“Continually push yourself harder. Never accept yourself as you are. You are always a work in progress. No excuses.”
I often feel the need to counter ubiquitous messages like these in my writing. We are enough, as we are today. We do not need to change ourselves for anyone else. I do not need to be told that I am not good enough as I am. I do not need to be accused of making excuses or giving up on myself. Guilt, stress, and shame are poor motivators in the long term.
Instead I focus on self-acceptance and embracing reality. This is me and who I am today. Whether I am different in the future is a separate question. Whether I could have done differently up to this point is irrelevant. I have come to the place where I am now through a complicated series of past inputs, both my own choices and circumstantial. Acknowledging and accepting myself as I am today means living in the present, without guilt, stress or shame. That is the goal. It isn’t an easy thing to do, so of course it’s always a process.
I can push myself very hard when I feel the drive to do that. This can be a good thing. I am enough as I am today no matter how imperfectly perfect I am, yet I would always like to continue to grow and expand and improve myself and my life. To be clear, I’m not talking about what I look like on the outside – I mean deeper parts of life like understanding the world through the acquisition of knowledge, gaining skills that allow me to move forward in my art, writing, and my career, improving my ability to participate in meaningful relationships, and living a more present fulfilling life overall.
Goals are wonderful. Now that I have taken time to ponder my own, instead of pushing myself to the point of exhaustion for the goals I am supposed to have, I’ve come to recognize the difference. Sometimes you need to push yourself and sometimes you need to relax. Knowing the difference is the key.
The right time to push myself is when I feel driven in my heart and mind from a positive internal place. In other words, I feel deeply that I want to improve or get past something for my own benefit.
“I am terrible at this and I should do better, I am bad for not doing better already and I need to change this to be acceptable. I can’t believe I have been so stupid. I am a failure. I need to do better.”
“I really want to have a better experience in this aspect of my life so I can feel happier and more content because I deserve it. It may be difficult and take work to achieve this goal, but I am worth it.”
I find that things I try to do from a state of mind focused on what is wrong with me, I tend to fail magnificently, so it’s a double whammy of guilt + failure.
I find that when I try to do things because I feel deserving I am far more likely to succeed. Even if I do fail, I can appreciate the aspects of the experience that were educational and not see it as a total waste of time.
There should be no shame in choosing not to push yourself at this particular moment. You know. You are the one who has to live in your life, so if now is not the time, let it be. Don’t let anyone shame you into doing what you are not ready to do.
Yet to live is to grow and to change, so we cannot hold in the same pattern forever, we need to find ways to move on and improve for ourselves and each other.
The negative messaging we receive about being unworthy and needing to fix ourselves to be acceptable can make self-improvement sound like a shameful, stressful, painful, guilty endeavor. Approaching change can bring about negative thoughts and feelings toward our current state, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to declare yourself guilty and sentence yourself to punishment as a path to change. You can approach it as a personal choice, not for anyone else. Only for you.
Remember that self-improvement means whatever it means to you, in your heart. It is not for anyone else to tell you what your goals should be or how fast you should achieve them, or what your life should be like when you do. You get to decide these things. This isn’t about anyone else or what they have or want in their own lives, it’s about you.
Nobody can truly “have it all”. Life is complicated, with ups and downs. We will find abundance in some parts of life and famine in others. Celebrate your skills, talents and good experiences instead of bemoaning your short-comings . Nobody will ever be perfect, not me, not you, so give it up. But don’t give up on learning and growth along with it.