The Self Improvement Trap
It’s easy to think that by becoming the epitome of perfection that people will love me more. People will be more attracted to me, they won’t see any flaws, they will want to spend all their time with me and love me. You can’t get rejected or insulted or abandoned when you’re perfect right? Wrong.
What if you became too perfect? So perfect that everyone is afraid of you. Everyone fears that they aren’t good enough around you? What if by efforting and trying so damn hard to show up perfectly that you forget to show up at all?
You can spend indefinite amounts of time and money trying to perfect everything around you.
This drive is why we get up early, kill it in the gym, work 50+ hours a week, still make it to happy hour, take hot yoga class, eat plenty of kale, walk the dogs, vacuum the minimalist apartment, meanwhile instagramming it all.
If you’re anything like me, life can feel like a never ending checklist of things that I need to improve.
Clean room, handsome boyfriend, muscular body, clear skin, gorgeous wardrobe, nice car, well-paying job, good energy, popularity on social media, big house, the newest iphone, the list never ends.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about wanting to make improvements and grow as a person. But the problem with the chase for ultimate perfection is that you never arrive.
We become so addicted to checking things off of our list that we just keep moving forward. Onward and upward. Never stopping to appreciate any work that we have done. Only looking to the next things that need improvement.
But when you climb and climb and climb and continue to set the bar higher something inevitably happens.
You either realize that what you're reaching for is unrealistic and you burn out. Fast.
Or, you continue to strive and attempt to keep all the balls in the air while you secretly wonder how the hell everyone else is doing this? You're miserable most of the time but you wouldn't dare let anyone know. You have an act to keep up with.
I think the scary part is that once you realize that what you are reaching for doesn’t really exist, then you feel lost.
Chasing perfection feels like chasing a mirage in a desert. You can see the cold water just feet in front of you. You use up the last little bit of energy to push forward, only to realize that you’re still just standing in the hot dry sand.
The harsh reality is that no matter how “great” our lives look on paper, there are still things that we can’t avoid. There is no amount of money, fame, attractiveness, or success that can stop pain, suffering, and loss.
Sadness and anger and anxiety and all of the ‘negative’ emotions are an inevitable part of the human experience, and it is ridiculous to think that we can make those things go away by living more perfect lives.
I always thought that once I had the perfect body, than I wouldn’t feel insecure anymore. I would radiate with confidence and people would never want to leave or abandon or hurt me.
Those things just aren’t true. People with 6 pack abs can be rejected, and feel left out, and feel like they don’t belong just as much as anyone else can. A smaller body doesn’t actually make you happier or more content because those emotions come from inside your head.
I know what you’re thinking. “Okay yeah I know a 6 pack won’t fix everything but at least I will feel less bad about myself all the time”. The opposite is true. Where we put our attention grows. So the more you focus on your body, the more you will see its imperfections, and the more dissatisfied you will get. It is a negative feedback loop that will suck you in and keep you stuck.
So lately I have been left thinking “If I can’t actually ever be perfect, what do I work towards?” Some might answer with the idea of “progress not perfection”, but to me, that still feels like the chase.
In the coming months and years of my life, part of me wants to stop having to try so damn hard all the time. Not because I don’t care, but because sometimes the excessive effort actually sets me backward.
What if I can just surrender a little bit to the parts of life that I can’t fix or control? What if I just put a little more trust in the fact that everything is working out the way that it is meant to? Maybe just give myself a little room to breathe and just BE?
Because I know one thing for sure: relentlessly trying to self-improve is not making me happier. I believe that there can be a space where I can set goals without attaching my entire self-worth to the outcome.
If this message resonates with you, maybe think of one little thing that you can let go of. Or maybe just contemplate all the things that you feel like you have to do. Who said so? Is spending time and energy on those things making you feel better? Is there something else you can do with that time?
Just some things to think about.