Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.
We’ve all met people who are stuck in the “glory days.” The best part of their lives was years ago, and they only derive a sense of identity and self-contentment by reliving or talking about those days.
The fallacy is that there is no glory in reliving the past.
I believe that the tendency to live in the past is the result of laziness, lack of faith in oneself, or both. When we are too lazy to live our lives right now, and be the best we can be now, we look to the past for consolation, ignoring the present. What we don’t realize is that for all its apparent glory, our present and future can be brighter than our past ever was.
It will always be easier to bask in yesterday’s accomplishments that to go out today and outdo them.
But I’m sorry to break the news to you: the easy life is for pussies. Don’t be a pussy. (See below for how this mantra changed my life.) There is no glory or fulfillment in taking the easy road.
As I reflect back on the first half of 2012, I realize two things.
First, during that half a year I accomplished more than I had ever accomplished in my entire life previously. For one, I lost 40 pounds, and now at age 35 I’m in the best shape of my life. It almost makes me feel bad when I’m in a room full of younger people, and I’m the one in the best shape. Almost, but not quite.
But that’s just the physical. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Although I had ambitions since I was young to be a writer, I had never previously finished a book. During the first half of 2012 I wrote two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. I also wrote a screenplay. I also wrote and directed two short films. As a side note, my production company of six years also had its best month ever during this time period. None of this is coincidence. When we decide to live in the present, amazing things happen.
The second thing I realize is that all of this means jack if I don’t do even more in the second half of 2012. It would be really easy to pat myself on the back and think “Yep, I’m such a stud.” And that would be an amazingly stupid thing to do. That’s the “glory days” syndrome at work. That is the path of the lazy man. Yes, I’m in the greatest shape of my life at 35, but I know at 36 I’ll be in even better shape. And even more important, I’ll have written more books and made more films.
While it’s cliché to use Steve Jobs as an example, he perfectly exemplified this principle of continuously getting better. He helped introduce the personal computer, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad to the world, among many other things. We could ask what would have happened in Jobs had given up after introducing the Mac to the world. What if he had said to himself “I’ve already accomplished so much, why work another day in my life?” We could speculate that the world wouldn’t have the other stuff he helped to bring forth later in life. We could say “If Steve Jobs had stopped, we wouldn’t have the iPhone and the iPad.” But I think we’d still have all that stuff. He just wouldn’t have been part of the process. Someone else would have. Instead, Steve Jobs would have spent the rest of his life reliving the “glory days” back when he was involved with creating the Mac.
Instead, Jobs truly lived by the words that came from his own mouth:
I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.
Lesson learned? When we stop working, the world keeps going. The only people we hurt are ourselves.
That brings us to the secret of continuously getting better: work.
When I watched the movie 300 for the first time, I stopped about halfway through because there wasn’t a really compelling storyline, and it wasn’t exactly thrilling having to look at Gerard Butler’s bare ass. (Note to Hollywood: please no more scenes with male asses. As much as I think Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and the rest are great actors, that doesn’t mean I want to see their ass.) However, I learned a very important and valuable lesson within the first few minutes of the film that actually profoundly changed my life. I’m not sure if the filmmakers intentionally wanted to teach this lesson, or if it was just a personal lesson I derived for myself. The lesson is this: don’t be a pussy. At first, while watching the scene of the adolescent warrior fighting a sabertooth while wearing only a loincloth in the mountains while it was snowing, I thought to myself: this is ridiculous. Then I thought: well, wait a minute, maybe there is something to be learned from this.
I’m a Cali boy, and I’ve spent much of my life in Utah, complaining the whole time about the horrible winters. While I enjoy running, I’d only did so in the summer, because I cringed at the idea of having to run in the icy cold of Utah winters. Exaggeration is a useful teaching tool. After watching the first part of 300, I thought: I can run in the winter. No big deal. This lesson changed my life.
Another true life example of getting better each day is Tom Cruise. Say what you want about Cruise, there is no denying he is the man. If you have any doubt, watch Magnolia. I hadn’t seen that movie until a few weeks ago, and now his performance in Magnolia is probably my all time favorite performance by Tom Cruise.
Here’s a deleted scene from Magnolia just to give you an idea of the scope of Tom Cruise’s awesomeness.
So why do I say Cruise is such an example of getting better every day? At age 49, he did a stunt that would give Jackie Chan a run for his money. He ran along the outside of the tallest building in the world (in Dubai.) I thought that his famous Dubai scene in MI:4 was all visual effects and Hollywood magic. Turns out, no. He was really doing that. He was really dangling by a rope on the surface of the world’s tallest building while running up, down, and across the windows. While the rest of us are thinking being in one’s thirties is “old” and a good excuse to be fat and lazy, ol’ Tom is doing things we never even dreamed of doing, and he’s approaching 50.
Tom Cruise is one of my heroes, mainly because he is continuously outdoing himself.
I am tempted every day to live in the past, even the recent past. The sense of accomplishment when one succeeds is intoxicating. Sometimes, I think “I’ve accomplished enough that I can relax a little. I can take a break.” But then I immediately tell myself the lesson I learned from 300: “Don’t be a pussy.”
Whatever I accomplished yesterday, I know I’m going to surpass tomorrow. The best days of my life start today.
Don’t get hung up on accomplishments. Instead, remember the words of the great novelist and theologian, C.S. Lewis:
“There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”