Today is October 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you improve yourself?” As the 16th century French writer Michel de Montaigne noted “There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.” Most people who make navigating the chaos a lifetime process routinely practice self-improvement. Actor Aaron Eckhart, professional tennis player Roger Federer, and former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt each understand the necessity of self-improvement as a strategy to navigate the chaos.
After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film, Eckhart lived in New York City as a struggling, unemployed actor for several years in the 1990s. As an undergraduate at BYU, Eckhart met director and writer Neil LaBute, who cast him in several of his own original plays. Five years later Eckhart made a debut as an unctuous, sociopathic ladies' man in LaBute's black comedy film In the Company of Men (1997). Under LaBute's guidance he worked in the director's films Your Friends & Neighbors (1998).
Eckhart would gain some recognition as George in Steven Soderbergh's critically acclaimed film Erin Brockovich (2000) but it was not until six years later, in 2006, that he received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking. In an interview actor Aaron Eckhart said “You always have to go out there and prove yourself to people. It never ends. That’s an important lesson No matter what level you are at. Never give up.” Eckhart noted that “for 20 years I’ve made mistakes and recovered from mistakes. I have asked myself tough questions. I’ve just tried to be a better person, and not take everything so seriously.”
Much like Eckhart, Federer has learned the value of self-improvement. Federer is ranked world No. 4 in men's singles tennis by the Association of Tennis Professionals. He has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles—the most in history for a male player—and has held the world No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a record total of 310 weeks (including a record 237 consecutive weeks) and was the year-end No. 1 five times, including four consecutive. Federer, who turned professional in 1998, was continuously ranked in the top 10 from October 2002 to November 2016. Federer has won a record eight Wimbledon men's singles titles, six Australian Open titles, five US Open titles (all consecutive, a record), and one French Open title. He is one of eight men to have achieved a Career Grand Slam. Federer has reached a record 31 men's singles Grand Slam finals, including 10 consecutively from the 2005 Wimbledon Championships to the 2007 US Open.
How has he managed to stay on top of the tennis world for so long? According to Federer: “I always questioned myself in the best of times, even when I was world number one for many, many weeks, and months in a row, at certain times during the year I said, ‘What can I improve? What do I need to change?’ Because if you don’t do anything or you just do the same thing over and over again, you stay the same, and staying the same means going backwards. It’s important for me to actually hear criticism sometimes because I think that’s what makes me a better player and that means someone’s questioning me who really cares about me, and I think that’s really important in the business world as well.”
Indeed, self-improvement is important in the business world and Eric Schmidt knows this first-hand. A colleague recommended that Schmidt get a professional executive coach in 2001 when he was far along in his career. From 2001 to 2011, Schmidt served as the CEO of Google.
As Schmidt recalled: “I initially resented the advice, because after all, I was a CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing something wrong? How could a coach advise me if I'm the best person in the world at this? But that's not what a coach does. The coach doesn't have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best. In the business context a coach is not a repetitious coach. A coach is somebody who looks at something with another set of eyes, describes it to you in [his/her] words, and discusses how to approach the problem. Once I realized I could trust him, Bill Campbell, and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea. When there is [a] business conflict you tend to get rat-holed into it. [Bill's] general advice has been to rise one step higher, above the person on the other side of the table, and to take the long view. He'll say, "You're letting it bother you. Don't."
Eckhert, Federer, and Schmidt all found time for self-improvement. Do you?
If the pursuit of self-improvement is a reliable strategy to navigate the chaos for those at the top of their game, is it smart for you to pursue a similar course of action?
How often do you realize if you want to stay in the game you always have to go and prove yourself?
In the pursuit of self-improvement, how often do you make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward?
How often do you remind yourself not to take everything so seriously while engaging in self-improvement?