Six months ago I had an idea. I wanted to share the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last 40 years with my children. The question was how to do it. I decided to capture what I’ve learned in a series of letters. I hoped that my stories could help them live a better life, both today and in the future.
In the end, I wrote over seventy letters covering topics from attitude to humility to buying stuff. As I wrote these notes, I had to reflect on my life and my actions. What did I really know? Was I living up to the words on my screen? Could I claim mastery of each lesson?
In every case, I thought of times when I didn’t do enough. I remembered times when I knew what to do but made the wrong choice. Then it hit me. I may have learned a lot over the years, but I will always have room to improve. It’s not possible to master these lessons, only to know them and try to be better.
It seems that the more we know, the more we have to learn. Once we think we have everything figured out, something causes us to stumble. But that’s OK. These missteps are a fact of life.
In technology, we call a product that is going get better, a beta. It’s an acknowledgment that users shouldn’t expect perfection. This label tells the world that the product is not finished.
In life, we never leave beta. Every day there are hundreds of chances to improve and learn. It wasn’t until I finished this project that this dawned on me. I can see now that to live the best life, I need to accept that I will always be in beta.
The Right Better
Most of us measure success in life by what we get. We get a trophy, a degree, a job, a new car, a new house or a promotion. With each achievement, we lull ourselves into thinking we’ve made it, that we are closer to the finish line. In the process, we permit ourselves to stop improving. We feel entitled to slow down and enjoy the spoils of victory.
Here’s the problem with this thinking. There is no finish line for the things that matter most. When do we finish being a father, a husband, a friend, a neighbor or human? The answer is never. If you are anything like me, there will always be room to grow and improve.
That’s why there is a billion dollar industry built around helping people ‘get better’. There are tools for setting goals, tracking tasks and measuring progress. There are strategies for managing time, building a network and expanding our minds with knowledge.
Do all these things well, and it fuels a fire of motivation. Stumble, and it can send us into a spiral of despair. The ‘get better’ concept implies that we can finish at some point. When we don’t succeed, we might feel like a failure. We might get down on ourselves. This effect is the dark side of self-improvement. While these tools are intended to help, they can often backfire.
Instead, I like to think of the phrase ‘be better.’ Being is a state of mind or existence. Shakespeare said it best, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” ‘Better’ captures the idea of growth and improvement. Together, the two words create a phrase that appear to be at odds with each other. How can we ‘be better?’ How can we exist in one state and be moving to a better one at the same time?
This incongruence is part of the elegance of the phrase. It forces me to think. It makes me consider who I am in a moment and question whether or not I can move to a better state. I’ve yet to come across a situation where my actions couldn’t be better in some way.
This idea might feel defeating since there is no finish line. Quite the opposite. By removing the need to reach a milestone, it eliminates the pressure of success. All that is required is that I try to be better. Sometimes I will crush it and do a fantastic job, and sometimes I’ll fall short. The good news is that tomorrow there will be another chance, regardless of my performance today.
The best part of this concept is that there aren’t any unique skills or education required. Being better is a choice. It is something anyone of us can do if we choose to. I know this all sounds too simple. I can assure you this concept isn’t complicated. But don’t think for a second that it’s easy.
Our minds will conjure up all sorts of excuses and justifications to do one thing when we know we should do another. Some of my personal favorites are:
- Buying random stuff I think I need vs. saving for the future
- Binging on Netflix vs. spending time in a more valuable way
- Eating healthy vs. grabbing a juicy cheeseburger and fries
- Giving back vs. taking more
- Listening vs. talking more
- Putting myself in someone else’s shoes vs. thinking of my own needs
- Spending time with family vs. spending time on work
- Being present vs. getting caught up in the digital world
The list is endless, which is also the point. Every day there are countless opportunities to be better. And these are all choices. There will be times when we’re strong, and choose wisely and other times when we fail. Remember, there is no scoreboard. We need to acknowledge that we will get it right sometimes and get it wrong others.
The ‘Be Better’ mantra is not about goals or achievement. It is about a state of mind that can help in any situation. This mindset leads to better actions each day. Over time this becomes a habit. Aristotle summed it up perfectly. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
Be Better Habit
I for one want to be better. I want to do it for my kids, for my marriage, and for my life. This mindset is my motivation. I recognize that no one is going to make me do this. It is my choice, and I have to stay committed to the path. I also know that I need to be intentional. Before I act in any situation, the ‘Be Better’ refrain can help me think through the choices I’ll make.
One thing that has always helped me are quotes from people with far more wisdom than I’ll ever have. I liked them so much I started every letter to my children with a quote that summed up the lesson I was sharing.
In total, the letter project ended up being over 70,000 words and 72 quotes. While a single quote can’t replace each lesson, it can create a reminder and a little inspiration. With that in mind, I decided to pull all the quotes together into a poster.
I wanted the design to give off a sense of learning and growth. I hope that each day a new quote catches the reader’s eye. I want this poster to serve as a little dose of inspiration. It’s like having the best mentors in the world, hanging on a wall, waiting to offer a piece of advice when it’s needed most.
When all else fails, there is always the title, ‘Be Better.’ A reminder that we have a choice. A mantra that just might help us improve in every aspect of life.
I love how it turned out, and I hope you do too. If you’d like an electronic version of the poster, just enter your email below, and I’ll send it right over. If you want to get a printed version, there are a few size and framing options available on Etsy.
To make it easier to read the quotes, I’ve included them all below.
- “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson
- “Good order is the foundation of all things.” Edmund Burke
- “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
- “Care about what other people think, and you will always be their prisoner.” Lao Tzu
- “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” John Maxwell
- “If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.” Eleanor Roosevelt
- “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” African Proverb
- “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton
- “All life is problem-solving.” Karl Popper
- “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” Mark Twain
- “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln
- “Those who tell stories rule the world.” American Indian Proverb
- “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Japanese Proverb
- “You don’t need a title to be vital.” Robert Braathe
- “Truth shines like a beacon on a shore of lies.” Unknown
- “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” Steve Jobs
- “Don’t marry the person you think you can live with, marry the one you can’t live without.” James Dobson
- “You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.” Cesar Chavez
- “Live your life on purpose.” Crystal Paine
- “A simple hello could lead to a million things.” Unknown
- “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” Albert Einstein
- “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” Unknown
- “So many books, so little time.” Frank Zappa
- “Success is tons of discipline.” Al Tomsik
- “It’s not always that we need to do more, but rather we need to focus on less.” Nathan Morris
- “It’s good for the soul to create with the hands.” Unknown
- “All things being equal, people will do business with people they know, like and trust.” Bob Burg
- “Writing is its own reward.” Henry Miller
- “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” Albert Einstein
- “I don’t mind not being cool.” Chris Martin
- “Impatience never commanded success.” Edwin Chapin
- “The most dangerous notion a young person can acquire is that there is no more room for originality.” Henry Ford
- “The art is not in making money, but in keeping it.” Proverb
- “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” Mark Twain
- “Be where you are. Otherwise, you will miss your life.” Buddha
- “The best teacher is your last mistake.” Unknown
- “Motivation is what gets you started; commitment is what keeps you going.” Unknown
- “If we did the things we were capable of, we would astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison
- “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
- “Surround yourself with people that are going to take you higher.” Oprah Winfrey
- “The worst speech you’ll ever give will be far better than the one you never give.” Fred Miller
- “Take risks, if you win you will be happy if you lose you will be wise.” Unknown
- “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb
- “You will get all you want in life if you help enough people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar
- “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Heywood Broun
- “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Holmes, Jr.
- “Good words are worth much and cost little.” George Herbert
- “Begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Covey
- “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary
- “Family is not an important thing; it’s everything.” Michael J. Fox
- “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Pablo Picasso
- “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin
- “Your passion is waiting for your courage to catch up.” Isabelle LaFleche
- “I am an old man and known many troubles, but most have never happened.” Mark Twain
- “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” William Penn
- “It seems the harder I work, the more luck I have.” Thomas Jefferson
- “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money.” Steve Jobs
- “A healthy outside starts from the inside.” Robert Urich
- “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
- “Don’t let today’s disappointments cast a shadow on tomorrow’s dreams.” Unknown
- “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt
- “If you develop a responsibility for yourself you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” Les Brown
- “I have no special talents; I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein
- “Sorry seems to be the hardest word to say.” Elton John
- “Trust takes years to build, seconds to destroy and forever to repair.” Unknown
- “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” John Wooden
- “Do what is right, not what is easy.” Roy Bennett
- “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss
- “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde
- “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford
- “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis
- “Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” Gena Showalter
I’d like to hear what you think of the ‘Be Better’ concept. Let me know if you try it in your life and please pass along your stories. If you enjoyed reading about this, please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.