Self Improvement or Self Sabotage?
Many years ago my sister said something that surprised me. She looked at me with concern and said, “I don’t know why you keep doing all these courses. You’re already great. You don’t have to work so hard at becoming a better person.”
I was shocked.
I had never looked at it that way. I had always believed that wanting to be a better person was desirable. Surely we all want to figure out where we’re going wrong and do something about it? Doesn’t everyone want to be a better person? Aren’t we all feeling the need to become something more?
She had a point.
There’s something about this constant striving for improvement that is pretty exhausting. Another course, another book, another lesson. Especially when behind it all is really something so much deeper.
A sense that who we are isn’t quite enough.
A deep-seated belief that we need to be someone different in order to be loved.
A rejection of our current make-up in favour of the person we have the potential to be.
This isn’t self-development. This is self-sabotage.
It’s different to a healthy need to grow.
In fact, it isn’t about personal growth at all.
It’s about seeking perfection and having an ongoing desire to work harder, be nicer, get thinner, become more productive, know more. Because when we become that person, when we just get rid of that part of ourselves that we don’t like, then we’ll be ok.
As if our own inner critic telling us to become new and improved versions of ourselves isn’t enough, we then find ourselves in environments that nurture this way of thinking. Working environments often talk of “closing our gaps”, working on our “development areas” or “challenging our soft spots”.
Personally, I’m not sure this has helped me become a better employee.
In his book “Strengthsfinder”, Tom Rath talks about your strengths as those things that make you feel strong. I like that. It’s not necessarily about what you’re good at, but what makes you feel enlivened, awakened and empowered.
To me, this makes perfect sense.
Work with what you’ve got. Work with your natural talents. Work with what feels easy and light and in flow.
I’m not sure if I agree with stopping there.
I’m not sure I’m ok with “this is who I am, take it or leave it”.
I don’t believe it’s helpful to get so sidetracked by where our strengths lie that we feel comfortable saying to people “well that’s my A-type personality and it needs you to apply more action”.
I worry that too much focus on “knowing” ourselves and aligning with our strengths means that we feel a sense of entitlement in pushing that on others and leaving them to deal with the consequences.
What I do believe in is intent.
Why do we want to change? What are we hoping to get out of the interaction? What’s behind our behaviour?
If we’re in tune with that, we can sense check our choices.
And we’ll know straight away why we’re doing what we’re doing.
When it comes to my own relationship with the world of “self development”, for example, it’s been wildly varied over the years. I go through periods where I devour interesting books around psychology, and other times where I want to throw them across the room. There are times when studying feels healthy and other times I have to admit that it’s coming from a place of “not enough”.
The important thing in all of this, is to check in with what’s motivating us. And make choices based on that.
If we are able to question ourselves, we can use that as a guide. We can use that to form a healthy discernment in knowing what’s right for us. Not what’s right for others, what’s right for us. Not what was right for us last year, or what might be good for us next month. But what is right for us, right now.
The self-development world can be a tricky one to navigate. But only if its coming from a place of “not enough”. If it’s coming from a place of dissatisfaction with self, we need to question that. And maybe we need a break from it all.
And when we’re ready, we seek the help we need, in the form we need it, whether through a book, a course or a mentor.
And we grow from a space of balanced and healthy intent.
We know why we’re motivated to make this choice.
We know that this isn’t about chasing perfection.
And with that we can learn more.
We start to navigate the issues that continue to trip us up.
We gain awareness around how we’re impacting other people.
We take steps to improve our relationships.