Imagine 1760. Books are expensive and hard to come by. And if you don’t know how to read, they will do you no good. Heroes are legendary, because their deeds are passed down by word of mouth. If you want to learn a trade, you find someone who will take you on as an apprentice.
Imagine 2020. Today. Books are easy to obtain. We literally have the wisdom of the world available in our pockets. Heroic deeds go viral and seen moments after they occur. If you want to learn a new skill or start a new career, the path is easier than ever.
All this power and opportunity stands before you. How will you improve to take advantage of it? There are plenty of positive role-models out there, both in the past and the present. In a blink of the eye, you could take advantage of this treasure-trove of wisdom and improve your life beyond your imagination. All it takes is the desire and the willingness to put in the work.
And what will it cost you? Maybe one less game. Maybe a little less time going down a social media spiral of insanity. You would have to sacrifice your wasted time for productive time.
Who is this you I am pointing my finger at? Maybe it is you, but it definitely is me. For I ask myself the same questions every day? Who can I learn from? How can I improve? How can I not waste time?
There is an abundance of role-models out there. Seek the good; beware the bad. The time to improve is now.
People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after. –Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
In his 84th letter to Lucilius titled On Gathering Ideas, Seneca makes a few great analogies to prove a point that is pure wisdom.
Look at the bees. They gather what they need to make honey and then take it to their homes. In the hive it is transformed into honey, no longer retaining the form it had before coming in.
Likewise, the foods we eat transform within us. No good comes from food if it retains its same form when leaving the body. Food is only beneficial when it is converted and its nutrients are delivered to the cells.
The same can be said for reading. I grew up primarily reading fiction. This was an enjoyable way to build my vocabulary and reading comprehension. But after a while the reading became excessive, and I wasn’t growing. And if what you are reading is not beneficial, then what is the point? It is undigested mental food. Knowledge not put into practice is useless.
In this letter, Seneca also briefly compares undigested reading to a father and son relationship. Imagine reading a self-help book and following it verbatim. Regardless of what the author writes, you follow it without qualifying the information. This too is harmful. Rather than becoming an improved version of yourself, you are becoming a clone of the author.
When I think about clones, I immediately think of my son. Alec will often follow me and do the same things I do. I love that he does this, but the world certainly does not need another version of me. My hope is that he holds on to the good, discards the bad, and finds his own improved methods. He can be a good student while at the same time being his own person.
Proper nourishment of the mind, body, and soul requires the necessary transformation in order to succeed.