self-acceptance vs. self-improvement

Recently I have been thinking about how to strike a balance between the contentment of self-acceptance, versus being discontent with your current self and pushing yourself for self-improvement.

A main reason for this deliberation is that I’ve spent the past few years of my life consuming a lot of content that had to do with productivity, and self-improvement. I spent hours upon hours trying to learn how to study better, speak better, manage time better, feel better, do relationships better…

However, during this time I forgot to acknowledge this idea that one can, and should also accept their own selves exactly the way they are. And then work from there if they so wish.

I’ve realized that sometimes constantly chasing after self-improvement may actually be coming from a place of self-hate, or the feelings of not being enough. While focusing on improving yourself is important, never acknowledging, and never genuinely celebrating your strengths and current achievements can be quite harmful.

A few reasons come to mind: it can lead to a lack of gratitude, which can lead to pessimism. Pessimism can block you from dreaming big, and thereby, from taking risks and discovering new parts of yourself and your capabilities, and those in others. And ironically, it can cloud your judgement about how to best improve yourself, since your self-deprecating thoughts may be stopping yourself from seeing how far you’ve come, and how vast the horizons for enjoying and succeeding your life really are.

Not recognizing your own strengths may also cause you to not step up and make contributions in the lives of others, or towards bigger goals since you don’t even believe you have the capacity to do those things. This is especially dangerous for your own personal development, as it tends to come from pushing limits. Not only this, it also means people around you miss out on everything that you could have offered them, if only you were able to see that you actually possessed those strengths and skills, instead of always seeing your flaws.

Here’s the thing: in life, we really do not have enough time to improve every single thing about us that we see as flaws. That is just how it is. This is where self-acceptance becomes very important. Accepting yourself as the way you are is a humbling experience that allows you to honestly look at both your flaws and your beautiful aspects- and accept them as parts of yourself. In fact, you may realize that what you considered a flaw, is in and of itself not really a flaw. That characteristic just is.

To illustrate the point, here’s an example:

You may be trying to fit yourself in the world of business so you can impact the world at a large scale, and trying out all these strategies; learning how to strategize better, be better at finance, manage people better, etc. and it may lead you to some improvement.

However, if you never give yourself an honest look, you may perhaps miss out on realizing that you’re also an artist who has a knack for understanding inner feelings and putting them into abstract art, or poetic words in conversations. But if you despise this part of yourself so much that you never accept it, and only keep running towards your ideals of success in the field of business, you may end up feeling empty, hollow, and unfulfilled inside despite the external successes, since you ignored this fundamental part of yourself.

It is important to acknowledge parts of your personal nature. It certainly does not mean you have to limit yourself to it. Art and business do not have to be exclusive to each other after all. However, accepting your self as you are right now, and as you’ve been throughout your life, will allow you to not only accept your strengths that you might not see otherwise, but also be forgiving with yourself as you try to grow, or add more strengths and skills to your proverbial toolbox.

When people give you compliments and criticism, you may be able to just accept them as characteristics about yourself that just are, and then decide if you really want to put in the effort to change or explore those things. If those things really are worth your limited energy and time, that is.

One example that helps me with the acceptance of my own flaws is that of Jin from BTS. I was reading one of his interviews where he mentioned that he finds it challenging to learn new dance moves. But he’d keep practicing and get the moves down in the end- even if he mastered those things slowly compared to the other band members. He also mentioned that it takes him more time than others to memorize the lyrics to songs.

I was really surprised to hear a global superstar be so candid about not being good at learning something that’s a part of their job, especially when comparisons with other members could be drawn so easily. You wouldn’t expect that from seeing the music videos that he struggles with this. This is also a theme I saw in other BTS members. Acceptance of their own shortcomings in the context of work, and then just working on those things on their own- regardless of how skilled or fast the other members are in that area.

It made me realized that instead of turning up that self-deprecating talk in your head whenever you find a flaw in yourself, you should just accept it. Then decide if you want to work on it. Then keep working on it for however long it takes, regardless of what it’s like for others- that doesn’t matter when it comes to your own development, until you get the results you wanted. Sounds a bit stoic ,doesn’t it?

We don’t compare oranges to apples, and then berate how apples taste just because they are not like oranges. Their nature is different. And we simply accept that. So just like that, we can start by accepting how we are. But because we’re humans instead of fruits, and we have free will and the capacity to change our lives to significant degrees, we can decide to take or not take steps to change ourselves in a different direction, or take on a skill or hobby even if we struggle with it.

No self-deprecation though. No picking yourself apart. No chasing after getting rid of every single “flaw” of yours- especially if it doesn’t really serve you in your life. And gratitude of what you have and what you are able to accomplish in the now. 🌸


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