Category Archives: Self-sufficiency

Road to Self-Improvement: The Road Not Taken

M. A. D. L I G A Y A

“When we strive to become better than we are,
everything around us becomes better too.”
– Paulo Coelho

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

That’s the first line in Robert Frost’s poem entitled “The Road Not Taken.”

Each time you wake up in the morning, you stand at a fork in a road – one path leads to self-complacency and the other to self-improvement.

“And sorry [you] could not travel both
And be one traveler, long [you] stood
And looked down one as far as [you] could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

You wouldn’t be able to see what lies ahead  because the forest of life is dense and the road is not straight. All I can tell you is you will either bear the consequences or enjoy the results of  choosing which way to go. And you were not born yesterday not to know the repercussions…

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Defining Success

“True success is not what we gather but what we become.”
– Apurvakumar Pandya

How do you view success? How do you measure it? These two are the usual questions whenever the topic is discussed.But I think the more important question that should be asked is – Do you consider yourself successful?

Before you answer those questions, let’s revisit the definition of the word. Let’s check  how online dictionaries define success.

Cambridge’s definition of the word is something broad  – “The achieving of the results wanted or hoped for.” Colin’s goes – “The achievement of something that you have been trying to do.” Oxford is more specific with its definition – “The attainment of fame, wealth or social status.” Merriam-Webster’s is almost the same as Oxford’s – “The attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”.

Our favorite research assistant  – “Dr. Google” – says that success is  “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” and “the attainment of popularity and profit.”

Let’s also check the synonyms: prosperity, affluence , wealth, riches, opulence, and triumph.

I hope that the foregoing definitions and synonyms are sufficient to help you come out with meaningful and definitive answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of this article. And by the way, do the ideas conveyed by those definitions and synonyms jibe with what you think success is?

The definitions and synonyms above actually show  the way people in our society quantify  success. They tell us about the measuring sticks being used by most people, including you probably, to determine whether or not a person is successful. Everything boils down to one or a combination of the following: wealth, fame and power.

So, when asked who are the most successful people in the world, people never fail to mention the names of the world’s richest men – Jess Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the others who are listed in Forbes’ top 10 world’s billionnaires . The next ones in our lists are the showbiz, sports, media, and political personalities. We also remember the names of quite a few people – some of them could be our own friends –  who excel in their respective fields of endeavors when we discuss about successful people.

Now, let me ask some questions.

Are those people we consider  successful happy also? Have the money, fame, power, and accomplishment they possess brought them happiness? They are the only ones, or their relatives (or their close friends and confidants), who could answer those questions. People outside of their inner circle could only make speculations and assumptions.

Many believe that rich people live under the constant pressure of  wanting to amass more wealth – famous people to ensure that their stars keep shining – politicians to perpetuate themselves to power – so much so  that they forget to live a life. Thus, they are perceived to be unhappy.

At least, they have the money.

“But can their money buy them happiness?” This question has been asked so many times that it could be considered meaningless already. But in the light of the present discussion it should be asked, not for the purpose of having it answered, but as a point to ponder on.

We presume that with all the luxuries the money of  the wealthy, famous and powerful could afford, it’s almost impossible that they are not happy. Unless it is true that of the needs which Maslow’s identified in the hierarchy of needs, only the basic ones (physiological and safety) could be covered by money. The psychological needs (esteem needs, belongingness and love needs) and self-fulfillment needs are definitely not available in the shelves of even the most expensive stores.

Here is the next question I would like to  ask – “Are they healthy?”

They are already rich, famous, and powerful. They are truly blessed if they are also in good shape. Of course they are – financially. What about physically, emotionally, and mentally? In their quest for riches, fame and power, did they not sacrifice their health, values, and relationships? While they sit on their thrones clutching their coffer, do they feel peace flowing within them? Again, they are the only ones, and the people around them, who could give a definite answer. They are the only ones who know whether or not they are suffering from any debilitating disease, mental anguish, and emotional stress?

I brought out the questions on happiness and health in the discussion of success because I believe that there is a need to strike balance between the ephemeral and the ethereal when defining the concept. The prevailing  view of success is materialistic. We attach tangible proofs to it – money, big house, new car, degree, job title, a certain body type, etc. I am not saying that such act (of attaching those tangible proofs to success) is wrong. I just consider it as not encompassing.

Why?

What about simple people who did not attend school, don’t have cars, and live in simple houses in far-flung farming and fishing villages happily living a simple life and diligently performing their role in society? Can’t they not be considered successful in their own right?

When you don’t have a mansion – a car – fancy clothes – expensive jewelry – a university degree – huge amount in the bank, when you’re not famous and not powerful, when you’re  just an ordinary decent individual honestly earning a living and contended with what you have and what you’re capable of achieving and you’re happy and  healthy, would people not consider you successful?

If a person’s goal is to be happy and healthy and he/she achieves it, isn’t that success?

Correlating happiness and health to success is a kind of paradigm shift that will make capitalists unhappy. It is the materialistic view of success that keeps most of their present business ventures alive.

Well, we define success in different ways. Success is subjective and I think that nobody could claim that their way of looking at it is the right one.

The most valuable lesson I learned about success is this – define it for yourself. Don’t allow other people to define success for you. Don’t subscribe to the standards they set. You know your capabilities and limitations more than anyone else, factor them when setting your success parameters. But be not satisfied with your current skill set. You have to improve and as you see yourself becoming better set the bars of your success higher. And most importantly,  don’t forget that as you march towards the achievement of your simplest goals and the realization of your grandest ambitions, you should not sacrifice your happiness and health.

On Self-doubt

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good
we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
– William Shakespeare

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are referred to in Christian teachings as the “seven deadly sins.” These, to the Roman Catholics, are the cardinal sins. If a person commits any of them, he is believed to be cut off from God’s grace.

Actually, the Bible does not specifically mention the concept “seven deadly sins.” But in Galatians 5: 16-19,  fifteen acts of the sinful nature are identified – sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. Perhaps St. Gregory the Great, during his reign as Pope (590 – 640 AD), wanting to be concise,  shortened that long list of capital vices.

All Christian faithful are being called upon to not commit those acts of the flesh. St Paul said that believers are free but he implored them not to use their freedom to indulge the flesh. That, definitely, is easier said than done.

I think  St. Paul (who wrote the Galatians) and St. Gregory  may have overlooked another human frailty that should have been added to the list of sins. There exists another spiritual infirmity that I believe should be considered as equally harmful as any of the deadly sins. It’s called self-doubt.

My proposition (that self-doubt be classified also as sin) may not be considered seriously.  Many might even say it’s preposterous.

Is it?

Is self-doubt just an ordinary flaw in a person’s character? Is it really a bit too much to consider it a sin? Is it not a serious offense – something that when committed could ruin a person’s life?

Allow me to argue my assertion that self-doubt is a sin. For those who do not believe in the concept of religion, think of self-doubt not as a sin but an injury you inflict upon yourselves.

In this article, we will define self-doubt, strictly, as “the feeling of not having confidence in yourself or your abilities.”  The concept of doubt being discussed here does not refer to that philosophical function “to cast doubt.”

The definition above (the one before the disambiguation) makes self-doubt sound harmless – not something immoral or demonic that would make the moralists and bible scholars (both past and present) look at it as a sin. That’s probably the reason no religious movement, Christianity included, classified such human inadequacy as a sin. You might also refuse to accept that it is an injury you inflict upon yourself.

Self-doubt, however, is not as simple as it seems. This impotence of the human spirit has grave consequences not only to the person having it but  to the family where he belongs and to the society where he lives. A person plagued by it will be less-productive or not productive at all and is definitely not going to contribute anything to his family and society.

In arguing that self-doubt is a sin (or a self-inflicted injury) it is important to review the nature of sin from a philosophical standpoint.

“Sin is said to be a moral evil” (O’Neil, 1912). This brings us to another question – what is evil? St. Thomas defines the word (evil) as a privation of form or order or due measure. “Evil implies a deficiency in perfection.”

Self-doubt is clearly an imperfection. It indicates the absence of confidence which is considered essential for a person’s well-being and is a requirement in the pursuit of what Abraham Maslow refers to in Psychology as “self-actualization” or achieving one’s full potential. Sin is a diversion from the perceived ideal order of human living (Hyde, 2018). A person doubting his capabilities veers away from becoming the best that they can be and reduces their chance of living life to the fullest.

It could be argued that there are a lot of other negative human characters that may indicate imperfections. But none is as damaging to the person as self-doubt. Something is wrong with a person if he lacks confidence and has a very low (or  no) feeling of self-worth. These are conditions that  may lead to failure and unhappiness.

In addition, philosophical or moral sin is a human act not in agreement with rational nature and right reason. (Hyde, 2018).

It is not considered reasonable to doubt one’s capabilities. It is a person’s moral obligation to believe in themselves. It is not right to think one would fail even without really trying. A person needs to have faith not only in God (if he happens to believe in one) but also in themselves.

Allowing self-doubt to reign is depriving the self of discovering one’s potentials. When a person decides to doubt themselves, they eradicate their ability to fulfill their goals and to achieve their dreams.

Failures are indeed impossible not to happen. But even if one fails in several attempts to succeed they should decide not to stop trying. There’s a long list of famous personalities (like Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford) who had their share of failures but  never gave up.

But is self-doubt a self-inflicted injury?

“Sin, also, wounds the nature of man.” This is what the Catholic teachings assert.

“Self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body, and soul. It is one of the major obstacles to living the life that people truly deserve. This unhealthy food for the soul drags down a person’s spirit, crushes his ambitions, and prevents him from achieving all that he can (Thalk, 2013).

Doubt impedes a person’s development. It is the biggest roadblock to self-actualization. Self-doubt prevents people from becoming the best they could be, from realizing their full potentials, and from achieving their dreams. Shakespeare stressed, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Doubt could possibly kill more dreams than failure ever did.

Some degree of self-doubt is generally held to be normal. It can be helpful in some cases, as it often leads to introspection and enhanced performance. But it may require medical help when it becomes debilitating, affects daily function, or impedes performance at work or school (Self-doubt, n.d.).

There’s no immorality committed when one doubts himself. Why should it be then considered a sin?

This brings me to  the last among my arguments to convince you that self-doubt is a sin.

A sin may either be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do and sins of omission are sins we commit by not doing something (Sins of Commission vs Sins of Omission, 2015). The seven deadly sins are all sins of commission except sloth.

Sloth –   extreme laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents –  is considered a sin of omission. I think self-doubt belongs to that category. If sloth made it to the list of the deadly sins, self-doubt should be there also.

“Self-doubt,” is just as  damaging (perhaps more damaging) to a person than this sin called “sloth.”  Actually, in some instances, a person’s failure to use his innate talents starts with his inability to believe what he is capable of doing.

I hope that the arguments I presented above about self-doubt are convincing enough that from this point on you would move as far away from it as possible.

Conquer your self-doubt and start to nurture self-belief which I think is the key component of the value system of the few men and women who scaled the heights of success.


Welcome, singular “they”

References:

Hyde, J. (2018). The book of sin: How to Save the World, UK: Soul Rocks Books

O’Neil, A.C. (1912). Sin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 24, 2020 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm

Self-Doubt (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gootherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-doubt/

Sins of commission vs sins of omission (2015) Retrieved from https://www.revelation.co/2015/07/21/sins-of-commission-vs-sins-of omission/

Thalk, C. (2013). Self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body and soul. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/self-doubt_b_2960936

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