Grow to Live: Why Constant Improvement is Necessary

bruce lee growth improvement martial arts warrior spirit

I have recently attained a lot of the fitness goals I set for myself when I started taking my training seriously. I wanted to be able to snatch my bodyweight, deadlift more than twice my bodyweight, do a standing backflip and some other basic tumbling moves, run a fast quarter mile, run a marathon, be able to do CrossFit WODs at the Rx’d weights, and do a few handstand pushups. I’m still working on the one arm pushup and a few other things, but I’m pretty satisfied with where I am now.

Now that I can do these things, I found that my motivation to keep training waned a bit. Getting to this point cost me a lot. I suffered a lot of injuries, stressed out about schedules, consistency and performance, and missed out on a lot of social opportunities because I was either too tired or couldn’t eat the food/drink. It was not easy.

And the question that kept floating around in my head was: is it all worth it? Should I keep this up?

Why Improve

At first, I didn’t really think it was worth it. I could maintain my current level of fitness without too much additional effort. Continued improvement would come at a high price, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay that price. Why keep trying to improve if I’m happy with where I am now?

The only answer that came to mind was simply because I can. If there’s room for improvement, I should fill it. For a few weeks, that wasn’t really good enough. I was tired and I needed something more concrete.

That nagging insistence that I keep improving wouldn’t go away. Maintaining felt like giving up, even though I could do everything I wanted or needed to. Was I supposed to try to keep getting better forever? Would I never be able to just enjoy myself and accept myself as I am?

The answer to the first question turned out to be, yes; I am supposed to try to keep getting better forever. The answer to the second question is no; I must learn to accept myself as I am, even as I push to grow and improve.

I felt like a waste of space if I wasn’t growing. Staying the same wasn’t good enough. I felt that I had an obligation to be the best I could be. To honor my good fortune in being born, I had the responsibility to make the most of my self and my life.

This attitude — honoring the fortune of my existence — is inspired by a Buddhist outlook on being grateful for what you have. If what I have is potential, the best way to be grateful for it is to develop it.

Bruce Lee’s outlook is interesting because it suggests that failure to grow is worse than death; it is better to risk being killed in an attempt to grow and improve. Stagnating may not be literal death, but it is death of the spirit, and ultimately leads to a long, slow process of decay that simply starts the process of decomposition before you’re put in the ground.

Life is growth. Death is stagnation.

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