[July 30, 2019] Early 19th century French philosopher Auguste Comte once wrote that the secret to life is to “know yourself to improve yourself.” This line of thinking is an ancient and brilliant one too. What it means is that to be a better person, leader, family member, employee, or friend, one must first recognize that we are not who we could be.
One piece of advice my mother gave me was to “live up to your potential.” She was no philosopher, but she was a wonderful person who had lived in some of the most difficult of times and had a remarkable life. She had never read Auguste Comte or Sun Tzu or any other famous person I quote here occasionally, but she understood what it meant to be a good person.
Several months ago, I wrote an article (see link here) that quoted University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson that said: “You’re way less than you could be.” Peterson has gone on to elaborate on this theme, and you can find him discussing it in a YouTube video titled “Life isn’t everything it could be.” It has over 5.5 million views; that’s remarkable because it strikes a chord of truth.1
Professor Peterson gives us some practical advice that makes you a better person in the eyes of your family and yourself (your parents probably said the same thing in a similar way). We should have learned this as a child, but many of have not, so I’m summarizing what he said:
- Adopt the responsibility you should have.
- Stop wasting your own time and opportunities in front of you.
- Stop making things worse because you’re spiteful, hateful, resentful, or arrogant.
- Don’t do stupid things you know are stupid.
If only we would listen to this prophetic advice. As old as this thinking might be, it is difficult to do because no one likes to admit they, themselves, are the real problem. Times are rare that we are forced from the outside to look inward on ourselves. Leaders who don’t to improve themselves are deeply flawed.