.
I am now on the other side of my latest difficulties, and it is time to plan what will come next. The new year could not come at a more apt time. I'm in a foreign country, doing a job unlike I've ever had, and the road is open in front of me.
Dreaming big and beyond my station. I honed skills and started to become my own variation on those I admire. I rectified my desire to be something new with why I wanted to change. I anchored my changes in reality by exploring new types of work through practice. I did this with both writing and teaching.
Understanding that an overarching life plan lead to disappointment and struggle. My worst spot in the year was when I was frantically trying to fit the ideal plan that would keep me in school and keep me in my relationship. With stepping back to get a clear picture of the environment I had to affect, I was able to make something better than my previous fantasy.
Some issues to attend to
My running habit and thus my health was at its peak when I was running 5k's every couple of months. I was eating healthier and was off of my former PB&J-only college boy diet. Cooking for myself was still a struggle, but I was still in the best shape of my life. I had also been making a concerted effort to create a blog. The blog was horribly unfocused and didn't get much attention, but I was picking up the writing habit.
Moving to China, not surprisingly, derailed all of those efforts. I stopped exercising after I came down with the flu in my second month here. Also, although I have been feeling more fulfilled at my job it draws more energy from me than bus driving and even teaching yoga ever did. So, I switched back to a PB&J diet for convenience and familiarity. My health has suffered since, and with it everything else.
What I will do
My ideal outcomes are listed below. I will work back from those outcomes and create actionable steps that will get me to each of, or at least some of, those points. These points are what I will ideally do, not what I must do. Included are goals for fitness, nutrition, learning, finances, travel, and writing.
All of it starts first with the establishment of this blog. A more focused blog which can be used as a platform for other enterprises. It can also be used to keep practicing my writing, and to learn the art of creation and labor on the web. This will be my jumping-off point, and is my last major accomplishment of 2012. On new years day, I will post a number of articles on language learning and self-improvement to launch my new home on the internet; Fluency for Charity. With it I hope to encourage myself to build the life I desire; an other-focused, more charitably minded me.
Tell me a little about what you want from this year.
My ideal outcomes from this year
Establish a muse based on my own writing.
Visit a country besides China
The travel bug has bit me again. Only three and a half months after moving to China I can feel the effects of experiencing a different culture. I'm very familiar with China though, and am feeling interested in going to a place that will feel more alien to me. I am currently considering going to:
Despite my limited income, I hope to have $2,500+ paid off on my debts and me making regular payments on my student loans above the income-adjusted minimum.
I will endeavor to get back into running and yoga, two of the things that made me at my best this last summer. I hope to:
Fluency in 3 languages
With expanding my mind and experiencing new things comes cultivating my communication skills. Once again, I seek more alien methods of doing this. I am getting so close to having my Mandarin skills at a place where they can be a lifelong persuit. While Mandarin Chinese takes a long time to become truly independent in, I have the following goals.
Being able to communicate in a second language sparked my interest in speaking in even more languages. I have been dreaming of being a polyglot since I was a freshmen in college. This year I pull the trigger on learning a fourth language to fluency. The process should be faster as I am more adept at language learning now. I'll look to learn something a little closer to my native English, unless of course I visit Nepal before heading home. Frankly, familiarity is overrated anyway.
Have 100,000 words written
Lastly, I will seek to hone my skills further with my native language through writing. The writing of a book and guide will positively influence muse generation, but are more for personal gratification at this point. This year I will challenge myself to write 100,000 words worth of material and will keep a ticker of some kind on this blog. Note: this won't include my launch materials or clone posts form my first blog. That would be cheating as the content wasn't written in 2013 :P
Today I had a some adventures in life planning.
I've discovered the (possibly fatal) benefit of hooking one's kindle up to a wireless network. It was a genius idea to to put the store on the device and enable users to buy stuff in one click. I, however, have been super duper smart about my usage and only got a 'taster' of each of the books I wanted to buy. No spending one's self into the poor house $10 at a time for this guy.
Related to the poor house, I found myself reading my preview of J.D. Roth's Your Money: the Missing Manual. I used to follow his personal finance blog at Get Rich Slowly, but I fell off a while ago as the advice ceased being applicable to my station right now. Not really interested in the best rewards cards or the intricacies of investing, I took the personal finance knowledge I had and went on to read other junk.
I've always liked the idea of a bucket list. However, it seems that for so many people a bucket list is simply a collection of things they think would be cool; a fantasy list. I want to avoid the idea that my goals are something that I would like to do but may never get around to accomplishing. I intend to complete everything on this list, whether that's within the next year or before I die.
I asked my Facebook friends for their suggestions on what to call my non-bucket list. I liked all the ideas, but Dan wins the prize for most comical with "pail plan" and Kel wins for most meaningful with "experiences yet to be had."
I've settled on calling my non-bucket list the Past:Present:Future list to emphasize that each of my goals is something that I've already accomplished, something that I am currently actively pursuing or something that I will actively pursue in the future. Nothing on the list is simply a dream.
Accepting that my goals will change, the list found on this page will remain untouched and serve as an interesting comparison to any future version of the list. The constantly evolving list can be found here and is organized by past, present and future: Past:Present:Future