I’ve practiced self-improvement as a full-contact sport for about as long as I’ve been sentient. Since early adolescence I’ve surrounded myself with to-do lists and schedules, workout regimes, goal-setting schemes. I've tabulated recipes of habits, activities, routines that I can add, subtract, and multiply so that I might finally be able to achieve that elusive condition of…what exactly?
Perfection? Completion? Nirvana?
The truth is, I am a junkie for achievements, accomplishments, and approval. Pirate Redbeard sometimes teases me about being a praiseaholic. And it’s kind of true. Because as long as it’s external approval that feeds that inner void, all I ever get is a temporary fix, only to crave more when the buzz wears off.
But 2011 has, in fact, provided me with some pretty big, wonderfully liberating paradigm shifts. Increasingly, I’ve been able to get off the approval-junkie treadmill. How, you ask?
The short answer is therapy. The slightly longer answer is:
1. Changing how I think about “enoughness.” My lust for gold stars is related to a pesky deep-seated belief I accidentally acquired that I am somehow not enough as I am. Only after pulling off this next impossible feat will I finally, at long last, be "enough”…except that it’s never enough. There’s always another mountain beyond the one I just climbed. So, it helps if I can:
2. Embrace continual change. This is one of those obvious-sounding ones that is easy to understand intellectually but way harder to actually live with. Sure, sure, the only constant is change, I’ve heard it a thousand times, got it, let’s move on…until I lose my wallet and suddenly it’s like “DEAR GOD WHY? WHY ME? ALL IS DARKNESS."
It helps (sort of) just to understand that as long as we’re living, there’s going to be new problems, new adventures, losses and gains, experiments of questionable utility, wrong turns, soaring victories and catastrophic failures. Maybe it’s possible with time to learn to approach these dignity, acceptance, and grace…
Oooooooor maybe not. Maybe for the rest of life every new bump in the road will be accompanied with a Greek chorus of wailing, teeth-gnashing, hair-rending, self-pity, and bleak, bleak despair.
And you know what? I’m OK with that. Because I’m all about:
3. Accepting imperfection. It’s cool! We humans are deeply flawed.That's like, the definition of human. Google wabi-sabi - imperfection has beauty! Besides, this whole idea of "being enough" is extremely relative. Next time I start to verbally abuse myself for not rushing to the chance to whistle while I work at a tedious and/or unpleasant task as cartoon birds land on my shoulders...maybe I can keep it in perspective by asking myself a few questions:
-Are you a serial murder?
-Have you kicked any puppies lately?
-Have you acted on any of the jealous rage fantasies?
-Are you a fugitive from the law?
-Are you, at this moment, flagrantly violating some deeply-held tenet of your personal moral code?
Maybe, for now, that's enough.
What about you, Gentle Reader? Where are you going to cut yourself some freakin' slack this year?