Is trying to be the best version of yourself actually a really bad idea?

This weekend, I’d like you to try something: get your kids (or borrow one if you don’t have your own) and get a big sheet of paper (don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to craft!) No, what I’d like you to do is ask this child to list all the things they wish they could do.

Maybe they want to ride a bike without wheels? Maybe they’ve got a friend who is an ACE drawer and they want to draw that well too. Maybe they just really, really want to be a ninja-firefighter-spy who kills ALL THE BADDIES (I mean, who wouldn’t?!)

Write it all down.

Then tell them that they are a bit crap for not already knowing how to do these things. You want them to feel inadequate and uncomfortable, to have the sense that they really SHOULD have figured those things out by now. Once they are suitably anxious, start to encourage them that if they can learn to do, and be, all these things then everything will be OK – they will be happier, have more fun, and PEOPLE WILL LIKE THEM MORE.

Sound good?

H.E.L.L. N.O.

That would be a horrible thing to do to a child.

And yet, this is exactly what we do to ourselves constantly.

Oh, look at that beautiful kitchen on Pinterest, I wish I knew how to decorate like that. Think of all the dinner parties we could have, and how much all the kinder mums would love to come to our place… if only my kitchen looked like that. Oh, just think of all the things I could cook, and all the baking I could do. My life would be so much easier (ie. better) if only I had that kitchen.”

Oh, look at that woman and her amazing wardrobe. If only I could afford to buy all those things. If only I could loose a few kg, then I’d look as amazing as her. If only, if only, if only…”

Oh, if only I was a better mother. More patient and calm, my kids would be happier, and our house would be a haven and… if only.

We couch this desire for self-improvement in terms of virtuous notions – a better mother, a better friend, a better business-woman, a better lover, a better home. We use language that makes us feel like it’s a very reasonable and sensible and gosh, even maybe a little bit wise, all this striving.

But I’m calling bullshit.

Because all the pursuit of betterness actually does is feed discontent. When we relentlessly pursue self-improvement, we just see everything that we think we are not. We see the things we don’t have, the things we aren’t and perhaps can’t, be. We think that the key to life is in the “if only’s…” and we unconsciously decide that our life is just…not.

And to that, I also say H.E.L.L. N.O.

A discontented life is the worst kind of life. You will never be enough. The pursuit of more, even ‘virtuous more’ can never truly be satiated. No matter how much we “improve”, if we keep striving we will never reach a point of happiness – there will always be “work” left undone.

How to be a better mother

Our wonky bits are human. But we are afraid of them. We are afraid that our imperfections will cause us to be judged, and judged wanting; when the exact opposite is true; our imperfections are what bring us together.

They are what enable us connect with each other beyond the superficial. They teach us empathy and patience. They teach us to be kind and understanding. When we deny and hate these parts of ourselves, then we give ourselves over to fear.

Brene Brown Quote Vulnerability Connection

But what would happen if we stopped trying to be better? Would that make us worse, somehow? Would that turn us in slovenly, selfish people? Or would we just do things that make us happy, things that we enjoy, that bring some brightness into the world?

What if we stopped striving, and tried accepting instead? Accepting our own flaws, and the flaws of those around us.

Choosing contentment doesn’t mean never striving for anything in your life, it means turning your focus away from what you think will bring you joy, happiness, or some other positive feeling and appreciating your life as it is. It means bravely owning your flaws, accepting your limitations and believing that you still have something to offer.

Don’t live a life striving to be better, live a brave life instead.

Some things to remember, in the pursuit of happiness…

1. Social media is 1mm deep.
What you see on social media is what people want you to see, nothing more and nothing less. No matter how authentically someone shares their life, they are the curator of it.

2. The practice of gratitude is transformational. If you find yourself fixated on self-improvement try keeping a gratitude journal. Having done this as a family I’ve learnt the gratitude is actually hard for adults – kids have an ice cream and feel grateful, we eat an ice cream and feel guilty. We need to look closely at our lives and find the small, ordinary moments for which our lives are so much richer – and be grateful for them.

3. Know that the desire for betterness will come again. After all, if we’re not striving to improve, well, that’s something we should really work on – don’t you think? Watch out for it’s subtle call and when it comes, don’t give fear the power to determine how you live.

22 Replies to “Is trying to be the best version of yourself actually a really bad idea?”

  1. Loved reading this! All things that have been sloshing around my Brain lately. The rush to compete and compare is tearing us down instead of raising us up. There is so much to feel guilty and inadequate about if we let ourselves go there.

    1. says: Reply

      Thankyou Bron! My first commenter ever, how exciting!!! Ok, excitement aside – you are so right. All these things that are supposed to improve us, end up having the opposite effect. We have to consciously choose not to buy into it otherwise we will just be consumed by it. xx

  2. Loved this. So true! Putting the whole negative talk into the perspective of a child is very eye opening…god, imagining doing that to a child – it would be so crushing…but yes we do that all the time to ourselves! A great friend of mine calls the whole “pursuit of a life that will never really exist” the “Hyper striving state”…the one where we are never content, the one where we miss the present moment…I’m totally guilty of that – so thanks for the reminder to STOP. You know what, I AM going to find that big piece of paper and draw out the “what I wish I could do” things for REAL for myself! (no kid involved). Great article! x

  3. Wonderful article! The example at the beginning was a proper knock out punch!

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks so much Jo 🙂

  4. Awesome sauce! You’ve nailed it. Not only is it your first post, but it’s also fabulous!

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks Sammie, you’re so kind! x

  5. Your comment about the icrecream really hits the nail on the head doesn’t it!? The last few years I made the decision to be content with my life and you’re right, it doesn’t mean I don’t have goals, it just means that I am actually really happy where I am right now! Great article!

  6. Really enjoyed reading this – keep them coming!

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement Sophie!

  7. Liz Burrage says: Reply

    Great stuff and so true! Loved your opening – it really hooked me. Keep on writing!

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks Liz!

  8. It’s so great to see you here! Love the look of your blog and images GF!

    It’s a tricky one for me – I like the idea of fulfilling my potential and making the most of the opportunities I’m given or I’ve created but at times I need to take a step back and release the pressure a bit. I think that provided you leave plenty of room for grace, rest and inevitable mistakes, it’s OK. It’s when we place relentless, unbearable pressure on ourselves and others that we run in to trouble.

    As for comparison-itis, if we’re actually striving to be the best version of ourselves, then it really has nothing to do with anyone else. If you’re comparing, are you really striving?

    1. says: Reply

      Hey V! Thanks for saying hello, yay! Love your point about grace, rest and mistakes. Yes!

      I’m also totally ok with trying to change aspects of my life that I recognise as being sub-par (like trying to yell less, which actually came from changing some things – like slowing down, ha!)

      What I was trying to say and perhaps didn’t quite manage to, is that the desire for self improvement can often come from the wrong place. In an age of Pintrest, social media and aspirational messaging (however subtle) at every place we turn, we can become discontent and quite down on ourselves because our lives aren’t Pintrest-worthy. We can also get caught up in what other people think or moreover what we think other people think. This kind of discontent (and fear) is dangerous, because its not based in reality and is a desire that can never be satisfied. What I tried to say at the end is by all means, pursue new things and strive for things that matter to you but do them for the right reasons.

      I think that all of us using social media can start shifting this aspirational culture by thinking about what we put out there… but this is something I’m still contemplating. You may have some ideas about this already!

  9. Such a great post that I can really relate to!

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks Sarah, I’m so glad to hear it resonated with you. xx

  10. This is amazing! I loved reading this!

  11. […] strongly believe that we need less judgement and more community in the world. Judgement makes us keep people at arms length, it impedes trust, keeping us wary, always wondering what our “friends” are really […]

  12. This resonated with me and reminds me of where I was a few years ago with the constant striving for betterness. My husband and I were always looking forward to the next thing and living life in limbo waiting to hit the next goal before we could be happy. “When we get there this will happen and all will be well.” Then when we got there we never stopped long enough to enjoy what we had worked for. We just kept wanting more like life was some perpetual ladder where we could only ever see the rung above us but when we got there the next rung was our only focus.
    We realised how unhappy we always were and stopped living that way.
    We now enjoy the rung we are on and appreciate all the rungs that have got us here.
    We can see other rungs and even other ladders and are making steps to get to where we want to be as we outgrow this rung, but there’s no hurry. It’s quite comfy. We are enjoying who we are and where we are. Even if the kitchen is a bit shit.

    1. says: Reply

      I absolutely LOVE this analogy – it totally nails it! SO glad you are enjoying your rung, my kitchen is a bit shit too – but I’m happy xx

  13. Great post and analogy at the start! I probably agree though a bit with Vanessa, in that I think a lot of the problem is putting your worth in what you do rather than who you are. Striving is good as long as it’s not your benchmark for self worth or comparison. Because the alternative – cruising – is not great either (as I’m been discovering for the couple of years). We are all worthy enough now – and wouldn’t it be great to keep challenging ourselves for the joy of discovery and learning and growing and sharing – rather than due to the fear of keeping up (or giving up for the fear of failing?) (note – this comment is probably for me – more than anyone 😜 )

    1. says: Reply

      Thanks Helen! I think you’re right, this cuts both ways. I found it so interesting to hear men speak about it because they don’t tend to be part of this conversation so we can forget that they have an experience we need to hear about. I think you also make a very insightful comment there about what motivates us – I’ve learnt that it’s possible, it just takes a long time to retrain our thinking. xx

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