It is a constant reflection I have – when should we be focusing on being better versions of ourselves and when is that we need to practice some self love and acceptance. It appears from the outside that there is a contradiction of terms here. Self betterment is all about the bigger, better, brighter. I mean who doesn’t want to feel better, do more, be more….right? It is what the multi billion dollar wellbeing industry is based on. The concept or idea that we need to be different from what we are right now. How often do you here “oh well, I’ve made it now, I can sit back and relax as I have everything I need, I am complete.” Never. We are sold the idea of being on the look out for ways to improve. Have you seen the self help section of a book store lately? What was a few spartan shelves has taken over the top 40 wall. Thanks to the likes of Oprah, self help, self improvement, and self betterment is a top seller these days.
I am all for constant self renewal. I am actually a self renewal junky. I LOVE this shit. The idea that the brain is plastic? Ah-mazing. The concept that I can be a more calm, wise, loving human being? Unbelievable. Our infinite potential sometimes leaves me feeling so overwhelmed with everything I can become in my life that I end up switching on an episode of CSI just to take my mind off the possibilities. It is HUGE.
However when did we stop being ok with who we are. When did we switch self love for self loathing. (Somehow self betterment and self loathing can be intertwined due to extreme amount of pressure we put on ourselves) When did the competition to be the best version of you become like a full blown Olympics? Somehow self betterment that starts as a desire to improve the wellbeing of ourselves and others morphed into a billion dollar industry with yoga pants to match it. (Not having a dig at the yoga world per se).
Selling bigger, brighter, better is somehow playing on our insecurities that we are not enough as we are. That we need to change in order to be worthy human beings. We need to eat whole foods, exercise daily, show love and compassion to the world, save a whale and be overall generally good people. Not that I am suggesting that we don’t do all of those things, but will those things alone make us feel fulfilled? In the short term, yes, I can say from personal experience, they can make life seem a little easier. However, selling the perfections of self betterment is a dangerous game. It is not always perfect. Life IS suffering. No matter how good your diet is, your meditation practice, your exercise regime, we will always face things that disrupt our flow. So this is where the idea of self betterment can become a precarious tight rope. On one hand we are doing all the right things, but on the other, we are not getting all the right results.
Perhaps we feel overwhelmed, underwhelmed, we lose a job, a partner a friend. Life will still happen around us, and it is in these moments that self betterment can be a deadly deception, it can convince us we should be able to rise above our troubles and be footloose and fancy free….right? Or maybe not. There are times where we need to practice some self acceptance and self love. We need to drop the need to be better, bigger, brighter, as guess what, it is simply another attachment and an illusion that we can “fix” ourselves.
Working with wellbeing in a healthy way means we balance the need for self betterment with the need for self acceptance. It is not an either or, but rather a both. By building our own self awareness, we get better and better at knowing our limits. Knowing when to push and drive and improve, and the times where we need to show compassion and loving kindness towards ourselves. Be content with where you are at, as I was aptly reminded by one of my teachers last week. It is only through self awareness that we develop the wisdom and compassion to know our own boundaries and to set ourselves the goals for self betterment, to develop the discipline to achieve those goals, but also to hold those goals softly and loosely. Like we would a precious flower. Letting go of the need to achieve, but rather having aspirations with no attachment. The ever fine line. Something I am reminded of constantly.