Charles Bukowski was born about two hours from where I grew up, in Andernach. Sadly, his resting place is a slightly longer trip, for it holds the bigger lesson, chiseled into his tombstone.
"Don't try." In the first chapter of "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck," Mark Manson decodes some of the hidden meaning of Bukowski's final message:
This is the real story of Bukowski's success: his comfort with himself as a failure. Bukowski didn't give a f*ck about success. Even after his fame, he still showed up to poetry readings hammered and verbally abused people in his audience. He still exposed himself in public and tried to sleep with every woman he could find. Fame and success didn't make him a better person. Nor was it by becoming a better person that he became famous and successful. Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the same thing.
… and he's right.
Some days, I choose self-improvement. Like yesterday. I was behind on work, but took an hour long walk anyway. Because it was good exercise. Some days, I choose success. Like when I send an email to thousands of people, hoping they'll click the link and buy.
When I'm aware of it, this distinction is liberating. It allows me to strike a balance. The problem is I often lack this awareness. Because we're so busy looking closer, digging deeper — for books and gadgets and quick fixes and articles like my very own — we profoundly confuse self-improvement and success.