From an early age I was introduced to "kaizen" (改善), the philosophy of continuous self improvement. At first it was only to improve my martial arts; then I applied it to every other aspect of my life.
The attraction of martial arts is simple: a small person can beat a big person. It only took me a short time to realize a small person can defeat a bigger person if they're more efficient. I applied this to everything; to find the best hacks, leveraging the right resources, the most effective methods, to create a flawless system.
It took me the rest of my life to realize this wasn't enough. Efficiency has to be balanced with spirit, otherwise we become machines. Machines have no meaning, becoming obsolete, replaced by better machines. It's not just about more productivity and getting more things done in less time, or implementing the perfect habit. It's also about living a life of meaning and finding liberation in life. It's not about a small person beating a big person, it's about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary obstacles. Beyond success, it's about significance. Not just getting things done but leaving an impact. I spent too much time working on my "system," not enough time grooming myself, cultivating integrity and character. I lost touch with the point of martial arts, which is to find the Way (道).
The underdogs need to be more than efficient, they also need to have more fight. They need more belief, more resilience, more drive, and more embracing of all out effort. Life's not fair and you need more than goals, you need purpose and drive.
People can defeat you with inferior technique. Others will have more advantages. You won't have all the necessary resources. The real art is doing everything right, then fighting like hell for it. Out work them. Out learn them. I was known for impeccable techniques — untouchable in the dojo. In competition, I was very flawed. I asked a black belt why I was losing when I did everything right? He said, "Because it's a fucking fight. What did you expect?" There will be struggle and even when things are perfect, it still won't be easy. You still need to persevere, stay the course, and have spirit.
We admire machines. They're extremely useful in analogies of productivity and improvement. The part people don't mention is that machines break. Humans have an undefinable capacity, humans can possess an indomitable spirit, humans can be unbreakable, and only humans can live life with meaning.
Why get things done if there's no reason to get things done? Why overcome an obstacle if it doesn't somehow improve my life or someone else's? Why beat a bigger opponent unless there's a point? Machines do things for the sake of doing them. We can do things because they make our lives better; we can choose a life that is purposeful. We're capable of both being happy and creating our own happiness. It's not enough to be efficient at making widgets, we must continuously build character (改善). Our strength is not in our perfection but in our persistence. That in essence is humanity. Embracing our flaws (三法印), striving to master the self, and discovering our Way (道).
I have a backstory. You have a backstory. We all have backstories. We have all the reason in the world to stay still, and for those same reasons we must triumph.