I first discovered Bruce Lee when I was 19.
At the time, I lacked pretty much all sense of direction and was wandering through most days, going to college half-heartedly, working part-time, and playing way too many video games.
As most people do, I caught glimpses and mentions of Bruce Lee throughout my life up until then, but didn’t really know anything about him. I had an aversion to old grainy films growing up (as most kids have an aversion to “old” things), so I never saw the allure of watching old kung fu films for fun.
However, one day at a Best Buy, a shiny blue DVD set, the ultimate Bruce Lee collection (or so the box sold itself), caught my eye.
From that point on, I was positively obsessed.
Long story short, Bruce Lee had an immense impact on my life. Years later, he was even my entryway to the Zen philosophy, which would open a whole new chapter of my life.
However, as much as Lee influenced my love of the martial arts, it’s his wisdom in a general sense that I most remember. In particular, wisdom that is invaluable for helping you walk the path towards realizing your full potential as a human being.
He was as much a philosopher as he was a martial artist, so much so that he has several books of his personal notes published, much of those notes having to do more with life in general than anything specific to the martial arts (even his most well-known book, one of the only ones to be published while he was still alive, has an entire intro section devoted to Zen-centered principles).
Bruce Lee has had a lasting impact on my life for many reasons. I hope these lessons from the man himself can help you in your own pursuits towards realizing your full potential.
The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.
– Bruce Lee
Here are four lessons from Bruce Lee on realizing your best self:
1. “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
One of the greatest lessons I ever got from Bruce Lee was his insistence on always being your authentic self. It took me years before I fully understood the significance of what he said, but it helped guide my actions and now is a significant part of how I live my life (and how you should too).
The truth is, you can only help others to the degree that you realize your own authentic self. Authenticity is powerful. It makes us at home with ourselves, confident, strong, resilient, and certain at times when we might otherwise doubt ourselves.
Bruce was the first person to teach me the power of simply being certain with yourself. Having faith in yourself and seeking to express yourself fully, instead of looking to others to imitate, is one of the most powerful lessons a person can ever learn.
2. “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”
Bruce accomplished a lot in his lifetime. He was the first big Chinese TV and film star in the U.S. and broke all kinds of barriers, aside from being so fast you had to slow down tapes to see him move.
But Bruce was also very smart. He understood the nature of a goal, of success, and what it really means to achieve something.
He knew that, sometimes, a goal is what helps move us to action less than it is an end point. If you’ve ever heard the tired old adage, “shoot for the moon and you’ll land in the stars” that’s the idea here.
By shooting for something outside yourself, you push yourself to become something more. Even if you don’t hit it, you’ve made progress. And that progress will eventually add up to something incredible.
Bruce was a monster at maximizing his efficiency. From his physical training regimen to his martial arts training program, he pushed himself harder than anyone– and the results showed.
He knew that reaching your goals and becoming your best self was less about adding things and more about refining yourself, like a giant slab of granite that must be chipped away day by day to reveal a masterpiece.
That masterpiece doesn’t just appear. It takes tireless effort and an intense focus. But by focusing on making a little bit of effort each day, a few chips here and there, you’ll get there.
4. “All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”
This point rings the closest to one of Bruce’s most well-known martial arts philosophies as anything on this list. That is, the understanding that we must be able and willing to adapt to any situation and that, by fixing ourselves to a set pattern, we will eventually be foiled.
Your job, business, the economy, love, relationships, culture, and martial arts are ever-growing, ever-changing things. Nothing in life is static, so to remain relevant– or alive– you must be able and willing to change form. Only if you’re able to do that will you have a chance of realizing your best self.
In fact, it’s in realizing that you are not any particular form, not attaching yourself to any particular job, business, lifestyle, or else, are you able to realize your central mission in life which must rest firmly above all forms and particular paths.
Life often shows us the way to our goals in a way we never imagined and by allowing ourselves to be pliable we are able to change course and stay on track (no matter what we’re trying to do).