Updated: Mar 2, 2020
So, I've reached Senior year and realized that self-improvement does not and should not stop for Micah Drees. If my 4 years of refined (and occasionally wrong) introspection during college has produced anything, it's how trustworthiness and self-improvement are close sisters.
Alvin Toffler of Fortune Magazine: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Modern amenities can brood severe stagnation. With the ever-increasing quality of living, it is becoming easier and easier to put less and less effort into self-improvement when machines and apps do it for us. The key to Alvin Toffler’s insight is that we should avoid becoming complacent in our status quo and adapt to the changing times. Too often, “adapt” is understood as “getting the latest technology.” I believe this is passive adaptation. Active adaptation is choosing to disengage from obsolete or harmful mentalities and commit to acceptable, profitable, and edifying mentalities—unlearn and relearn. Without constant, active adaptation, we lose our skillful edge. Like a senior citizen on Facebook, we can rummage through all the tasks and features that are before us, but we will lack the adeptness to execute duties swiftly and effectively. So, here’s the punchline and the point of this perusal of self-improvement: People. Trust. The Best.
Daily, we are inundated with messages of improvement. Whether it is a YouTube vlogger or Cosmopolitan Magazine, people love to offer “quick tips to improve your life.” In fact, this very blog entry about trustworthiness could fit this description. These are not to be avoided; they can assist daily life tremendously. However, the purpose of this skill is not to “Get Easier,” but to “Get Better.” It is crucial to understand the trust ramifications of each. In the former, when we learn and augment our lives with the purpose of comfort, this sends a stagnant message. When others see that we only put in the effort in order to save ourselves work in the future, they may be less willing to trust our work. Let’s use an example to illustrate this. A comprehensive literature test is coming up for a class that you and a friend share. Your friend, realizing that properly studying for the exam would require rereading the literary texts, resorts to using CliffsNotes Study Guides. He finishes “studying” in less than two hours. Did your friend apply shortcuts to expedite his studying? Yes. Did he make his life easier? Yes. Did he enhance his learning and “Get Better?" No. Do we trust his opinion about the literature? Probably Not. With this illustration, it is simple to grasp how making life “easier” can destroy our trust accounts, instead of building them. If it takes four hours to mow a lawn, but we tell others we did it in two hours, the others’ first thought is probably not: “Wow. You really have gotten better at mowing;” it is probably: “He must have done a sloppy job.”
This skill relies deeply on our ability to deliver solid results, and then more solid ones. If we continue to provide the same results, year after year, without any improvement, we will eventually begin to fail. An easy application: When writing for Dr. Schrock’s ENGL-110 course, Rhetoric & Research, I made great grades on my papers—I “delivered results.” However, even if I never devolved from this stellar, Freshman-level writing, but if I wrote the same “A+ paper” for my current Senior-level course, I would fail the assignment. What changed? Had my writing deteriorated? No. Did I misread the assignment? No. The reality is that no matter how many times I had previously “delivered results,” if I never worked to “Get Better,” I would ultimately fail. And people lose trust in failures.
So, what do we do about it? How do we get better? First, we must be careful not to become an “eternal student.” Eternal students are those that continue to accumulate knowledge, life hacks, wisdom, and skill, but they fail to use them—they fail to produce. As enrolled students in a liberal arts, private university, this is a huge danger. Lee attempts to prepare us well with a fine-tuned, all-encompassing education, and for those that seek to derive meaning from even the lowliest of classes, Lee’s set-up can be an educational blessing. However, a curious soul, who is forever a pupil of the school, will never produce. Those that do not produce are, economically speaking, drains to society—free-riders. People lose trust in free-riders. While we absolutely need to invest the current four-ish years in this season of preparation, we must be committed to actualizing the knowledge and maturity we gain. Eventually, we must leave school.
Second, we must seek feedback, constantly. In order to spot our wrongs, learn our weaknesses, and measure our deficiencies, we must be open and active in gathering feedback from others. To our closest friends, ask things like: “What can I change about myself that will make life better for you?” Just like every online retailer that storms your email account
with post-transaction surveys, we should prod at our life’s sectors with post-action inquiries. How did I do? What can I improve? Did I mess up because of lack of effort, lack of talent, or lack of understanding? We need feedback to “Get Better.”
Third, try things.
“Getting Better” should imply two things. First, improving the quality of our trade (per the example of the Freshman paper); then, improving the quantity of our limitations. It should be expected that an eight-year-old can be assigned more tasks than a four-year-old. Similarly, a college Senior should be able to handle more on their calendar than a college Freshman. The way to embrace these maturing expectations and abilities is to frequently learn one new thing. Whether a new hobby, a new computer program, or even a new study habit, we should commit to increasing the quantity of our capabilities through risking failure on new endeavors. I could insert here a reference to Thomas Edison’s creation of the lightbulb. He kept committing to new and different combinations of chemicals, most of them failing. Yet, because of this risk, not only did he “Get Better” as a scientist, the world improved from the product.
People trust people who seek to do better. Give these type of people a secret, and they will strive to be better keepers. Give them your comradery, and they will strive to be better friends. “Getting Better” can be excruciating when surrounded by a culture of comfort. Others might say, “You’ve done enough” or “Just let his app do it for you.” I am not a doomsayer against technology by any means, but I believe we should resist the slippery-slope towards stagnation. “Getting Better” should be a philosophy by which we enhance all our trust-growing efforts. Continue to apply, continue to grow, and the trust will follow.
-- Micah Drees
This post was written by a Kairos student and contains their personal opinions. It does not reflect the opinions of the organization of Kairos.