The Problem with Self-Improvement — Aren’t You Good Enough?

Pema Chödrön quote: "We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement."

I’ve long had issues with the whole self-improvement industry, but the idea for this post came from a quote that Suzette Benjamin shared on her blog:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement… All the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are.

Pema Chödrön

I’m all in on this quote. Yet there’s this massive industry telling people that they should always be bettering themselves. So where’s a healthy place to be?

Personal growth

I think of personal growth and self-improvement as two different things. I’m thinking of that philosophically rather than in terms of semantics. Personal growth is my catch-all term for being the lovely tree that you are and branching out in new directions with new learning and skills.

A big branchy leafy tree isn’t any better than a smaller tree; it’s just had more opportunity to grow.

What’s good enough?

Self-improvement seems more like a cultural phenomenon that’s driven by $$$ and the need to always be better. The basic premise seems to be that you aren’t good enough as you are, but if you do A, B, and C, you’ll be closer to your best self. Okay, but then you’ve done A through C and you still don’t feel like your best self, whoever that is. Maybe now you do D, E, and F, because they’re supposed to make you an even better person.

Great, but now you still don’t feel like a very good person, except you’ve done A through F, which means you “should” be a good person, and perhaps you’ve spent a lot of money to be a good person, so clearly you must be doing something wrong. You might feel a bit guilty about how much money you’ve spent on A-F, so maybe you decide that by hyping A-F to anyone who will listen, you’ll convince them (and yourself) that you can all be better people.

I don’t like the idea that you’re not good enough as you are, or that you need to be “better.” That suggests that there is some universal scale of goodness of personhood, which I just don’t buy. There are good, better, shitty, and shittier actions, absolutely. Personal growth can help us be more skillful in our actions and therefore less likely to be shitty, but does that make anyone a better person? Maybe it’s the same person all along who’s at a different point on the learning curve.

It’s okay to have flaws

We all have flaws. Our flaws make us human, they make us interesting, and they’re part of what makes us loveable. Who’s measuring “good enough,” aside from the inner critic? If you tell yourself that you’re not good enough and you need to improve yourself, does that actually help you?

I could take all the courses and seminars I wanted, but if I’m not prepared to accept the possibility that I am “good enough” despite being imperfect, is anything really going to change?

So, in case no one has told you today, this week, or this lifetime—you are good enough. There’s always room for growth, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are so much more than enough.

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The Coping Toolkit page has a broad collection of resources to support mental health and well-being.

42 thoughts on “The Problem with Self-Improvement — Aren’t You Good Enough?”

  1. I love improving myself. For me, it’s mostly about learning new things and seeing what I’m capable of. I suppose that’s more along the lines of personal growth. I agree that we can be happy just as we are as well, and shouldn’t be pressured to change. This ties into body positivity and body neutrality.

    1. Wonderful read! I think of it more of maintenance. Like our vehicles. We need routine maintenance. Sometimes, a spark plug needs changing. Other times, an oil change needed. A lot of miles may cause need for an engine work over. Will be blogging on this soon. Love your thoughts. Keep sharing. Have to grab another coffee to ponder this post. Love the brain work required to wrestle what I think about it down to the ground. ❤

  2. Thank Ashley for this really inspiring and encouraging share. Yes we are really good enough as we are and more perhaps, than we know. Thanks for the link back. I have shared your post in a few places. Cheers. Really great read.💖👍

  3. I have a difficult time in the aspect of bettering myself and the concept of recovery. Thinking about it now i can say i have bettered myself to the idea of being enough but at the same time fall into the trap of needing to self improve at all expense. Another great thought provoking post. Thanks 😊

  4. Thank you for sharing. I agree with what you said. For me, personal growth is about being grateful for all that I have been given and when I become grateful I naturally want to give something back. Self improvement seems to be a never ending black hole as you mentioned in another comment

  5. I take a specific view of this situation, and it’s probably best called Personal growth. Just better yourself by doing your best and trying to do better. It’s not the industry based u speak of that I subscribe to. Good article and I am glad u broached the subject!

  6. Enjoyed reading Ashley.
    My guess is ‘Self improvemes scheams’ nothing but BS
    Who decides who is good,better or best?
    Thank you

  7. I like the analogy of the growing tree. Another wonderful piece by you:)
    It’s human instinct to continue learning new things. The existence of a benchmark for personal goodness is just exhausting. It kills the joy of learning!
    Reading this gives me a good reminder of my self-worth❤ as well as that of others.

    1. Love your truth here! Learning, growing can be exhausting. Just the words can give you a headache, can’t they? Yet, the more you grow, the more you try, the more benefits and joy you get in the journey itself. On the days you are exhausted, it’s perfectly ok to be ok with not being ok and just be exhausted dammit! Rest, then get back after it. There is also joy in the exhaustion AND the occasional dammit. Keep going. You got this!

      1. Great! This is so empowering. I love the way you put it: it’s perfectly ok to be ok with not being ok. I feel that our life is beautiful and amazing with the nuances of joy and exhaustion. Same to you over there❤ Keep going!

        1. You are ALREADY wonderfully made. Don’t fall for the okie doke you have to earn your way or you are what you do or have. Yes, we have maintenance to do. That said we are precious and priceless. Live your life. Don’t survive it. You got this. I got you in prayer. God has us all. Keep doing you.

  8. An interesting read, thank you. I often fall into the self-improvement trap and beat myself up for not being as good as others at many things despite trying my best. I see so much of the self-improvement mindset in my industry and I find it incredibly toxic. I think there’s of course always room to improve, but it can become unhealthy when it’s constantly pursued. I do think the world would be a much nicer place if we could accept everyone how they are.

  9. I agree it is about self discovery and personal growth than ‘improvement’. I think accepting ourselves is the first step and then finding ways to further develop is stimulating and important but can be done in many ways, not necessarily for ‘improvement’, it might just be for fun, enjoyment and self care 😁

  10. Absolutely true! I got trapped in a self-improvement myth. Pursuing and spending too much time, energy, and of course funding. Blaming myself for not achieving what I have aimed. Dreaming one day i will be worthy enough to be accepted by my community. I should have focus on what I want to do in my life, instead of molding myself to be fit in their bowl. Thanks, Ashley!

  11. To improve yourself (whatever ‘improve’ might mean) is not necessarily bad. But it shouldn’t become an obsession, making you stressful. Sometimes, if not many times, we could simply enjoy ourselves as we are. In fact, we should always enjoy and love ourselves as we are. Life has so many things to offer. Exploring life and ourselves instead of constantly striving for improvement is probably a much better idea.

    L. G

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