First Change Yourself: Self Development and Over Confidence

I was listening to a podcast recently[1]- and the host Ross Patterson was interviewing one Catherine Clennan[2], who is a 27 year old who has started a GoFundMe requesting $12 million in order to purchase a house in San Diego, hire a private staff to cook and clean, and to “live the life she thinks she deserves”. This is something I went into assuming “this girl must be trolling” and the longer I listened to the interview, the more I had to face the fact that I think she’s serious.

Two things she said to the end of the interview really struck me. She said “I am perfect the way I am… I was always perfect”, she then goes on to say that if she raises the $12 million, she wants to spend her life creating art, and “prob[ing] these really deep questions”. Her entire pitch is about changing society (she doesn’t think that working is actually necessary) completing overlooking the irony that she wants money to hire a staff (people who will work menial jobs in exchange for money), I’ll take her claim at face value.

I was reminded of a Thoreau quote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!”[3] The hubris that must be required for a woman who has done ostensibly nothing in her life to be willing to say out loud, let alone believe “Give me $12 million so I can create art and contemplate the big questions while living a life of leisure”.

I’m currently reading the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the most celebrated authors of the past half-century and Nobel Prize winner.  Solzhenitsyn was a veteran of World War II fighting for the Soviet Union. In the 1940s he was arrested as a dissident during one of Stalin’s purges, and interned in the Soviet prison system for a decade, which is where he started writing the Gulag Archipelago, in his head, by memorization. This is a 5 volume, 1600 page text, that he began writing by memorization, while he was interned in a forced labor camp. He then completed and compiled the text in secret after his release, having drafts smuggled to a lawyer in Switzerland, all while hiding from State Security. And yet, having experienced all that, Solzhenitsyn is nowhere near as confident in his worldview as Ms. Clennan is.

I do not know however how much Ms. Clennan can be blamed for her infantilized worldview because it seems endemic among young people, maybe not to the same extent, but she merely takes to its logical conclusion a set of views that is shared by a great many young people. The view I’m referring to is readily visible on publishing platforms like “Elite Daily”, “Odyssey Online”, or “Thought Catalog”, where young people write on various topics, but generally not from a variety of viewpoints. Just browse the “perfection” tag on Thought Catalog and you’ll get an idea how Ms. Clennan arrived at her worldview.

Former Harvard Psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson spoke to this recently on an interview with Joe Rogan on his podcast[4] saying (I’m paraphrasing) “There are too many people running around who want to change the world, but don’t want to change themselves, if you want to change the world, first change yourself” This resonated deeply with me, because I am often astounded when I run into people who believe they’ve got the world figured out and are perfectly ready to restructure everything to that end, but are simultaneously unable to keep their room clean or eat a healthy diet even though they very much want to. To a reader those may seem like shallow examples, but they are the most visible examples of people believing that they understand the world fully, everyone and everything in it, and their motivations, but don’t even have a shallow understanding of themselves.

I’d like to think I’ve lived a slightly less sheltered life, and have a slightly broader depth of experiences than most people my age with my background, but in reality, my life probably hasn’t been very different from Ms. Clennan’s. The only stark differentiation I can draw is that I have a wildly different attitude towards myself than she does towards herself. I don’t think I purse my own development primarily through naval gazing and comfort, but through exploration, which is why I read so much.

Fundamentally the problem with many young people is that they have the hubris to think that all of the answers to life’s questions are internal, which is admittedly something I’ve suffered from in bouts. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s only by exploring the ideas of the people who came before us that we can later seek to transcend them. Those “old dead white dudes” that high school students lookup on SparkNotes the day before their exam can actually tell us a lot about ourselves.

So to all the 23 year old “writers” and “artists” out there (of whom I know a few), I would encourage you to explore the world outside your own very narrow experience and to broaden that experience at any possible opportunity. To paraphrase advice Chuck Palahniuk gave to aspiring writers “if you want to write, you first need to do something, don’t just sit in front of your computer”

I’ll leave you with an extended quote from Dr. Peterson-

“So, in the coming year, make yourself a better person. Fix what you can and would fix. Start now. There is something right in front of you, demanding repair, calling out to your conscience, if you would only attend to it, for your corrective efforts, however, primitive they may yet be. Start small. As you master the process, you can safely and competently expand your reach. You will then become able to fix bigger things, instead of making them worse, in the arrogance of your ignorance. If you do this, there will be less pointless and unnecessary suffering, and the world, for all its shortcoming and faults, will be a better place.”[5]

 

 

[1] Drinkin’ Bros Podcast no. 129 41:58 (warning: NSFW, not safe for anyone for that matter, I wouldn’t recommend listening if you’re easily offended, you’ve been warned) https://youtu.be/7PJ6-mvHnh4?t=41m58s

[2] https://www.gofundme.com/CatherineClennan

[3] http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/thoreauartofwriting.htm

[4] JRE no. 877- https://youtu.be/04wyGK6k6HE

[5] http://jordanbpeterson.com/2016/12/new-years-letter/

 

(this post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog in January 2017)

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