There’s Nothing Worse Than Self Improvement

on September 16, 2012 | in Featured, Life in General | by

I was painfully shy as a child and I hated it. Instead of being withdrawn and quiet, I always wished I could be the social butterfly. I wanted to be funnier and more engaging and more charismatic–I wanted to be that person who everyone was drawn to.

And so for a long time, I strove to become someone “better”–I strove to become a more outgoing, more social, more likeable version of myself.

It took me years of effort and struggle to realize that I was approaching things all wrong. In fact, I came to realize, there’s nothing worse than self-improvement. We don’t have to become someone “better” or “stronger” or more “likeable.” We don’t have to become more of anything at all.


Because there’s no one better than who we are already.

Remember Michelangelo? (No, not the Ninja Turtle–the Renaissance artist, silly.)

You know the story of how he crafted his renowned sculpture, David, right?

He didn’t ask, “How can I make this block of marble shinier? How can I make it bigger?” He didn’t try to add anything to the block of stone or to change the quality of its nature.

Instead, he simply chipped away all that was not its true nature, and in doing so he allowed David, in all his nude glory, to emerge.

He allowed it to become more of what it already was.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

— Michelangelo

So it is with ourselves, too. Instead of self-improvement, perhaps we ought to call this process “self-embracement.” After all, it’s not about becoming someone better or improved or someone who you aren’t. Instead, it’s about embracing who you are already (and who you always have been).

Own that. Become that. Instead of striving to become someone you aren’t, allow yourself to melt into your core.

I’m not sure exactly how or when it happened, but one day I came to the realization that maybe I didn’t need to become someone else. Maybe I didn’t need to become the social butterfly or the loud, entertaining center of attention–maybe I was ok as who I was. And so I began allowing myself to become comfortable with my quieter nature and to sink into the qualities of who I was already.

In practicing self-embracement, my quiet nature came off not as shy and insecure and awkward like I’d feared, but as calm and accepting and inviting. I learned that my quiet could hold deep power: I spoke less but when I did speak, what I said was filled with power and intentionality.

And here’s the weird thing: the more I embraced my quieter nature, the more people were drawn to me, until I suddenly realized that I’d achieved the results that I’d been striving for for years.

It didn’t happen through self-improvement, though–it didn’t happen because I became more outgoing or louder or more charismatic. Instead, it happened because I helped people feel comfortable and accepted and because I truly listened. It happened because I allowed myself to become more of who I am already– to fully show up as that person I was born as.

If you want to fulfill your greatest potential, don’t strive to become someone better. Instead, let yourself show up as who you already are.

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[Image by a tai]

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  • tharindri rupesinghe

    Love the post. Thought I should also add that while you embrace yourself to the fullest, it sometimes also helps to do things that make you a ‘better’ person- where better implies enhancing skills and talents you may have, learning new things, trying something different and even helping others in small ways.

    But I still love the post! :D

    • I agree, there’s nothing wrong, imho of course, in trying to go beyond our limits… I would make a distinction between self-improvement and living a life according to a standard decided by others.
      You can decide to improve a particular ability and be your true “yourself”
      the same. For example, I might improve my ability to run, but that doesn’t imply that I want to
      become a professional runner, even in the case society consider being a runner a top value and something to aim to.

      • “You can decide to improve a particular ability and be your true “yourself”
        the same.”

        Yes– absolutely! YOU GOTIT!!!!!

    • Of course– I’m in complete agreement! I think doing things like this can be (and ultimately is) 100% in alignment with showing up as who we already are. I really don’t think helping others, learning new things, etc., is in contradiction to embracing our truest selves whatsoever.


  • Jamie Davis

    Whenever I see a runner on the road I find myself wishing I were more like them. I love people who are driven by something internally to run for their health. It’s really inspiring. The question is, how much do I really want to run? I don’t. It’s the idea of it that I like better. I prefer my exercise in the form of dance, shopping, walking my dogs, swimming and riding my bike. I have to accept who I am! I totally get this article and it’s something I think about all the time.

  • This was such a beautiful post! As a woman in finance, I felt that I would never fit in to the “old boys club,” but I tried for so long to act like I did so that I might fit in someday. In the past year, I finally started realizing that I need to hone the fact that because of my “unique background” (i.e. actor turned financial planner) I could connect with clients in ways that other couldn’t. I made the switch to a start-up company so I could better serve the clients that I’m best at working with and I get to have great conversations with young people and help them with their money which is what I’m passionate about. The funny thing, is that this year I’ve become friends with some wonderful guys in financial planning and it’s because we’re all forward thinkers who are excited about changes in the industry! It’s such an awesome surprise!

    • Love that, lady! Yet another awesome story of self-embracement at its finest :)

  • Rob

    I really like the idea of melting into my core. But is it possible to go too far with this? I’m an introvert too, and if I fully embraced my introversion then I’d rarely leave the house! And I’m also quite lazy – surely it’s not a good idea to embrace negative personality traits… hmmm… I’d appreciate your views on this, Therese! Don’t tell me – you don’t have any negative traits! ;)

    • Good question, Rob-io, which I shall answer with another question:

      “Who am I really and what qualities are truly at the core of who I am?”

      What qualities, if embraced, would make me feel most alive and would make me feel most like my *true* self?

      THESE are the qualities I think we should be embracing– otherwise, we’d be embracing a quality that is NOT who we are, and in doing so we would be becoming “someone else” and defeating the purpose altogether… if that makes any sense.

      So we shouldn’t embrace ALL traits, just those that are truly “who we are”… our greatest, deepest self, if you will.

      This may not be an easy question to answer, but well worth asking.

    • I’m “lazy” too. Maybe, just maybe, my self-confessed “laziness” stems from the fact that many of my current reasons for leaving the house do not address who I really am. Maybe when I figure out who I really am and what I really want to do, I will find all sorts of excellent reasons to leave the house. Or I will find that leaving the house is over-rated. One more reason to go down the path of self-chiseling…

  • Mika


    At first, I was really resistant to this article… like “what do you mean striving for personal excellence is detrimental to growth?!”… but I definitely sang a different tune once I finished reading this post. You are completely right… self-acceptance and embracing your true nature is at the CORE for success in anything you want in your life. I’ve always been super shy and trying to be more outgoing or whatever always brought more anxiety and angst to the situation… I’ve noticed my best connections have always been when I was in complete acceptance of myself and the situation. Thanks for this Monday eye opener:)

    • :] Yeah… I knew the headline would bring up some resistance in people and be a bit shocking, but that’s what headlines are for in my opinion! Haha.

      I love how you say “my best connections have always been when I was in complete acceptance of myself and the situation.” It’s weird how that happens, right? No matter who a person is, my conclusion is that there’s just nothing more lovable than whoever that person really IS!

      • A great headline indeed!

        Reading this post got me thinking to Bruce Lee’s quote not to try to emulate a successful personality, but to find your own.

        Thanks for the post!

  • I absolutely, positively, most definitely ADORE this post :) <3

    • Thanks A-Brill, and I adore YOU!

  • Madison Sonnier

    You’re my favorite. <3

  • Kathleen

    This post is everything I’ve ever wanted to say but in a much more articulate way. I’m so happy someone else has had these same questions and came to the same result. Be you- there is only one!

    • There is only one… be it! I’m glad you’ve experienced this too, Kathleen :)

  • “Own that.” I like that thought a lot. When I was in my
    mid-twenties I was all about moving up through the ranks professionally,
    socially and politically. I thought I had a clear understanding of who I was
    and what my “goals” in life were but when things didn’t work out as planned and
    all the “friends” and “success” faded I was really nothing but a shell. I was defined
    by the roles I played and molded myself to satisfy the people around me. It
    took me a while to stop acting like the “norm” wanted me to and be strong
    enough to lead myself to success and happiness rather than relying on the
    approval of others to be fulfilled. I’m turning 32 next Monday, ancient – I know,
    and although I’m not where I thought I was going to be at when I was 26 I’m
    sure as hell happier and more confident in the real me then I was back then and
    know that my 30’s will kick the crap out of my 20’s because I own my journey
    rather than being owned by others expectations. If you don’t understand/accept
    all your faults and strengths and then maximize those traits you just end up
    becoming a caricature of yourself defined by external forces. I call
    shenanigans on the BS.

    • I freakin love this, Adam! Congrats on becoming yourself… it’s the BEST and the hardest (and yet the easiest) journey you can ever take, and I’m right there on it with ya!

      Keep owning it!

  • Jeremy or IHeartTravel

    Very important subject matter on my behalf, being content with oneself, this line sums it up perfectly..

    “Let yourself show up as who you already are”

    No added frills, just you in your best self!

  • Awesome perspective, Therese. I love how you used the Michelangelo metaphor — brillz!

  • A mentor once gave me this advice — we are told in school that if we are really bad at something, like have bad handwriting, that we should practice what we’re bad at to get better. But in the real world, it’s smarter to practice what we’re good at (like kicking ass) and hire someone to do the things that we’re not so good at (outsource).

    His advice is very similar to this one. Great post, T.

    • Thanks Laura. YES, we ARE good at kicking ass, aren’t we? ;-)

  • Iris

    So true. I realize I have yet to embrace my introverted site. Thanks so much for the wise words!

    • Iris,
      You might read the book, “Quiet.” It’s an eye-opener :-)

  • you had me at “there’s nothing worse than self-improvement.” the very concept makes me want to gag anymore!

  • joshlipo

    “Instead of striving to become someone you aren’t, allow yourself to melt into your core.”

    I wrote this in my quotebook, Therese. I rarely do that with blog posts.

    • Highest honors… thanks Josh!

  • Anna

    Love love LOVE this! The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to show up as ourselves. That’s really all anyone wants for us- not a fake version of what we think we “should” be. I’m learning this lesson slowly… peeling back layers of years trying to be the “loud entertaining center of attention” and feeling badly about myself when I couldn’t pull it off.. because it just wasn’t me. I’ve spent years trying to “fix” myself to become something I am not… and I’m over it. You’re 100% on the money when you said it’s not about becoming better but becoming more of ourselves. The world could use a whole lot more of that! Thanks so much for posting this, Therese :-)

    • Yes Anna, the world COULD use a whole lot more of that! And yes, the only thing the RIGHT people want is for us to show up as ourselves.

  • cj renzi

    It can be painful for one, and for some around them, to peel away the layers. The expectations of others grow as we add layer upon layer to please and pacify. Then, when we begin to strip away the illusions, they wig out. Still, it is best to show up as you, even if that means ruffling a few feathers. Hell, some are delighted when you reveal yourself and will celebrate with you, so, I say, go ahead and laugh with the sinners. It’s so much more fun! Such a shame though, that as children, so many of us are taught the very opposite by every adult we know.

    • Absolutely– it can be tough to show up as ourselves if others are used to (and expecting of, and approving of) who we are not.

      I think that’s actually why we allow ourselves to become “someone else” in the first place– because we want (need) love and approval, and we learn that in order to be “loved” by others, we must live up to their expectations. It’s an alienating feeling to be “loved” for who we are not.

      But YES, the thrill comes in realizing that some (the “right” people) are delighted when you reveal your true self! :-]

      • cj renzi

        Thanks for the feedback Therese!

  • I have a question Therese :).

    How do we learn to embrace ourselves?

    I would dare to say it is through the process of self improvement that allows us to better get to know ourselves. I believe to get more comfortable with who I am and what I stand for I must strive for growth. Growth to me, is getting closer to who I truly am.

    I think the danger lies in when we identify “self improvement” as becoming someone we are not. I think there is also an art in enjoying the journey rather than being focused on the outcome itself.

    It is a very hard balance. I tend to be a very goal oriented person. I have to remind myself everyday to slow down and enjoy the ride.

    It’s kind of complex, yeah? On one end I have to accept who I am yet on the other end I have to strive to become a better me – hence implying I’m not totally satisfied with me.

    What are your thoughts?

    • Very much agreed. Getting comfortable with who you are and what you stand for involves striving for growth, and this is getting closer to who you truly are. I absolutely agree with this. It’s all a matter of wording– when looked at this way, self-improvement is positive and empowering.

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  • Love the “self-embracement” concept. My therapist actually refers to it as “radical acceptance” – radically accepting yourself (and your reality) instead of fighting against it/suffering and, in this process, arriving at a place of becoming bigger and better because you are more YOU (which I believe is what you’re getting at in this post.) Bravo!

    • Yes, that’s right on, Rachael!

  • Gaye

    “Self embracement.” What a great term. I’m going to use that one conversationally. :)(Oh, and also wanted to let you know I have passed your blog along to my young adult kids and their friends.)

    • Thank you, Gaye… so appreciated! xoxo

  • ImLostToo

    THANK YOU. Exactly where I’m in at life. I’ve been trying to “improve” myself. I have always been quiet, shy, introverted etc… and I’m trying to find a way to be comfortable and accepting about it.

  • Chinna

    I like your writing. I’m like in a phase which you described in your other blog no clarity on what to do and if at all there is anything I can do, where to start. Its been more than 1 and half year jobless and the worst part is I quit my job.. it was well paid but I was not happy went into depression well some other reasons tooo I don’t want to go back to that job. But don’t know where to start a new one. I don’t have any friends. Like it is all crashing down. But something in me always says I’m capable of greater things.. I killed that sound for few years and tried to be a person who I’m not but others expected.. here I’m not happy and not a soul who can understand me. Reading your blogs are like seeing my reflections. But I must admit I don’t have a beautiful sight as you do to look at things.

    I just want to say thanks… hopefully I’ll be myself too once again..

  • Gabriel

    This is an atomic bomb.
    The will to be someone, even just a better ourselves, is the illusion of transformation.
    I LOVE the term Self-embracement…it express the most difficult thing to do, that is also the only one in which we can truly excel: being ourselves!
    maybe stopping to try to be somebody, and…being nobody, even forgetting our “being ourselves” is a good path, if it make sense.
    You are a treasure!
    I send you all the possible love!

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