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Self Acceptance and Self Improvement

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Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about the tension between self-acceptance and self-improvement. On the one hand, I’m on a journey to understand and accept myself more. I know it sounds horribly new-age-y. Believe me, I’m aware. I have a solid resistance to anything new-age-y, and perhaps this is why it’s been taking so frigging long. I’ve arrived at this point, though, because I honestly don’t think that the “I’ll be happy when I [insert self-improvement goal]” mentality helps anyone, and it definitely doesn’t help me.


On the other hand, I believe with all my heart that learning should be lifelong. I want to always be learning; I never want to assume I have nothing left to learn. So, I make lists of books I want to read (currently 1,224 and growing). I have a podcast listening list (currently 186 hours and change). And I keep endless lists of topics I want to dive into, such as the tension between self-acceptance and self-improvement, racism, vegan cooking, or modern grantmaking. I also have a list of things I want to learn how to do, mostly playing the cello but also things like building a cello or woodcarving more generally, gardening, and speaking about ten different languages. My only trouble with the endless lists is that I don’t have enough time in the day to do all these things. And I never will. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows calls it onism. Talk about things that depress you.


Anyway. There are some excellent posts out there arguing that, actually, any meaningful self-improvement stems from self-acceptance. That this tension is a false dichotomy. Which, ok, I guess. Maybe I’ll understand it when I’ve entirely accepted myself. I get what they’re saying at the rational, thinking level. I get that when you self-improve to compare with someone else or with what you think would make you happy, it doesn’t fill the void. But then, what if you compare with your past self or with an imagined future self? They’re also saying that you accept yourself as an imperfect human. So, there are still things left to improve, but if you improve everything, you are still imperfect. And as soon as you want to learn something that you don’t know, at that moment you don’t accept yourself as you are. For me, it’s a loop as endless as my reading list. And maybe that’s all there is, just learning new things and listening to other people and enjoying the sun when it comes out and the flowers when they bloom. And that’s what you do, every day if you’re lucky.


It seems the self-acceptance industry has become nearly as stressful as the self-improvement industry. Everywhere you go, you are offered ways to improve yourself by accepting yourself and being kind to yourself. There’s a bit of a competition on social media to see who can be kinder to themselves, cut themselves more of a break, and love themselves more. Maybe it’s just me. But if that’s the direction we’re going, it’s a lovely irony.


I don’t know. What do you think?

 

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