It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s something telling you that you need to be better, that you need to be smarter, thinner, wittier. There are endless self-improvement books to make more money, improve relationships and ways to find yourself, to find inner peace or to inject yourself with motivation so that you can-do. There are fitness classes focused around making yourself stronger, ones focused on how to eat, how to think and how to love. We are becoming transfixed on the idea that self-improvement leads to self fulfillment. And sometimes, it’s not the case. In actuality, if you do it for the wrong reasons, it can be just as detrimental as being materialistic and always wanting more, always fueling your ego and never feeling fulfilled, never content or happy for more than just a moment. Like sand, it slips away as soon as you hold onto it.
The will and desire to grow beyond what we have already mastered is one of the great human drives. Without it we wouldn’t have philosophy, spiritual practices, science or technology. – Main Shirp
While my own bookshelves contains many fix books, self improvement guides and coaching bibles, it is important to investigate our motives for having this desire. Too often that desire stems from the belief there is something wrong with us, that we are not complete. You can go see a therapist for years and pour your heart and mind out, and all that you’ll have at the end is a folder the size of your head describing what you’ve said; fears and dreams, thoughts and emotions, but nothing in it really holds true to who you are, nothing you put down on a sheet of paper can ever truly describe You. But we still try to attempt that one-sheet of self-description, so that maybe if we can truly describe who we are on paper, we can root out the problem and fix it.
Self-improvement feeds on our insecurities. If only I were this, if only I could do that, looked like this, then, and only then I would be confident and accept who I truly am. These crippling self judgments we make fuel addictions, loneliness, eating problems and perfectionism. In turn we combat these symptoms with the newest Band-Aid solution, another self-help program. But that never gets us any closer to the root of the problem.
The reasonable man adapts to the world. The Unreasonable man makes the world adapt to him. Therefore, all progress in the world relies on the Unreasonable Man. –George Bernard Shaw
Hating parts of the self is a symptom of a sick society. We all have parts of ourselves that we despise and we as a culture, can’t help but to focus on those parts. There is always something that can be improved on, whether be it physical or mental, spiritual or emotional. But are we focused on improving and bettering ourselves for ourselves? Or are we doing it to be accepted and to blend in with the crowd in our attention-deficit-disordered society where fame is fleeting and there’s always something newer, better, shinier that comes along? There will always be better, and there will always be worse. To constantly and always be looking for either is not a healthy way to live.
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened. -Mark Twain
Nothing is ever good enough. And while these self improvement tactics work like temporary barriers that protect our fragile egos, they eventually wear out. You wake up without make-up and you don’t like what you see. And as long as the solution is simply putting make-up back on, you are cutting the weed but not the root. Without true and real self-acceptance, the dissatisfaction will grow back. You don’t see that you are already amazing and that change is optional, not mandatory.
If we would stop being so harsh on ourselves and show some compassion for our own mistakes and imperfections, we would be more at ease and improve in areas that are truly beneficial instead attempting to live up to an illusion. The majority of flaws that you see in yourself is virtually invisible to anyone else. Mostly because they are not focused on your flaws as much as you are, but also because the flaws you think are flaws in your eyes aren’t even issues in theirs. So who are you really improving for?
Once you accept the fact that you’re not perfect, then you develop some confidence. -Rosalynn Carter