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