Self Improvement vs Self Acceptance

In your 20s, the drive to improve yourself seems to reach a fever pitch. You’re young, you’re hungry, you’ve been taught that this decade is the *most* important one. And in the age of instagrammable wellness, lifestyle virtue signalling, the classism and consumerism that drives it all, “getting your shit together” has become more of a rat race than anything else.

For most of us, social media has allowed us to put our lives on display in an unprecedented way. I can let all 793 of my instagram followers know what my room looks like, how great my hair looks on any given day, what social cause I care about, the particular brand of workout leggings I’ve been #obsessed with. The only thing stopping us from sharing the minutiae of our existence with the world is our own common sense (which sometimes fails). Let’s just say there’s a good reason I deleted my entire Twitter account.

Because of our self-constructed virtual fishbowl, we spend a lot of time constructing a life that looks good. Especially in our early 20s as we venture out into the world and try out new identities. Our social media is more than just a curated slice of our lives, it’s an extension of our public image. It’s our personal brand. Even if we’re not selling anything, we’re selling ourselves. We post our gym selfies, candid laughing pictures with our friends, cocktail glass boomerangs, etc. as a shout into the digital void: “HEY ISN’T MY LIFE GREAT!”

But we’re not satisfied. It’s more than just our social media. We’re stuck in a loop that the next job, the next apartment, that new romantic partner, losing those last 10 pounds, will be what makes our lives happy and perfect. We self-medicate with with self-improvement packaged for the millennial generation: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, “You are a Badass: How to stop doubting your greatness” etc. I have read both of those books and honestly, they don’t have anything new to say. We buy fiddle leaf fig plants and rose quartz crystals and try to meditate into a better version of ourselves.

This is not to demonize self improvement. I think your 20s are a great time to take a cold, hard look at yourself and take concrete steps to becoming the person you want to be. For example: I am a terrible listener, a tad self-centered, an oversharer, lack discipline and consistently sabotage my romantic relationships! But my diary contains an action plan for how to combat these less than awesome qualities, and I’m on the lookout for a new therapist. But there’s a difference between the difficult and necessary work of an emotional and spiritual glow-up and the easily packaged, available for purchase vision of a person that quite frankly, you’re never going to be. Meanwhile, you still have a ton of baggage, deep insecurities, and the corporations that speak to those unhealed emotional wounds are turning a tidy profit.

I mean, come on. Did you really think I was going to talk about an issue plaguing my generation and not blame it on capitalism?

So much of the idealized version of ourselves that we’re trying to project into the world is based on capitalistic norms around success, merit, and self-worth. Capitalism teaches us that we are worthy when we’re productive and “grown up” when we’re able to spend big. Spending big on products that subtly signal certain values and a certain class. I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where self-improvement is its own cottage industry. 

But accepting who you are and working on yourself in meaningful ways costs a lot less money. Even if you’re the only person that gets anything out of it. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to actually tangible incorporate this into my life. A couple of thoughts/free, unqualified possibly terrible advice: 

    • Stop having faith that something material could change your life: I’m especially guilty of this when it comes to home goods and clothing. Yes, that pair of black ankle boots is calling my name, BUT I will not be a radically changed person if I buy them. Just slightly more poor and more fashionable. 

 

  • Get honest about your ugly bits: I’m not talking about the tummy roll that makes an appearance when you sit down. Or stand up. Actually, it’s just a permanent fixture of your appearance now. In fact, it would do all of us some good if we thought less about how our bodies look. I mean those uncomfortable truths about yourself that very, very few people will ever to say your face? Yeah. It’s icky. Now deal with it. Write it down in your dream journal or whatever. 
  • Sometimes you have to prioritize self acceptance over self improvement: Not to get all woo woo with you but I truly believe that genuine, healthy self improvement has to come from a place of self-love. And the first step to loving yourself is accepting yourself. Even the aforementioned icky bits. Accept that this is who you are in this moment in time. There’s lots to be proud of and maybe there are a couple of things you’d like to work on. And that’s okay! Worth is intrinsic and not dependent on how many perceived flaws we have. 
  • Lizzo: That’s it. That’s the advice.  

 

Go forth and love yourself folks. And I don’t know who needs to hear this, but stop texting him. He’s not coming with you on the glow-up. 

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