14 December 2011

contentment, imperfection and self improvement

i read a thought provoking post today regarding quashing the urge for self improvement, and instead learning to be content with who you are and what you have. i find this idea contradictory though, and almost a paradox. i agree with the first half of the premise:
You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.

This is true no matter how much you’ve accomplished. You might have achieved a thousand goals, but do you have defined abs? Are your boobs big and bouncy? Do you have perfect skin? Have you read every classic in literature?...Do you have the perfect home, and can you cook gourmet meals? Are you the perfect parent, or have perfect work-life balance? Can you do yoga, meditate, juggle and do magic? Do you brew the perfect cup of coffee, or tea, or beer? Can you recite Shelly, Shakespeare, Homer? Are you good at picking up women, are you the perfect friend, the perfect lover, a romantic husband, a wife who meets her husband’s needs, a master craftsman, a hacker and a programmer, a knitter or sewer, a home-repair expert...

We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.
all true. all bad.
but. the second half?
What if instead, we learned to be happy with ourselves?

What would happen?

Would we stop striving to improve? Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better?

Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.
really? i don’t feel perfect. far from it in fact. and that’s okay, because i’m not really looking for perfection. i want to be able to do certain things better, things that make me happy. and that requires improvement, which is fine. i’m not looking for a bigger house or trendy clothes or better skin. i think the line between content and improvement is fine, and you have to be aware, all the time, of which side you’re on. being content is not a bad thing, but neither is striving to be better. it’s all about the degree i guess. and the context: being content in a job you hate or a relationship gone sour is just copping out. striving for all kinds of material gain or trying to be perfect at everything meanwhile, is not about being happy.

focus on the things that do make you happy, and strive to do those better. because, you know, the chances are, you’re not innately destined to be good at what makes you happy. and being great at something, almost always requires work and practice (malcolm gladwell’s infamous ‘10 000 hour' rule for instance).

striving to be a better human, a better person, is never a bad thing.

ask yourself why you want to improve whatever it is you want to improve. if the answer is internal, related to you, great. if it’s external, then you need to stop and rethink.

a woman’s search for god in the city discusses the trend in western self help literature to advise ‘quitting your job and following your dreams’, and compares this to her own job and life situation. her conclusion:
As an Indian woman who was destined to be a housewife, being able to work itself is a dream. That I am in a job I love, is nothing short of nirvana.

I don’t think it is the job that is to blame for stifled dreams. After all, people choose those jobs willingly for whatever reason. They follow their priorities. Our jobs are actually a reflection of our own life condition. They mirror our own truths and inner realities. If we don’t like what we see outside, we need to look inside for what needs fixing. Joy can be found anywhere — even in dusty old law books or crooked text boxes on computer screens.

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