Do Better.

Hunter Gardner

September is National Self Improvement Month. We’re running out of days on the calendar, but you still have time. After doing some basic Googling, it appears that National Self Improvement Month might be some kind of conspiracy sponsored by CrossFit, but it’s not too late to solicit some advice, right?

To be honest, I don't know what self-improvement actually means, and if you're honest, you don't either. I know the Internet is flooded these days with 20-somethings who are experts in being 20-something. This is not one of those articles. Okay, it kind of is, but stick with me.


« Cal Hanlon. Los Angeles, CA. Filmmaker & Ponderer

(I met Cal in New Zealand, where we both studied abroad. Back in the States, I would call in to his radio show at BU and request Edward Sharpe. He would introduce me on air as "Hunter from the Dirty, Dirty." So yeah, we're friends.)


From Cal: "I like the social aspect of creativity, so film made the most sense to me. I'm actually very lucky to be a filmmaker coming of age just as digital film technology is taking off. When I first got to LA and was scraping the bottom of the barrel job-wise, I was meeting a lot of Hollywood wannabees. Like any new place, it takes a little bit to find your crowd. 


I don't really know what my "Plan A" was. Prior to moving to LA, I worked for two years on a grant from the Spanish government. During nights and weekend I would write short scripts for spec commercial competitions. I wound up selling a few of them to Chevrolet, HTC, and a couple others. They would fly me around the world to go to events and I thought, 'I could definitely get used to this.' I quit smoking cigarettes, so that's a step in the right direction. Fewer Modelo Especials would probably be another good move."


Matt Hamrick. Denver, CO. Software Tester & Product Manager for Plink. »

(Matt is a lifelong friend. I lived with him one summer in Chapel Hill. We had a trampoline and a kiddie pool. He helped create the startup Rentillegence, a service that pairs good tenants with great landlords in Washington, D.C. before moving to Denver to work for another startup, Plink.)


From Matt: "When we founded Rentel, I had some exposure to the software world, so I acted as the product development manager. We ended up outsourcing the work to an offshore firm who ultimately did a poor job of implementing our idea. This was ultimately our downfall as a company. Since then, I realized that instead of acting as the middleman, I'd rather just learn to do it myself.


In January of this year, I accepted a new job across the country. The job was well above my qualifications; it was very much a 'sink or swim' situation. Moving to Denver has ‘wiped my slate clean’ if you're into cheesy metaphors. The last few months I've been taking a lot of time to evaluate my health, career, social life, and long-term goals. I don't really think you can universally define how to make yourself a 'better person', but for me lately it’s been about finding the best way to balance a career, a healthier lifestyle, and determining what relationships are really important to me."


« Matt Kabus. Los Angeles, CA. Music Producer, Audio Engineer, & Singer/Songwriter.

(I met Matt through a friend on a Clemson gameday. We recently reconnected when he offered to submit some music for my upcoming novel’s e-book. You can help Matt by donating to a Kickstarter for an animated holiday music video 
featuring his song, "December Moon.")


From Matt: "It honestly took me a while to figure out what I was truly passionate about. It wasn’t after testing many waters that I realized how much happier I was in the music studio than anywhere else. At that point, I stripped out unnecessary, time-consuming distractions and started to make way into a career that involved far more focus. That focus became furthering my career as an all-in-one package for music production from songwriting to producing, engineering, mixing, and mastering. I put on an intimate, acoustic show where I perform the songs/jingles that I'd written for commercials, songs that I’d written for/with other artists, and tunes that I have written for myself on my free time. I don't make a ton of money on these gigs, but it makes me happy. I honestly get a natural high from those performances, knowing that I'm able to help the world in some way with my music."



Dean Carey. London. Lifelong traveler. Amateur Boxer.

(I met Dean when we were both counselors at a YMCA summer camp. We became fast friends and have traveled a lot together. I pretend to understand rugby and he pretends to play the banjo.)


From Dean: "I’m discovering stuff I enjoy and want to pursue all the time. The only roadblocks I have ever found are other peoples’ opinions on what they think I should do or can accomplish. I remember several weeks before my first fight I was nervous and scared about being embarrassed and beaten in front of my friends. I got some good advice through a movie: 'The only person you are ever trying to beat is yourself.' I always look at people that I admire, see the qualities in them that I admire and try to work on either acquiring them or practicing them. That being said I would say I am failing at it. As for what comes next, I reckon I will climb Mount Kilimanjaro. How will I do it? Put one foot in front of the other till I reach the top. How else would I do it?"


« Larisa Alvarez. New York City. Blogger for the Food Network.

(I met Larisa at YMCA Camp Hanes. Our similar sense of humor and mutual love for whiskey, pizza, and talking smack about ACC sports has kept us in touch. Larisa in one word: charming. You can follow her on Twitter, @NYfoodfighter.)


From Larisa: "I was working in finance and found that I was very unhappy on a day-to-day basis. I was spending over 50 hours a week doing things I didn't care about with people who I really disliked. After several yoga sessions and more episodes of Oprah’s Master Class than I’d like to own up to, it finally clicked that I should be working with food. My dad came from nothing and worked very hard to get to where he is, so I think it's difficult for him to understand, 'I'd rather love what I'm doing than make lots of money.' I'd be lying if I said that my father's mentality has not rubbed off on me. It can be frustrating at times, but I’d much rather be happy than miserable for the majority of my life, even if that means making sacrifices. At the end of the day, my amazing parents will support me in everything I do. 


Hands down: happiness is a choice. I’m currently on 'Plan C' and I’ve never been happier. The ultimate goal is happiness for me and those around me. I strongly believe that our relationship with ourselves is one that we need to work on; if we can’t take care of and love ourselves, how are we suppose to be our best with others? I wish there was more dialogue regarding what we experience during our 20s. For a lot of us, the day we graduate college is the first time that we ever really have to make hard decisions. Up until then we’ve known our trajectory: grade school, high school, college. There hasn’t been that much of a chance for failure has there? Suddenly, you have to decide what you’re doing. The straightforward, two-step career process is often the exception rather than the rule, and no one talks about it."



So what did we learn? Well, if you want to improve yourself, then you have to invest the time to do it. You can use your free time to do what you’re passionate about, make a little extra money, or if you’re lucky, combine the two to make your new job. It’s not all about the money, either: do things that make you and other people happy. Kicking bad habits and finding balance is important, and if you feel stuck you can always move—just start over. And don’t listen to other people. They’re dumb.


This advice may feel generic. I can’t tell you how to be a more improved person, and neither can these friends of mine who are just strangers to you, but I hope this helps.


For a couple of years, I lived by a personal mantra, an Avett Brothers’ lyric. It was about self-improvement, I think: "Maybe I don't have to be good but I can try to be at least a little better than I've been so far."


That doesn’t lead to you becoming a better person, though, just a vague attempt at not becoming a horrible one. So I think this one from their I & Love & You album may be better: “Decide what to be and go be it.”


That’s what will make you better. You know what that thing is, so go do it.