An Exercise in Self-Reflection

Here’s an exercise:

You know when you read biographies of people long since dead and someone says something like “it’s interesting how kind he was to his employees but was so cruel to his relatives” and you think, man I wonder if they ever questioned themselves about that. Or you read memoirs and the person sort of casually mentions how it took them twenty years to realize they were a workaholic or half a decade to figure out that they hated their life and the other half digging themselves out of that impossible hole.

I think a good, but unending job is to endeavor so that no one ever questions something about your life that you haven’t already fully turned over in your head from every possible angle. That you should never realize something about yourself in some momentous epiphany because you’ve institutionalized incremental reflection. The role of a biography is not to work out the problems that you’ve been living every single day because in fact, that’s what every single day is for.

The exercise then is to consider what a stranger would think if the facts were all laid out on the table. What would they question? What have you missed? Finally, what can you do now that would cut off their assumptions–to answer their doubts with actions and avoid the surprise of a cliché?

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.