The term “self-improvement” implies a need to correct and perfect oneself. That is also the job of most magazines. I had to stop reading The Atlantic Monthly because I became persuaded that if I bought the wrong kind of hazelnuts or olive oil or cassis I was missing out on a truly transcendent life.
There’s a whole world out there set on telling you what’s wrong with you. That’s a question that when asked one should never answer — “You wanna know what’s wrong with you?” — except by leaving the room, the building, and the life of the person asking.
No, I don’t want to know what’s wrong with me. Or rather, I don’t need someone else to tell me, since that track is always running in my head. A couple years ago, when I was going through a difficult emotional time, I decided I needed a break from calling myself out on my shortcomings, so I started wearing a rubber band around my wrist, and every time I criticized myself, I snapped it. This lead to some interesting discussions with my kids, who at the time seemed astonished to learn that I was having such thoughts (and that there were adults who hated Christmas).
Sometimes to shut off that part of my brain, I need to give it another message, but mostly, I try to drown out my inner monologue with either conversation, TV, music, or a meditative homily. Sometimes learning lines for an acting role helps, since the words I’m putting in have to take over the internal audio track.
Around the beginning of the year, I made a number of conscious changes in my life. One of them was to shift my eating patterns toward foods that would make me feel good, both physically and emotionally. Another was to join a coaching group that had daily exercises in a self-care workbook. I feel like there were one or two or three more, since it seemed like I gave myself a lot of work that had formerly been accomplished by the snap of a rubber band, but I can’t remember them all.
And then, seventy-five or so days ago, the 90 Blog Posts in 90 Days gauntlet. I picked up the gauntlet because I believed that if I was counseling women to write what is on their minds in their business copy, I needed to get started digging around in my own mind for material to share. This was not because I felt something was missing in me, or something needed repair or improvement. It was because I wanted to undergo the experiment with the hypothesis that something interesting would be revealing itself to me as I revealed myself to the world.
(Oh, I just remembered: one of the changes I made was to stop auditioning for acting roles, since I’d worked pretty solidly for about 14 months and needed to make sure I wasn’t hiding from the projects I want to initiate by following others’ leads. The big progress I’ve made on this has been to describe the project to people when they ask what I’m up to these days. I’m in the information-gathering phase and waiting for I don’t know what to move forward — a sign of something, but I’m not sure what. Not straight resistance, but not NOT resistance either, if you know what I mean.)
All in all, it’s been a lot of work just being me, and deciding to be myself one level up, or at least not putting myself down, has turned up the heat a bit. My attention is so focused these days it feels like I have those pointed and throbbing eyes cartoon characters get when finding one another sexy.
Am I improving myself? Did I need improvement? Can I learn to live with imperfections in myself the way I’ve learned to live with the things around my house which ought to be taken care of but will most likely continue to bug me for a year or two before I get into action?
Yes, these are the questions. In the meantime, I’m more of some things and less of others, which is what I’ve always said I need.