Questions Part 2

I rushed the last entry so I thought I’d expand on it.

How do benchmarks and leading questions make you a better person? Well they do exactly as they imply, they lead you in a direction that you’ve indicated you’d wish to travel. The idea stuck with me from an example in Made to Stick about Southwest Airlines. They want to be “THE low fare airline” so every decision is guided by “Will this make us more or less of a low fare airline?” So even before this, I began by creating mission statements for myself, concrete but concise, that made moral and strategic decisions easy. After all, once you’ve decided where you’d like to go, it’s pretty easy to deduce backwards and find the turns you’ll need to take.

I said that this helps the “real me.” I mean that in the sense that, we’re all consumed by our appetites, we all have that animal instinct. But we also have who we truly are, the decent and honest and purposeful selves. It is simply up to the individual to decide which one they’d like to turn control over to. So when I pose each question, it normal illustrates this dichotomy.

There’s nothing nefarious about it. There never has been. Setting goals and benchmarks for yourself is the essence of self-improvement. Evolutionarily, are we really built to be happy and successful? Or are we supposed to fall in line and maintain order? And so it becomes about understanding that new norms–productive ones–will be self-created. That’s what I do.

I’ve been quoting Frankl a lot lately, but I think another one of his philosophies applies. It’s not, he said, man asking “What is the meaning of life?” but rather, man being asked “What is the meaning of life?” and answering with his actions. Do that here on a smaller scale. Define how you want to be, the person or ideal to which you aspire. Pose the question that illustrates the chasm and answer it each time you’re asked. Or as Karl Jaspers wrote: “What one is, he has become through that cause which he has made his own.” Make who you’d like to be your cause, and each day set out to serve it. Through this, literally, you become who you truly are.

“I guess I can understand how that would be a useful strategy in your particular position at Rudius, but is that how you generally live your life, too?”

Yes. In my current relationship it’s often “Do I want to make the same mistakes I made last time?” with the negative course of action implied to myself. Or it will be more specific “Will I be better by saying what I am thinking or will I just feel better? “Would sleeping in be capitulating the Resistance or bringing me closer to that which I aspire?”

I’d really love a Blackberry so I don’t have to carry around my laptop. Deep down though, I know I don’t need one. I know that I actually want one only because of the significance it would superficially bestow, not because I’m actually deserving or in need of it. I’m not busy enough to necessitate one, I’d just like to think I am. So every time the idea comes up, I asked myself the question: “Do I deserve it or do I want to seem like I deserve it?” The matter is then officially solved.

And of course, my newest one “Does this make me seem younger or older?”

Naturally, I make the wrong choice with disappointing regularity; on average though, I lean towards the progress side. That’s all you can really ask for. Because each time I make the right choice, I actualize and grow, I am one step closer to the person I’d like to be–that I am. To me, that’s what being a good person is: defining what you feel is ‘right’ and then judging everything you do in accordance to that. Personality is just like a career, and so are morals, in that they are all a methodical upwards march (or downwards depending on your choices) Yes, Aristotle in Ethics said that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or even having to think about it, is still wrong. Fuck that, this is about reality. This is about struggling with life and ideals. Becoming who you want to become isn’t easy, it’s a daily battle. Some days it is following the arrows you laid out with rhetorical questions, and others it is sleeping on the floor because you’re broken with disappointment in yourself.

Each day then is a chance at another iteration and another opportunity for proof and improvement.

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.