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Self Improvement

Simple Advice For Improvements Major or Minor

Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.

This sage bit of counsel comes from the late great Arthur Ashe, an athlete and businessman who was the first African American tennis player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only black man (so far) to win the singles title at Wimbledon. This advice seems so simple that one’s first response is to either a) nod your head and say, “Why, yes, of course …” or b) roll your eyes and say, “Well, duh, of course …” Either way, these guidelines are great when you are trying to improve any area of your life – finances, athletic pursuits, business, friendships – but while they may seem straightforward, they deserve analysis and forethought.

Start where you are. Are you certain you know where it is you are exactly? You may know your geographic whereabouts, your biological age, and your strengths and skills, but do you know where you are in the scheme of things? Do a realistic assessment. How is your health (mental, financial, physical), what are your days like, what are your responsibilities and restrictions? Is it feasible to start up a business when you’re about to be evicted? Can you handle a cross-country move while you undergo cancer treatment? How much time can you devote to a small business, a creative project, a volunteer endeavor right now? Never mind how you felt ten years ago or how your life might be in a few years from now or what your days might be like if you lived somewhere else – where are you in your life right now? Know your starting point.

Use what you have. Never mind what you might have had in the past or what you could get in the future – what do you have right now? Assess your resources – skills, funds, equipment, connections – and don’t forget to look in the corners. A lot of us have opportunities, advantages, outsiders willing to help, and various sources of assistance that we don’t utilize because we don’t see them. Do be careful, however, of overestimating your resources and be certain to look at what you are going to need for the entire process.

I set up a website which was going to showcase all the great black and white photos I took with disposable cameras. I had bought a couple of one-use black and white cameras, knew how to run a WordPress blog, and had secured the domain. I had ideas where to take photos and what to shoot. I was just about to start this project when the first roll of film came back from the developer. I then found out that processing black and white film is expensive (at least for my budget). I simply could not afford to have my photos developed on a regular basis. The site then sat empty for over a year before I developed a new idea for it. Had I thoroughly assessed what I had and what I needed, I would have realized that I was not in the position to carry out my plans.

Be careful. A great idea or promising future is grand but getting there requires you to work in the present – and you can only work with you’ve got.

Do what you can. Obviously, you cannot do what you cannot do. And while it is possible that you may be able to do quite a lot, it is probable that you won’t be able to do as much as you want to do, particularly at first. That said, even if you can only accomplish a bit, do not squander this capability/opportunity. People will often do nothing when they realize they can only do a little. “I won’t be able to exercise for a full hour today so I won’t exercise at all.” “What good is saving ten bucks a month?” “I wanted to go back to school but I could only take a night course once a week.” We often take the attitude of “Go big or go home” without realizing how much can be accomplished through the accumulation of small steps. Success is rarely overnight, it is the accumulation of small triumphs and improvements.

What’s more, doing something for improvement – even if it is a small step – brings about a mental change. You realize that you have control over your life and that there is always something you can do to improve your lot. Studies amongst the homeless have shown that people who bathe on a regular basis are more apt to find work, get housing, and get off the street quicker than those who do not keep themselves clean. A small step, but a step forward nonetheless.

It is unfortunate but true: It is not that we can only do a little bit, but that we do nothing with that little bit we can do.