Being Wary of Self improvement.

I've been doing a slow modest form of self improvement for a long while now, but looking on social media it seems to be a huge ever growing thing. This is something I want to talk about in this online commonplace book, so I'll start by offering my personal opinions and explain what I find disquieting about this.

There are all manner of people who will happily offer you advice, but as I've looked through these posts and tweets I have to admit it's been with a growing sense of unease. You see, this seems to be all about "perfecting" yourself or becoming your "best" or "ideal" self. Keep doing these things and you will become perfect.

Here we come to my first point of concern, perfection is subjective, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so is perfection. I will add that what's thought of as perfect will also change, either you or whoever you're following will likely alter their perception of perfect over time. Be careful of the ideals you choose to aim for, I personally don't follow fashionable politics in this and keep to the old basics.

So, my second point. As you start working towards what you (or another) sees as perfection in whatever area you're striving in, you'll doubtless improve. But as you set your sights ever higher, the lofty pinnacles of perfection require greater effort for less actual gain. I believe that the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to the quest for perfection in anything. Eventually the game isn't worth the candle, good enough will be fine.

My third is that you're probably working towards somebody else's idea of perfection. This journey you, I, and anyone else who's doing any kind of self improvement is on is a very personal one. You work to improve in various areas, and you live the journey. That journey is important and one of the reasons for the name of this site, a watercourse follows a long and meandering journey through the contours of the land before it reaches the sea. But if someone else is picking the roads then you're going to their agenda, not your own. So whose life are you leading, whose journey are you on? I'm going to expand on this by saying that by following where others lead, you will only ever tread the same paths and see the same things that they saw. Everything they do and are will set your limits too, all you'll be is a shadow of them. You'll never go your own way, find the odd beauty of the path less travelled. Speaking as a Steampunk, it has real high points if you're prepared for the odd looks and occasional slings and arrows.

My next concern is that it's all turning into something of a competition to reach a Nirvana of some kind. This isn't a competition or a speed trial, that kind of thinking defeats the point. The path of self improvement isn't about the end, it's about the journey and all the treasures are found along the way. Returning to the watercourse analogy, all the sights and sounds are along the banks as you meander through the countryside. And you will meander along the way, but no two people have quite the same watercourse, which makes competitiveness rather pointless.

Finally, I come to a pet peeve. I got tired of seeing quotes next to the picture of an actor who in all likelihood never uttered those words. The "Fuck it Bro" meme made me shake my head when I saw it. Whoever did that had grabbed a promo picture of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark and pasted the text on the left of the picture, except Stark is fictional and clearly never said any of that. So whoever it is behind these anonymous accounts on FaceTwitStagram isn't being open about their identity, and they're concocting images and mis-attributing quotes. As Mark Twain never said, "you can't trust everything you see on the Internet". To bring this to a close, I make the point that the whole self development industry (and it is one) has product to sell. Cue moody pictures, self promotion and you get the picture.

Is self improvement a noble goal? Absolutely it is. But seek the source; don't read Marcus Aurelius quotes, read Meditations. Don't read Lao Tzu quotes, read the Tao Te Ching. Do your own reading, do your own thinking, and to quote Shakespeare: "To thine own self be true".


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