The Uncomfortable Three Step Truth about Self-Improvement and Why I Finally Gave Up My Dreams For Something Better
I am pathetic. I am a walking (well, maybe not walking), talking cliché. I am one of those people who is so desperate to overcome their own sense of lack that they create some giant obstacle to overcome, or some massive achievement to attain, in order to feel that they might just be worth something. I am an over-compensator; so desperate to feel okay about the fact that I am, in some ways, not as capable as other people that I seek to achieve the impossible. Purely to show the whole world beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough.
The great irony of course, is that the only one you’re really trying to please is yourself. You’re just afraid that you aren’t worthy, so, you seek to prove you are, through your achievements. It doesn’t work. Everybody can see it apart from you. They can see what you’re trying to do. You’re desire to achieve is fine, but it’s silly, and fruitless to pin your self-worth on it.
You might wonder why I’m being so down on myself. And the truth is, I’m just being honest. This is how I operated until recently. It’s part of your personal growth, something you have to go through before you begin to realise the deeper truths about life.
No grand achievement will fill any emotional hole in me. It just won’t. The more I hope it will, the less likely I am to achieve it. It makes a man weak and pathetic to be reliant on achievement for his sense of self because ultimately, he’s giving over his power to things he can’t control.
Rather than move me towards my goals, all the hoping, struggling, wishing and trying to improve myself, only seemed to make the hamster wheel spin faster. In actuality, it was just teaching me how to have control over myself. I learnt that in order to try and get the things I was so desperate to have, I had to control my behaviour and emotional state. I had to fight to turn lethargy into energy, anger into desire or boredom into enthusiasm. It works, but it’s exhausting. Not quite as exhausting however, as actually trying to do things.
Forcing yourself to get up for the alarm, to work towards the goal that you desperately want and yet makes you incredibly anxious and miserable, is one of the hardest and most trialling things you’ll ever do. And I’ve experienced a lot of trials. The better you get at it, the more stupid it seems, because you just get more miserable.
You become a slave to your goals and desires. A robot. A cog in a machine of your own making. At least if I was just going to work for somebody else I’d be paid to work in a machine I wasn’t responsible for. Being a slave to the machine of your own dreams and ambitions is like being the owner, repair man, operator and cog all in one. It’s impossible.
Eventually you start to wonder: “hang on, I thought this was supposed to make me free? And happy? Not a slave.” You’re right. That’s what it was meant to do. But it never could. You’re asking for the impossible.
Dreams and ambitions are wonderful. They bring fire to your belly, light to the distant future and meaning to your miserable failings. That’s all it does though. It doesn’t change your present moment. It doesn’t change the reality. Right. Now.
On my journey in life so far, I’ve experienced 3 distinct phases:
The leaf in the wind phase
I am just one little leaf being blown around in the giant storm of life, and my only real power is to observe and absorb the world around me. I have to accept the good with the bad, as well as my place in the world. A passive observer.
I discovered the power of self-direction, that I could change my beliefs, habits and desires through effort. I could teach myself things, and direct my life towards that which caught my eye. It gives you an incredible, if misguided, sense of control over your future and starts to make you think you can literally control your destiny. Generally, even if this leads to success, you become more and more like an automaton. A slave to the necessary habits and beliefs to achieve your goals.
You realise all this self-improvement is a bit… obnoxious. Not to mention, futile; even if you got what you wanted.
When you feel angry, you don’t always want to realise how the other person is just sad and afraid. Sometimes you want to punch them in the face, or put some shit through their letterbox. Sometimes when you’re sad, you don’t want to hype yourself up and start charging forward towards your dreams, it would be quite nice to just have a little cry. It almost sounds… fun.
You learn that you don’t need to control everything around you. You couldn’t, even if you wanted to. There is only now. This very second, is all you have, and will ever have. You can have goals, that’s fine, you can work towards them, that’s also fine, but to tie yourself up in a tight knot of stress and mental masturbation is just a recipe for misery.
Waking up involves discovering that you don’t need to change who you are, you are enough, just as you are. The change you sought, isn’t stressful. You just do the things you have to do. And that’s it. There’s no need for a pump-up. No need to listen to a Tony Robbins seminar every time something goes wrong. You simply act. You start to like yourself, primarily because you get to know yourself. And you find that actually, you were pretty cool all along.
I don’t know if this is some kind of profound realisation, or just part of an ever-evolving journey. But here’s what it feels like: Imagine that when you’re born, and ignorant, you see life zoomed out, like you’re looking at the earth through a telescope from the moon.
Then, as you discover self-improvement, you begin to zoom in on certain things, and learn more about them. Because that’s all you can see, they feel ever so important. And you start to lose yourself, the bits you can’t see, because you’re so focussed on the little piece of heaven you like to stare at, so very much.
Waking up begins, when something accidently jolts the telescope and zooms it out for you. You suddenly realise there’s all this stuff you missed, and how obscenely insignificant your obsessions were. You begin to feel comfortable because you’ve learnt so much, and have so much, dare I say, power.
And yet, none of it really matters in the end. Because regardless, you can always sit here with a nice cold drink, and stare at the blue planet through a telescope.
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Author: george Baker
The author of ‘The Adversity Edge: How to finally create the life of your dreams by transforming shit into sugar’.