We in the developed world are fiercely driven towards success, certainty, and youth — and the self-help industry capitalizes on this drive. Self-help gurus fill the market with their ten easy steps to arriving at some promised land where we’ll finally feel improved and can then rest. It’s a dogged madness that mostly feeds the pockets of those self-proclaimed gurus and not the deepest hunger of our hearts and souls.
The sale of self-improvement is more like folly masquerading as sanity.
And even though COVID has given us pause, allowing many to deeply reflect on what really matters, the onslaught of self-help proclamations still continues unabashedly. **Much of the marketing now has a new spin, goading us to not give up on our ideal life just because a deadly pandemic has entered the world. Fight harder. Dig deeper. Work better.**
I invite you to take a moment and consider with me …
Before jumping back into a self-improvement program you were engaged in (or considering) pre pandemic, begin by asking a few questions of yourself: “What does it mean to self-improve?” “What in myself am I hoping to improve?” Or, better yet, “Who is the me that is seeking improvement?”
This type of inquiry is the beginning of a more sincere and fruitful journey of growth that may actually bring you to scratching the deep internal itch you may have mistaken for a desire to self-improve in the way it’s sold in the marketplace.
Be forewarned: it’s not that in this new quest we suddenly discover that to improve is the wrong goal (so we can be freed from effort), or that to succeed at something is unspiritual (so that we can relax our ideals), or that to be certain about something is delusional (so we can be sloppy in our learning), or that to want to be always youthful is immature (so we can let our bodies go).
Truth is, nothing is certain or prescribed on the journey of self-knowledge. Effort, ideals, values, learning, and perseverance are all needed. It’s simply how and to what they are being applied that I encourage you to question.**
A growing number of disruptors in the self-help market place seek to reorient the focus of the drive to self-improve. Selfistry is one of them. We are hoping to clarify what is truly improvable and worthy of our efforts.
A few examples …
The postmodern philosopher Ken Wilber does a beautiful job describing and exploring an integral theory of everything, which includes what it means to be a fully developed individual in the context of these times. Adult developmental theorists such as **Robert Keegan** teach us of our human capacity to grow beyond our habitual either/or thoughts and us/them behaviors in order to become a person who is able to hold complexity, diversity, and ambiguity with maturity and humility.
Neuroscience shows that the brain is malleable and has tons of unexplored territory — corroborating the notion that we actually do have, built into our physiology, a capacity to grow beyond who we are at this moment. We actually can become more inclusive and hold a more expanded view of ourselves and of the world.
Does this qualify as self-improvement?
You tell me.
Are these the kind of outcomes being sold in the self-help marketplace? Fully developed capacity to hold complexity? Humility? Maturity? Growth beyond your habits?
It may take some exploration to determine whether or not the kind of growth you’re engaged in is the kind you really want for yourself. That’s okay. It’s worth the time to explore and discern. And for any self-help program you are drawn to, do your due diligence and read the fine print before you buy.
There is no reason to get caught in the rat race of self-improvement if what you’re yearning for is to be more loving, more present, more real, and more wise. The only reason you might already be in that rat race is that you’ve been understandably seduced. No shame in that.
Maybe you’re simply confused about what you really want. Maybe you unconsciously took on the belief that more success, more money, more fame, or more beauty will bring you more joy because you haven’t yet taken the time to question that supposition. Maybe it’s because you’ve been too busy following the crowd and racing to keep up.
Is it possible that you’ve disregarded every signpost that tells you otherwise because you’re afraid that, if you give yourself the attention you really deserve, you may lose some so-called friends?
Is it possible that you stay in the rat race because you’re more accustomed to beating yourself up and concluding, not that the teacher you have or the program you are following is bullshit, but that you are not trying hard enough or have not found the right guru or are in some way not worthy?
Well, here’s the good news.
You are worthy.
You are capable.
You may simply need to revisit a few fundamental assumptions about what it means to grow yourself. You can view it as a course correction.
What if it were true that your drive towards improvement is a healthy and natural expression of your humanity, but that your efforts to tend to this drive have been misdirected and thwarted? What if the way to be more authentically yourself — content and deeply happy — does not reside in the kind of improvement being sold in the capitalist marketplace, but rather involves a reorientation of how you are understanding what it means to be happy or successful?**
The COVID pause has provided us the opportunity to reflect on a lot of things. May your self-reflection yield an openness to questioning everything. Again. And again.