Self-Improvement vs. Growth

IMG_8005There is an incredible push in our society to “always keep improving.” “Be yourself, only better.” The messages, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, are beaming at us from everywhere. How many perfectly airbrushed bodies do you have to walk by on your way to the register to pay for your pint of ice cream (and how much guilt will you feel on your way)? Isn’t this insistent call for betterment also a constant nagging voice in our ears reminding us that we are “less than”?

Shockingly, these messages aren’t coming from our friends and loved ones, who, incidentally happen to love our apparently “less than” selves. They are coming from companies, big and small, intent on selling us their goods, services, a lifestyle, a promise of a better future if only we finally just buy the product, sign up for the service, lose those last 5 pounds… The list goes on. And really, who benefits from our self-improvement?

What’s worse: we buy into it! If you Google “improve yourself” some of the suggestions that come up are “before dating” and “after breakup”. Because obviously the reason you are still single or single again is that you are not good enough and you need a tune-up.

So this is my wakeup call to you: LOVE yourselves. Do it now! Not after you get to the full expression in Natarajasana, not after you qualify for the Boston marathon, not after you lose the last few pounds, or finally get your kid to soccer practice on time. You are not a project. Love yourself NOW.

It is imperative that our love towards ourselves is unconditional. Only then can we truly love others in a way that does not begrudge and does not hold back.

Having said that: this isn’t a call for stagnation and apathy. I looked up the words in the dictionary to make sure I kept myself honest. And sure enough: one of the top 3 definitions of “improvement” is an addition or change that makes something better or more valuable than before. The way I read that is there is an implication that what we were before needed to be better. I like the word “growth” much better – the process of growing, full development, maturity.

So go, love yourselves and grow into even more magnificent beings you were always meant to be.


The Problem with Stereotypes

Nari Running NassauI typically don’t get overly emotional at advertisements, however well-made and well-targeted, but the “Run Like a Girl” ad had me tearing up during the Super Bowl. The ad resonated deeply: from a young age I was brought up to challenge the status quo and contest stereotypes. Growing up in a male-dominant culture, I was both the president of my class and aspired to have tattoos. I was bookish and rebellious all at the same time, out to prove that women could have it all.

What I realized only too late was that contesting stereotypes could be as restricting as conforming to them. In either case, you let someone else’s ideas of who you are guide your actions.

Apparently, I didn’t want to have it ALL. Some things were better left behind. It took until my late 20’s, but I shed the bad girl persona, quit smoking, drinking, and realized how much happier I was with a more reasonable bed time. Though I still love tattoos!

My daily mantra now is to tune inward and to listen to my true self. What lights my fire? What makes my eyes twinkle? What can I not wait to do again (eating breakfast doesn’t count)? Shedding expectations, both those of others and your own, is difficult. Especially if you have spent years giving them power over yourself.

Somewhere deep inside is a voice willing to give you all the answers if you can just walk away from the stereotypes instead of trying to prove them wrong.