A friend of mine has been reading my new novels in draft. He's probably read the first two books three or four times at this point. And the other day, he gave me pages and pages of typos he'd found. Really? I was certainly surprised. I've probably written, re-written, and edited these books at least six times through. And I had failed to catch some basic typos. 'They' was where 'the' should have been, 'if' and 'it' and 'is' got interchanged a few times, 'everyone' was doing without its 'y' - and other such things.
Why hadn't I seen these typos myself? I had been over the books so carefully. I had read them out loud. And still, I needed a friend to spot those tiny flaws that remained. Why?
The answer, as we all know, is simple. We often see what we expect to see, rather than what's there. And especially in the realm of the familiar, our eyes can be glazed over by our best intentions and hopes, or by prior habits and beliefs. The closer something is to us, the harder it is to see clearly. That's why we need friends, with different blind spots, habits, beliefs, and expectations to point out our flaws. Of course, enemies are eager to perform such a service. But they're as likely to be wrong as we are, or even more so. They're blinded by their resentment, or jealousy, or whatever has their tail in a knot. We benefit the most when friends are willing to look at us, or our productions, closely, and with good will, and help us to improve what we're doing.
The friend who has been reading my new productions has been one of the greatest encouragers I've ever known. "You're sitting on a goldmine with these books!" "I wish I had been able to read these in my twenties!" This gentleman, a business creator and former CEO who retired at age 43 to travel and compete in track and field events (often ranked number one or two in the world in shot put or javelin) has been a real friend to me. He's read my books looking for flaws, and has praised them along the way more than any of my other books have ever been praised. And at the same time, he's found those typos, and overly long sentences that needed to be cut down, and words where I was doing a British spelling, not the main American one. With nothing but good will, he's spotted the problems that allowed me to improve the final product immensely.
I suspect this can happen not just with book manuscripts but with issues of personality, character, and activity in the world. We all need friends who can help us see what's invisible to us, and thereby give us the chance to improve. The most effective self improvement may, after all, require the help of others. And that doesn't surprise me at all.