Ah! Personal betterment! The bane of every adult on December 31st until January 3rd, and then forgotten again until the next triumphantly vodka cranberry-fuelled declaration: “This year’s gonna be different! I’m gonna – BLUURGH bluuurgh BLUUUURGH – oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to splash on your shoes…”
What most people miss is the fact that personal betterment demands a high level of dedication, discipline and sacrifice, and we both know that you’d prefer to rip open a bag of chips than to get ripped. If you still insist on failed and self-deprecating attempts at personal betterment, let me at least help you with some lessons from masters in their own respective fields.
John Forbes Nash, Jr.
If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Nash, Jr., it’s because you’re an ignorant boob, so let me elevate you to a knowledgeable mammary. Dr. Nash, Jr. was a genius mathematician that suffered from severe schizophrenia. His story even became the Oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind which starred Russell Crowe and showed the very adept scientist dealing with paranoid delusions, his academic work, and his personal life. This great man’s life can stand as a symbol for success in the face of adversity and mental illness. Even while dealing most of his life with the disease, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Mathematics, and has influenced diverse fields such as market economics, artificial intelligence, and even military theory.
Leonardo da Vinci
NO! I’m not talking about the dude from Titanic. I’m talking about the Italian Renaissance polymath that was equally famous for his art, sculpture, study of the human body, and as an inventor/engineer. And it wasn’t like he was better in any one field and mediocre in others – no, this enviously talented man did all the aforementioned things like a boss. On top of everything else, he made sure to leave very detailed notebooks (even though you have to hold them up to a mirror to read them) regarding his work in…well, almost everything. You know, anyone that dealt with that many things simultaneously was busy… really, really busy. Embodying this ceaseless activity is the following quote and definitely a lesson to be learnt from this master.
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.
One of basketball’s most famed and recognizable representatives, Michael Jordan helped the 80s-90s Chicago Bulls team claim a total of six championships, he has played on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team multiple times, and has become an iconic figure – some say he’s responsible for the sport’s popularity during the 90s. Inherent to the game though, wins come with loses and how you deal with those loses can make the different between success and failure. The value of failures though should not be overlooked.
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Picasso is one of the most recognizable names in modern art: he was the inventor of cubism and he is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His name has become a nomenclature for artists, much like Einstein became a moniker for intelligence (even if it is more than often used ironically). Although he is widely known for his cubist work, he was also a sculptor and a poet. As a master artist of many different forms, it can be easily assumed that he valued balance and contrast. In the quote below, we must act with the awareness that good things may result in bad outcomes. At the same time, they should perturb us from innovating.
Every positive value has its price in negative terms... the genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Much like the aforementioned artist, Beethoven is synonymous with classical music and composition. His musical arrangements are still heard, revered and played even today, almost 200 years after his death. He led a difficult life, with an abusive father that would beat young Beethoven if he didn’t play the piano correctly and his wife (Beethoven’s mother) for attempting to intervene. It is said that he vowed to become a great pianist so his mother would never be beaten again. Troubles continued to plague him later on in life when he took custody of his siblings due to their father’s alcoholism. Later on, the composer lost most of his hearing (but still continued to compose music) and was plagued with various medical problems. Even so, he continued to compose, and his music lives on today.
This is the mark of a really admirable man: steadfastness in the face of trouble.
The man that penned the likes of Anna Karenina and War and Peace just might be able to teach us a thing or two about overcoming adversity and crushing odds. It is even said that his dedication to social injustice later in his life inspired the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Mahatma Gandhi. He was deeply regretful for his conduct in his early life which included gambling, womanizing, and killing while a soldier in the Russian Army. Redemption can be achieved by even the lowliest of scoundrel and, in Tolstoy’s case, even achieve accolades.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
All of the individuals on this list became famous not exclusively through their talents but also in combination with hard work, because as Émile Zola said, “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” You must constantly try to evolve, grow, and better yourself. You really don’t have to be an artist to better yourself with hard work. If you would like to add an inspirational story, or one of personal betterment, please leave a comment in the comments section below.