A lot of personal development content focuses on things like productivity, health, wealth and happiness. Which is fine, except these goals can overshadow the most important question you should ask yourself:
What kind of person do I want to be?
I spent over twenty-six years in law enforcement, and my career taught me volumes about people and their darker motivations.
Specifically, I noticed three ugly qualities that prevent people from becoming better versions of themselves:
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Having it all
Some people equate success with “having it all,” but this can become a slippery slope. The appetite for success devolves into greed.
“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life — becoming a better person.” — Leo Tolstoy
I met many millionaires in my career who were unhappy, negative people. It surprised me, because it looked like they had it all. But deep down, they hadn’t done the work of figuring out what kind of person they wanted to be.
It’s not to say that achieving wealth is a bad thing. There were some millionaires I met who were happy, generous and wonderful people. But surprisingly, it seemed like they were the minority.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway
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Sacrifice for others
It’s not surprising, in our culture of entertainment and celebrities, that a lot of people succumb to vanity. We all want to look good.
The problem is that some people spend enormous amounts of time, energy and money on their looks, at the expense of developing their character.
Becoming the best version of yourself requires more than sculpted muscles, waxed chests and whitened teeth. It requires intellectual enrichment, empathy, sacrifice for others, and the most important quality of all: kindness.
Much like plank variations and crunches can strengthen our core, showing kindness towards others can strengthen our character. The more we help others, the more we enrich ourselves with a sense of peace and goodness.
Setting aside time to interact with our spouses and children may not make us more money, nor will it move the needle with our Crossfit goals. It will do something greater.
It will convey true love, create fond memories, solidify our family relationships and deepen our character.
Men and women who sacrifice for their spouses, kids, friends and even strangers, achieve a kind of grace. They are happy because they are doing the right thing, and the right thing doesn’t always align with our dreams of wealth and vanity.
All things in moderation
Perhaps more than greed and vanity, addictions account for the most grief in people’s lives. My father was fond of the saying “all things in moderation.”
The problem is that we like some things too much. We pursue them at all costs, and become addicted.
Before long, our lives fall out of balance. The addiction becomes a hole inside us that we can never fill. Surely, no one asks themselves what kind of person they want to be and answers, “an addict.”
We are all familiar with the most destructive addictions. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual misbehavior. How many politicians, movie stars and every day people have succumbed?
“We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.” — Fulton Oursler
There are so many other addictions out there. Social media addiction. Food addiction. Addiction to drama. Even healthy pursuits like fitness can become a destructive addiction when taken too far.
The good news is that addictions can be treated. By asking yourself what kind of person you want to be, you can begin the process. You can make changes and become the best version of yourself. And there are always professionals ready to help you.
Consider this powerful quote in an article by Zdravko Cvijetic.
“Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” — Anonymous
The best version of you
No two people are exactly alike, and so the best versions of ourselves will vary. Mother Teresa’s best version is different than Nelson Mandela’s.
“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” — Steven Wright
The common thread is a sort of grace. It’s why we most admire heroes. People who put themselves second for the betterment of others. People who asked the question, and figured out what kind of person they wanted to be.
It’s the teachers, firefighters, police officers and nurses who sacrifice to help others. It’s the stranger who helps an elderly woman across the street.
Or the man who stopped and helped change your tire.
The woman who helped you when you dropped all your groceries.
Perhaps the next hero … will be you?
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw old school, handcrafted cartoons and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest cartoons and blog posts.
This article first appeared on Medium.