Column: How Can I Do Better?

By Icy Frantz

Five pretty simple words, right?

Just last week I heard them, out of the mouth of an impressive young man who was applying for a scholarship for his senior year of college. And those five simple words struck me.

Maybe it was the fact that he was doing so well despite the adversity in his life; maybe it was his earnestness. Or maybe that remarkable young man, with his whole life in front of him, gave me hope, because he stopped and humbly asked the question. It made me teary.

Admittingly, tears come easily for me, but his words – those five simple words – are something we need to hear more of, and not just from the young in interviews, classrooms, and on the sidelines of athletic fields but from everyone, actually, no matter our age.

In fact, if we all took the lead from this young man, our personal lives would be better, the world would be better.

Let’s start with the personal.

I received an email the other day from an acquaintance. To be fair, the author doesn’t really know me, but she insinuated that I was not doing enough to bring about change.

My knee jerk reaction was defensive.

In my head I argued that I am doing my best; I already do a lot. I have no more time.

And then I turned to friends and colleagues – as I often do – in search of support. I knew I would get it, and I did.

But I couldn’t shed the message conveyed in that email, and I did not find relief from the support I received. I had to consider why I felt so triggered.

Sure, my life is busy, and I am grateful to be involved with some amazing institutions and people, but sometimes I wonder if I am intentional about the way I spend my time. Am I putting my energy into the right things?

I felt a familiar tug on my heart.

What if, rather than getting defensive, I had asked the question, “How can I do better”? To my correspondent? To myself?

Defending my decisions kept me closed to the possibilities that the question may have unearthed.

A funny thing happens in our brain when we ask a question. Questions stimulate the brain and release serotonin which relaxes the brain and allows it to the work better. In particular, the frontal lobe is programed to look for answers, and it doesn’t stop; it keeps digging until it has contemplated many solutions.

But we often steer clear from asking questions like – How can I do better? because the answer might give us more to do or may be critical of what we are already doing. And our pride tells us, “I got this. I know what I am doing.”

Yet, I would argue that the question is actually liberating. Perhaps the answer isn’t more, but different; maybe it suggests a shift. Maybe the question makes room for us to be open to another answer.

Now sometimes, we are offered unsolicited advice on how to do better. I find that rather annoying, although, that advice, can also have value.

This happened recently at the driving range. I am not a golfer, but I like to hit balls. So, there I was, swinging and striking and muttering frustration to myself, when my husband offered his counsel on how I could do better. “Try shortening your swing,” he said.

“I’m good,” I replied, but tried it anyway. And low and behold – I was a golfer.

If you Google “how can I do better” – and yes, I did – you will find there are endless ways to improve oneself. In fact, the list is exhaustive.

This simple search informed me that there is a great willingness and desire to do better – in our relationships, with how we spend our time, and even on the golf course. TikTok demonstrates the best life hacks and YouTube videos teach us how to cook a better burger, how to get a better night sleep, and even how to make a better YouTube video.

And if we look beyond the personal, the question, or a similar configuration of it – how can we do better – is a good response to so many of the world’s ills.

We spend too much time digging in our heals and defending and explaining our position, and not enough time asking the question. Of course, having an opinion is not a bad thing, but if we want to move forward remaining open to another’s thought process is critical.

I try and stay away from politics in these pieces; however, this is not about one party or one policy. It’s about all of us and all of them.

Just a few weeks ago we lost more lives in Uvalde, Texas. What felt like a tragic déjà vu for many of us was personally devastating and heartbreaking for those closer to the scene. For parents, siblings, families, and friends, this meant the loss of loved ones- tragic, real and raw, forever.

Keeping our children safe is in the forefront of everyone I know, period, so, let’s ask the question – how can we do better? I don’t profess to have all of the answers, but a thorough examination of all possible solutions and action is imperative.

And if we all came to the negotiating table asking the question rather than offering our answer, I think we would have a better chance of getting somewhere.

Because if we don’t ask- how we can do better, I am deeply afraid that we will get more of the same, and that is simply unacceptable.

That young man dressed in a coat and tie, a little nervous staring out at a committee that was deciding his fate on scholarship funding, never intended his five simple words to have such impact. He was looking for honest feedback. He was open to suggestions. And what the world needs right about now is more of that.

We may not be looking out at a committee, hopeful for financial support, but we are looking out at our own lives, and out at a world that is in desperate need of help.

How can we do better? The answers are exhaustive.

If the future is in the hands of young men and women like the one I encountered last week, we just might find them.

Related Posts