Self-improvement can either be an enlightening spiritual journey or a demeaning process that does nothing but make you feel bad about yourself and obsess over desires you’ll never reach.
Self-help turns some people off because much of it comes from a negative headspace. You’re told what you don’t have, how you’re not yet good enough, and how you still have so far go.
Regardless of whether or not you follow self-help, though, you’ll still have those feelings — that itch needs to be scratched. Of course, when people try to browbeat you into improving your life, it can be a bit much, but the right dose of ambition and desire is necessary to reach long-term goals.
How do you reach for bigger goals without beating yourself up too much in the process? How do you take the healthy parts of self-improvement and use them to your advantage, while letting some of the more ‘toxic’ aspects of it go?
Is there a way to work really hard yet also remain detached from your desire for material gain and status
What the hell should you do?
There’s no easy answer, but I can give you insights I’ve learned and implemented myself along the way. You’ll never quite reach a certain end goal, but you’ll experience growth in the process and come to some realizations you otherwise wouldn’t have.
I look at self-acceptance this way. You don’t want to spend all of your time focusing on your flaws, but you do want to focus on the things you can control. You want to use self-acceptance when it’s appropriate instead of using it as an excuse not to improve your life.
Quick example: Let’s say you want to make more money because it would give you more flexibility and freedom. It’s easy enough to say you should just accept your financial situation because money ‘doesn’t matter’ and it’s the ‘root of all evil.’ Many people use this answer, not as an enlightened zen state of mind, but as a cop-out because they’re afraid they can’t make more money.
What’s the right answer?
Accept that you don’t have the financial situation you want right now, but resolve to improve your situation by not permanently accepting your lot in life. Create your plan to start that side business or make some extra income without letting your ego and desire control your mind. Do it for flexibility, not status.
You can reach higher goals without being a slave to your desires. You can accept that you are a good person who’s trying to do better, but then you also avoid falling into the self-acceptance trap.
What trap? People fall into something I call the self-care trap. There’s this rising movement of coddle culture where you’re supposed to always treat yourself well no matter what.
This perverted form of self-care rewards counterproductive behaviors. If you’re not quite in the situation you want to be, you’re not in a position to take a bunch of downtime to yourself.
Notice I didn’t say zero downtime, but this idea that you need to spend every single one your nights and your weekends ‘caring for yourself’ so you have enough energy to get back into the rat race every day will cause you long-term harm and erode your mental and physical health in the process.
True self-care involves pushing yourself to perform at a higher level. True self-acceptance involves accepting that you do have goals, ambitions, and desires along with your ‘spiritual’ self.
Contentment and ambition aren’t mutually exclusive goals. When used properly, they have a symbiotic relationship.
You’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. First, you need to meet your basic needs before you can think about anything else. Then, you can move up the ladder to less pressing but more rewarding goals. You reach the final level — purpose or self-actualization — by meeting all your other needs first.
I encourage you to escape ‘survival’ mode so you can create the time and freedom to be happy. When you’re in survival mode scratching and clawing to make a living constantly, you don’t have time to focus on self-actualization.
You wake up, rush off to work, work, go home, take care of yourself and your family if you have one, eat, have a bit of entertainment, and do it all over again. How much time do you have to sit back and enjoy anything?
Many people in this demographic claim they are content, but I simply don’t see how you can be content if you spend the majority of your time doing things that you don’t want to do.
I don’t see how it’s mentally healthy to spend the majority of your time doing the things you want to do. Forget about doing things like finding purpose for your life, doing something you enjoy for a living, and create financial flexibility because you desire these them.
Think about these goals as massive stress relievers. That’s one of the least talked about rewards for building a tailor-made life. You lift a massive weight from your life. You can literally make your life longer through self-improvement due to a lack of stress.
I’m not wealthy, but I can go to the grocery store and just get whatever I want. I used to hate the grocery store back when I was broke with a wife and an infant child, sometimes having to put things back because we couldn’t afford them.
I can work four hours a day and spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want. If I want to travel, within reason, I can just buy a ticket and go. I can, and often do, spend an entire day doing absolutely nothing, guilt-free.
You want your life and your freedom back, not toys. You want work you enjoy doing, not an endless vacation. If you follow this self-improvement path you’ll end up being able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person you see. That’s priceless.
I don’t love money, but I like making money. I don’t need to have a big audience, but I like building one.
When you achieve some of your goals and scratch some of those itches, you’ll realize you never wanted the outcomes all that much. Moreso, you wanted to see if you could reach the outcomes.
There’s something spiritual about pushing yourself to get the things you want, even if you come to find out you don’t actually want them.
When you make money and realize it didn’t solve all your problems, then you can truly say money doesn’t matter. When you get status and attention, only to find it doesn’t give you what you thought it would, then you can focus on the relationships that matter.
I’m not saying you can’t do these things without reaching success first, but it’s easier. Buddha was a rich prince first. Marcus Aurelius conquered half the world first, then wrote the meditations and preached stoic philosophy. Rich celebrities find spirituality after they get rich and famous, but notice they never give up their money.
You can be rich, physical and mentally fit, and happy all at the same time. You can do it all. If you try to do it all and you succeed, you’ll realize you never needed to chase anything in the first place. But then you’ll still keep working.
Just to play the game.
That’s the lens I use to view life now. And it’s the one I want you to eventually see. You’re here to play the game. Keyword play. Stop being so serious.
You can achieve a lot more in life by letting go of everything — your over-inflated ego, your fear-based ‘pragmatism, your attachment to outcomes, all of it.
That’s the strangest thing about it. The freer you are, the more you learn to simultaneously care and not care, the easier life gets.