It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In fact, as I write this article, I expect to reach my millionth step today (amounting to around 500 miles) since I started tracking my steps on my phone about five months ago. As I near my mid-fifties, I am embarking on a program to restructure my life to make it more efficient and effective.
When we think of bettering ourselves, we naturally begin comparing ourselves to others. While some competitiveness may enhance performance, too much of it can have adverse effects on our psyche — especially when we are outperformed. On the other hand, competing with ourselves is an idea worth adopting because it pushes us to do better regardless of the circumstances.
Seeking comfort is human. But pursuing efficiency, strength, and resilience requires effort, determination, and the courage to step outside one’s comfort-zone. As it has been said in a verse attributed to Imam Ali
If you guard your soul and work towards its betterment
You will live in peace and have a favorable reputation`
A balanced life should allow for both comfort and growth. Personally, the idea of competing with myself and achieving my “personal best” first came to mind 15 years ago, back when my two daughters, Deema and Dana, shy of 10 years of age, were participating in swimming competitions in Saudi Aramco’s Dhahran residential community . At these swimming meets, I noticed that coaches recorded each swimmer’s best times. While swimmers raced against each other, they also strived to exceed their personal best times. That idea stayed with me, but it did not bloom into a behavior-changing commitment.
It wasn’t until last year, during a management development program at Aramco where the idea began to truly manifest. As part of an executive coaching program, I was asked to think about the goals I’d like to achieve in my personal and professional life. I realized that I could apply the notion of “personal best” to all facets of my life. I could be the best version of myself. I could be the “new edition,” upgraded, rebooted and customized, much like mobile phones, software, and robots. Making development an integral part of our lifestyle creates a continual cycle of improvement, keeping us sharp, relevant and adaptable.
I began a program to challenge myself in five key areas, which I believe are essential for anyone to enhance their abilities, improve their performance, and outdo themselves:
- Mental: Developed through reading, learning, and enhancing work and life skills.
- Physical: Enhanced with exercise, diet, and healthy habits.
- Spiritual: Deepened through acts of worship, meditation, closeness to God, and working towards the hereafter.
- Emotional: Strengthened by emotions of love, healthy relationships, and staying in touch with family, friends, and coworkers.
- Financial: Improved with savings and investment.
It is no secret that self-development in pursuit of becoming the best version of ourselves calls for determination, tenacity, and discipline to push us into accomplishing goals that can only materialize through conscious effort. It’s as Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” It also takes time for change to occur. Results don’t happen overnight, they grow gradually over months and years. This reminds me of an Arabic proverb: A little bit of continuous effort is far better than doing a lot inconsistently. I believe that it is our moral obligation to aim for self-actualization and not to settle for being at the bottom or to stop mid-way when success or excellence is within reach, once said:
Among all human flaws lay no greater flaw
as the deficiency of those to whom excellence can be attained
Abu Al-Tayyib Al-Mutanabbi
It is important to note that your success in becoming the best version of yourself does not mean pressuring yourself to become exceptional or to change the world as we know it. Rather, it is to realize that growth only comes with effort, and that’s a fact of life. Over the past 30 years, management and self-help literature has grown exponentially because they are selling this idea that we must all be exceptional. The way I see it, every person who works hard and perseveres will no doubt be accomplished. They may not be exceptional or leave a lasting mark, but they will definitely be balanced in their own life and influential in their own circles. And that in itself is a virtue not to be missed.
(This was first published on July 8th 2021in Arabic in Saudi Aramco’s Al-Qafilah newsletter. It’s been translated with the author’s consent)