To be clear, I want to improve myself.
Not only do I want to improve myself, I think I’m supposed to want to.
In fact, I think you will think less of me, if I’m not on a self-improvement quest of some sort or another, or on multiple ones. Like:
Trying to lose weight. Look younger. Write more. Write more, better (and perhaps improve my grammar in the process?). Exercise more.
Be a better wife, mom, friend, listener, stranger, blogger, employee, daughter, sister, aunt, therapy group member, person.
Be more spiritual. More giving. More wise. More loving.
A better citizen of the world.
A better human being.
Oh and did I mention give up sugar, diet Pepsi, white flour and lose weight?
So if I were to say, “Yeah, I am not going to do anything to improve myself in 2015, thank you very much…” I would feel kind of ashamed.
Ok, a lot ashamed.
And I would think that you would think, “What a slacker.” “Does she think she’s perfect? What’s her problem?” “She needs to get it together.” “Can’t she see what a mess she is?”
Because that’s what I’d be thinking about myself.
A couple weeks ago, a friend mentioned something that her “spiritual director” had recently told her.
“God doesn’t want us to improve.
There is no need. You are loved exactly where you are at any given moment.”
Oh come on. You’ve got to be kidding. Are you sure we’re talking about God here, and not Billy “I love you just the way you are” Joel?
Clearly, this so-called spiritual director must be from another planet, or at least from Sweden or something. This is not the God we worship around these parts, right? Not the God I carry around in my heart at least (even if my head might know all about grace and mercy and all that non-judgey, lovey-dovey God stuff).
I mean what would happen to the world if we really stopped trying to fix ourselves up?
It would mean global collapse, right? None of us would do anything but sit around all day eating port wine cheddar cheese out of the container and binge-watching Scandal. Or The Walking Dead. Or possibly re-watching all the episodes of Gilmore Girls involving Jess, or, for the more highly evolved, all seven seasons of The West Wing.
At the very least, this anti-self-improvement attitude would wipe out the $11 billion self-help industry in this country.
We spend $11 billion every year trying to improve ourselves. That’s impressive, isn’t it?
Maybe kind of sad, but also kind of sweet, in a way.
Bless our little hearts.
I’ve already purchased two self-help books in the first week of 2015.
(But online, because I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in the self-help section of my local bookstore. Unless I was shopping “for a friend” or just passing through on my way to the restroom. Because as much as we all believe in the necessity and virtue of self-improvement, actually buying self-help books seems kind of “not cool.” Not what you do if you want to seem hip, intellectual, actually successful, and “together.” Because the question must be asked: If self-help is so helpful, why are there new self-help books out every day? Wouldn’t the first one have been enough?)
We spent New Year’s Eve with some friends who have a 16 month old, Isaiah. Isaiah is a busy guy, curious and brash and brave. He was very interested in climbing some stairs in the house, so, hoping I could give his parents a momentary break from making sure he didn’t fall and crack his head open, I sat down on the bottom step at one point, to hang with him… and keep an eye on him. While Isaiah and I were chatting a bit – me in English, him in some language of his own creation – I reached over and briefly touched one of his adorable little baby ears, because how can you not when you’re that close to one of those things? And when I did, Isaiah stopped what he was saying, mid-nonsensical-stream, and gave a shiver of delight. His mom said, “Oh he loves that. He loves it when you rub his ears like that.”
And so I did it again, for a couple seconds, and then, when I was just about to stop, Isaiah started making the sign language gesture for MORE, a thing his parents taught him so he could ask for more tangelos or more oatmeal, or more Cheerios, I suppose. But bright little boy that he is, he had figured out you could also use it to gesture for more of THIS…this ear-rubbing, this exquisite pleasure.
MORE. Isaiah signed. Not just once, but rapidly and repeatedly. MORE. Like a little baby crack addict.
He was enjoying himself. And wanted More. And he wasn’t afraid to admit it. Or ask for it.
It hit me how Isaiah’s “more” is different from mine. His is not a self-improvement “more.” Be more of this. More thin. More successful. More knowledgeable. More productive. More better.
His is a “more-of-this-good-stuff” kind of more.
And he made me wonder what would happen, if instead of trying to be more and do more, I just enjoyed where I am and who I am and what I have and the good things that are going on for me right now, MORE?
Crazy talk, I know. It kind of makes me uncomfortable to even write it down.
But then this week I ran across a Canadian study about how college age women who needed to lose weight actually gained several pounds when they experienced being criticized for their size by the ones around them. And the criticism didn’t have to be things like, “You’re a fat, ignorant slug.” Helpful advice and gentle nudges to improve had the same effect. However, in this study the women who heard positive comments about their size, lost or maintained their weight.
In other words, feeling like they needed to improve, kind of got in their way of actually improving.
I understand this a lot better in some areas of my life than others. The food/weight/body image stuff is a hard one for me. But I feel like I’m starting to get it a little bit more with my writing. Like when people say they like my writing, I want to write more. Kinda simple. My 19-year-old daughter Hannah, for Christmas, gave me a special “writing kit” she’d made up for me, full of empty notebooks and a couple writing prompt kind of books and a jar filled with “encouragements” — quotes that she had found that she thought would inspire me. None of this felt like she was asking me to improve. It felt like she was wrapping her arms around me and saying, “More, please…more of THIS.”
So I’m thinking, maybe it’s time for the anti-self-improvement movement. What if we all took a radical step and instead of trying to improve ourselves, we just…I don’t know…enjoyed ourselves more? What if we were more present for our lives, for the beauty to be found, the pleasure to be had, the lovely little tidbits of grace that inhabit our moments, like the dust mites in the air that you can see if the light is just right? What if we could take a breather from the fixing-up-ness we can get caught up in? And live a little MORE?
I don’t know what would happen. But it might be enjoyable to find out.
And now I’m going to find someone to rub my ear…
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