One of my favorite anime shows that I watched in high school, and practically the only anime I have ever watched religiously was Dragon Ball Z.
Even though it does not have a lot of substance compared to most other anime shows, Dragon Ball Z taught me a valuable lesson in general self improvement that I didn’t fully appreciate until my 30s.
Dragon Ball Z contains two major characters who see things very differently when it comes to improving:
Goku, the guy on the left, is obsessed with improving himself, to the point where he will ignore other areas of his life to get better so that he can be prepared for any oncoming threat.
Dozens of analysis videos and articles about Dragon Ball Z will argue that Goku “competes” with one person and one person only: Goku.
Goku’s habits are the perfect example of what I call “you vs. you,” where the only person who you are interested in doing better than is yourself.
And then there is Vegeta, the guy on the right.
Everything in Vegeta’s life was going great until he fought Goku, who he could not defeat as soundly as his former opponents.
Up until Goku, Vegeta could defeat nearly any of his opponents by looking at them funny. He could not do this to Goku, and this sent him on a mad quest to be better than Goku.
The seemingly endless game of catch-up that Vegeta plays after struggling against Goku and his buddies is the perfect example of the high school mentality in practice.
His only purpose in his life was to get better than Goku and this consumed him to where it would affect his self concept.
How does this translate to how we decide to improve? Let’s explore how these two see the process of improvement and find out.
The one similarity among both characters
If there is one thing that bring both Goku and Vegeta together, it is that both of them have a rock solid purpose that is greater than them.
Neither of them are willing to phone in their existence.
Both of them are obsessed with fighting stronger opponents and getting stronger.
That is the one thing that bring Goku and Vegeta together: They are both very, very ambitious to the point where it could be seen as unhealthy.
In a world that seems to reward phoning life in and not having any ambitions, this is very important.
I would rather you make the high school mentality a part of your life like Vegeta than have no ambitions.
Understand this: To have no ambitions is to be the living dead. You may as well call yourself a zombie if the only thing you want out of life is to “make the pain stop” or “get by.”
You are way, way better than a meaningless existence.
Goku and Vegeta know that.
But this is where the similarities end.
When it comes to improving themselves, Goku and Vegeta follow much different lifestyle structures.
And, unfortunately, neither of them are very healthy.
Goku follows Immortal Individuality too much
Although he helps his friends and family on the surface, Goku only truly thinks about one person: Goku.
Goku follows Immortal Individuality too perfectly: He literally doesn’t care what others think of him to the point where he is ultra naive to everything around him, and he does most things on his terms.
He’s also willing to walk away from other areas of his life in order to improve his fighting skills and get stronger.
There are countless times in Goku’s life where he ignores his wife so that he can either help his buddies (by fighting people who are really strong) or train his son (so that his son can help him fight people who are really strong).
Across over 30 years of Dragon Ball content, Goku holds exactly one job: In the beginning of Dragon Ball Super (the most current Dragon Ball anime), he is shown driving a tractor on a farm.
Let that sink in for a bit.
The way Goku conducts his life is Immortal Individuality on steroids and it is not smart to live this way in the real world.
You can’t just ignore certain areas of your life so that you can improve in one area for too long. You cannot sustain this.
However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t put certain areas of your life on hold so that you can obsess about improving one particular area of your life.
If there is an area of your life that you know you could stand to decisively improve in, consider being like Goku for a bit and obsess about improving in it at the cost of everything for a season. It will help.
But before you do this, make sure you can afford to take time off the other areas in your life.
Vegeta: The oldest high schooler in existence
I compared myself to Vegeta in my young adulthood for a couple of reasons.
First, anybody who is familiar with the Dragon Ball franchise knows that there are two general phases of Vegeta’s life: His life before he fought Goku and his life after he fought Goku.
Before he fought Goku, Vegeta didn’t care about getting stronger than anybody. In his mind, he was already the best and this proved itself over and over as he swatted his opponents like flies.
He took this overconfident attitude into his fight with Goku and realized that he could stand to get much stronger.
This was how I acted during my first two years of high school, before I met the cheerleader I developed a massive crush on.
For my first two years, I didn’t care about being popular or anything because I was “above” the culture of my high school.
This gave me strength and pride to where it made me somewhat popular.
And when I met the cheerleader I liked so much, I was certain that she would be attracted to how I carried myself as an outcast who didn’t care about what others thought of me.
And I really didn’t care: Before I met this cheerleader, the culture of my high school was nothing if not white noise: The parties, the dances, the sporting events, none of it meant anything to me.
But the more I saw the cheerleader in my class get along with everybody, the more jealous I got: I was just as jealous of the cheerleader’s popularity as Vegeta was of Goku’s strength and fighting ability.
The second reason why I compared myself to Vegeta in my late teens and early 20s was because I was obsessed with impressing people in the same way that Vegeta was constantly comparing himself to Goku.
Both of us were improving not for ourselves, but to “catch up” to others.
This is the high school mentality personified.
Vegeta constantly compares himself to Goku for most of Dragon Ball and I was comparing myself to my own peers during my late teens and entire 20s.
Now just like it is a good thing to sometimes act like Goku when it comes to improving in one life area, it is also a good thing to somewhat act like Vegeta when it comes to comparing yourself to others.
When should you act like whom?
So let’s recap:
Goku is obsessed with improving one area of his life and only one area: His fighting ability.
He is willing to improve in this area at the expense of all other areas of his life.
Should you be like Goku when improving certain areas of your life?
Sure, if you can afford to put all the other areas of your life on hold.
For example, if you want to improve your love and sex life, you should be willing to put any other area of your life on hold to improve it, especially if you are not experienced or coming back from time off.
Or let’s say you want to improve your financial life. If you live paycheck to paycheck (like I have been practically my whole life, woefully), should you put everything else on hold for a bit?
Now let’s talk about how Vegeta conducts his life.
Earlier I mentioned that Vegeta operates from a high school mentality in that he is always comparing himself to Goku and judges his self-worth based on that comparison.
Is comparing yourself a good thing to do most of the time? No.
Is it necessary sometimes? Yes.
The trick is to find out when doing this is useful and most important, how to compare yourself to others with your brain and not your ego.
We are taught the complete opposite: If someone is better than you, either there are unseen forces holding you back or you must be worse than them as a person.
This is what the high school mentality preaches both of these.
In my e-book “Would You Drop Out Already,” I argue that comparing yourself to others, a component of the high school mentality, is necessary sometimes.
Sometimes it is necessary to compare yourself to others to see where you stand so you can get an idea of not only where to improve, but how to improve.
Comparing yourself to gain some information about how you are doing and how others are doing is useful, especially if you are directly competing against others for a prize or something else that is tangible.
I need to do this when I am competing in bowling tournaments so that I can get an idea of what kinds of games I need to throw to cash in said tournaments.
To give a concrete example, the top seed at the last tournament I competed in averaged a little under 200. This means that in order for me to cash at a tournament like that, I need to average about 200.
This is how comparing is done: You need to be as objective as possible.
Academic performance is something else where I needed to compare myself to others objectively to gain information.
If I’m getting 85s on most of my assignments and I’m sitting next to somebody who has been getting 95s or better on their assignments, would it be a good idea to learn about what they are doing this way I can start getting 95s?
Yeah. It would.
The problem with Vegeta is that he does not compare himself to Goku to acquire information. For if he did, he would have done the same thing that Goku did to get stronger: Get beaten by stronger opponents more frequently.
Does he do this in the manga or the anime? No. He just trains blindly, not asking Goku once what kinds of things he did to get stronger.
Vegeta was asking “why” questions when comparing himself to Goku:
“Why am I not stronger than him? He was way weaker than me when he was born! It doesn’t make sense!”
Seriously, he repeats this question throughout nearly all of Dragon Ball Z. It’s really funny, but it’s the “laugh or you’ll cry” kind of funny because the desperation is just very sad to see so you need to laugh instead.
In fact, I have a theory that Vegeta would have indeed become much stronger than Goku if he had asked “what” questions to Goku:
“What did you do to get so strong so fast, especially given the fact that you were so weak when you were born?”
If he asked these kinds of questions, Goku would have happily told him, Vegeta would have done what Goku did and poof, Vegeta is now much stronger than Goku.
If I feel up to it, I may actually write my own article about this theory in its entirety. We’ll see.
Vegeta’s problem was that he was comparing with his ego. If he was as strong or stronger than Goku, he was happy. If he was weaker, he felt inadequate.
This is not healthy.
Compare yourself to others with your brain, not your ego.