I’ve been on a self-improvement project pretty much my whole life.
I’ve been trying to be a good girl for as long as I can remember. Good at whatever it took to get a smile. Good at being Mommy’s little helper. Good at trying hard in school. Good at doing what I was told. Good at looking good. Good at being very nearly the best at everything, most of the time at least… and when I wasn’t, I felt I’d failed. Then I was no good at all. This is the shared story of most high-achieving women today… and frankly, that’s all of us.
We’ve been improving ourselves our whole lives. And it’s worked well enough, for long enough, that we are persuaded it must be how to live.
Added to that, the better we are at it – at trying to control ourselves and everything around us – the more convinced we are that this self-improvement project is the way to finally be happy.
I could be a case study in some graduate student’s self-improvement research project. I’m always trying to improve my body with healthy diet and exercise. Not drinking too much. Not smoking. Trying to meditate everyday. Generally trying to be as perfect as I can be. I’ve even been fanatical about trying to have good posture!
When my kids arrived, I researched the best breast-feeding approaches and schooling philosophies. I managed their food allergies and invented recipes for the best gluten-free pancakes ever. Of course I was also determined to be perfectly moderate in my self-improvement, not going overboard too obsessively on any of the above!
You get the drift… My whole life, I’ve been in the process of this perfecting to be acceptable — first to others, but deeper, to myself. It was my own bar that I placed so dramatically high. This is the one that plagues me the most. Not others’ expectations, but my own.
So I find it kind of funny now, when I realize that all this striving to upgrade myself hasn’t addressed the real issue. It’s not improving that I need. What I want now, more than anything else, is to come back to myself. The being I have inside that I’ve been dedicated to hiding all my life.
Coming back to me – to honesty and authenticity – isn’t done by trying to make myself better or fixing anything that’s not just right. It’s mostly about looking with curiosity at any place in me that wants to hide. Or another way to say this is — to see with compassion the ways I don’t want myself to be seen. It’s about looking clearly at how I’m still compensating for any feelings of inadequacy, any remnants of my protective ego’s convictions of my not-good-enoughness. When I can relax all that, what remain has no need of improvement.
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell
The non-dual spiritual teacher Miranda Macpherson speaks about how we spend our lives polishing the mud we’ve protectively caked on the outside of the unique, genuine jewel that we are. Yet what’s magnetic and gorgeous – what’s radiant – is our own natural and divine essence. It’s the gem shining inside that others most want to enjoy.
But we’re afraid to show that part. We learn very early to hide our naturalness. Sometimes people don’t react well. Best to give them what they want to see. We grew self-conscious and ration out our true selves in increasingly more carefully crafted proportions. So begins the hiding.
Some of us got really skilled at polishing the mud. We look so nice and shiny. But the effort we invest in perpetual self-improvement – in order to protect the vulnerable being inside – actually dims our full light. The thick layer of mud coopts the real stuff – our intuition, our smarts, our talents, our divinity. Then the successes and admiration we thought would make us happy instead leaves us identified with the mud’s shiny reflection instead of the naturally radiant jewel inside.
I’ve done a lot of polishing over the years. But lately, I’ve been lucky to have circumstances crack the glossy mud I’ve spent so long burnishing. Even as I struggle, more of myself is shining through, and oddly, that feels good. I don’t feel the need — as often at least — to hide out in the image of myself I want to project.
Now my self-improvement project is in reversal. I’m wanting to un-something. Un-improve. I want to kindly welcome, and gently let go of, my personality’s fixations and attachments – all those ways I’ve kept myself safe. It’s the only way to come back to the more real me…the me that’s not that different from all the other you’s and is also delightfully unique in her own beautifully messy ways – whether they look good or not.
I’m ready to be just-me, and I’m ready to be with just-you. Join me?
So my questions to you is: How do you let the just-me shine through? Will you share your brilliance with us down below?
Let the jewel shine, Dear Ones.