Hello Dear Ones,
At the beginning of every new year, I like to pick a word of intention to guide the 12 months ahead.In the past, I’ve chosen words like “love”, “community” and “celebration.” By focusing on the words, I hope to bring more of these qualities into my life.
However, what usually happens is that by mid-January I feel like I am failing pretty badly at living out that word. In 2015, I chose “celebration” as my yearly intention. And oh lady, how I struggled with celebration that year! I forgot people’s birthdays, whiffed on meaningful presents and underplayed my own milestones. At the end of the year, I decided that I was just inept at celebration.
But now, three years later, I examine my life and realize that isn’t true. I’m not bad at celebration. Over the past years, I’ve celebrated many things quite beautifully and somewhat effortlessly: Micah’s and my first family Christmas together (our extended family joyously crammed around our too-small kitchen table), buying our first house (eating melty ice cream cones after settlement), and our one year-old’s birthday (a proper luau, complete with handmade leis). Not only do I enjoy celebration, but I now think of it as an essential form of my self-care.
What I can see now is that at the beginning of the new year, I can’t automatically flip a switch and expect to see change. Rather, I must spend that year struggling through the hard parts of growth. I must see where I fall short of living up to my ideals and work patiently to grow in these areas. I must accept the parts of me that aren’t ready to change. I must ask for and receive support.
Showing up for my own development, even when I can't immediately see results, is quite unglamorous and very humbling. However, it really does work. Over time, I’ve changed a lot in my life, although both the process and the results are always more subtle, yet also more meaningful, than I could have previously imagined.
This yearly experience - and learning my own funny, yet effective process of personal growth - has further reinforced the danger of seeing my life through a lens of self-improvement. Self-improvement, while seeming beneficial, is the idea that I can use my own self-determination to make all the “bad” parts of myself go away. Self-improvement teaches that if I put my mind to it, I should be able to just fix myself. It urges that I can figure out a way to endlessly excel at life. And if I can’t seem to improve my life right away, it’s because something is wrong with me.
To me, self-improvement is just more perfectionism. Any mistakes (which are just part of being human, remember?), become proof that I must work even harder to shore up my vulnerabilities. Self-improvement and perfectionism leave me lonely, grasping and feeling like I’ll never catch up.
Let’s take it bigger.Perfectionism is grounded in oppressive, exclusionary thinking. This is the same thinking that, when expanded to a societal level, oppresses and exploits our most vulnerable communities. Poverty is seen as a personal weakness (they should just work harder, right?), and racism is brushed under the rug (because we should already be over that by now, right?). Because it’s based in delusion, perfectionism robs us of our authentic narrative and thus, any opportunity to mature as a compassionate society and world.
What I now realize is that if I’m still buying into the myth of self-improvement in my own life, and the dangerous perfectionism beneath it, then I am part of our societal problems instead of the solution. If I can’t honor the strength of my own vulnerability, I will see it as weakness in others. If I can’t let my own growth process be messy, then I will only criticize other’s attempts to create real change. If can’t care for the hurting parts of myself, then I will deny support for the parts of our society that are hurting.
We are connected, not only to each other, but from the inside our ourselves to the outside of our world. As the Buddhist phrase goes: How we do anything is how we do everything.True change does really start within, although it must be then carried out into a meaningful action.
Luckily, for all of us, self-care is different. Self-care is an a perspective and practice, that when carried out authentically, reminds me that I’m inherently whole and, and despite have many imperfections, very worthy of care. Self-care tells me that I am a work in progress and that personal growth, because of its inherently up and down nature, is going to be hard.
I've found that when practice authentic self-care, it naturally ripples out into meaningful change in our world.
So, in 2019, let’s not bring self-improvement thinking into our self-care. Let’s give ourselves space to mess up royally at whatever we resolve to do. Let’s make mistakes and backslide. Let’s remind each other that these ups and downs are 100% part of the growth process.
And then, let's take our self-care beyond the self as way to serve others.
Are you ready to let go of self-improvement? Is it time for you to practice more authentic self-care in this new year?
If so, I have a new self-care training for you!
This January 21-25, 2019, I’m offering a FREE training called Five Self-Care Shifts to Save Our World. Over five days, I’ll be sharing more of these simple, yet revolutionary personal shifts that will help you become part of the greater societal solution.
Each day, right in your inbox, I’ll send you a short, yet potent self-care message. These concepts, which have helped hundreds of my clients, have taken me years to learn. Understanding them will help you unlearn the self-improvement that doesn’t work while inspiring you to implement the authentic self-care that does.
This training will give you a gentle, yet effective push to uplevel your self-care while dedicating yourself to positive change in your life and beyond. It will connect you to others who are ready to embrace a much deeper definition of self-care. Making these changes won’t be easy (real growth never is, remember?), but it will work and it will make your 2019, and all the years that follow, so much richer as a result.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Click here to learn more and sign up. (And please share with others who might also be ready to make a self-care shift!)
Wishing you a week of abundant self-care (with little to no self-improvement)!
PS - Would you prefer to learn a few of these concepts in-person? If so, please join me in February for my Cozy Self-Care Weekend Retreat in West Virginiaor on Sunday, January 20th for my "Communicating Your Self-Care Needs" workshop at The Lemon Collective in Washington, DC.