Why should you stop obsessing over self-improvement?

The rosy promises

I’m a millennial, a term used by some as a derogatory one these days. The media blames us for being irresponsible, uncommitted, and almost good for nothing. It’s an image that has been perpetuated for so long now.

At the same time, we’re told that nothing is impossible and that socioeconomic mobility isn’t an imaginary ideal. We’re promised that the lands of our wildest dreams lie behind the doors of our hard work.

So how did I use to pursue my wildest dreams? Certainly not through a lack of commitment or responsibility. I used to wake up at 4 am to rush to converse with a French tutor from Paris. I, then, rushed to the yoga studio, before I rushed to go to work before I rushed to a continuing education class in the evening. Of course, I was listening to a podcast or an audiobook (at double speed) while I’m driving between these activities. I wouldn’t want to waste a minute, would I?

The realization

It took me a while to realize why I’m doing what I’m doing. My answer was -without a doubt: I want to be successful and I want to understand the world. I bought into the myth that increased productivity and harder work was the way to get there. I realize now that these are lies I was telling myself.

I was doing all that to prove to myself that my life is worth something and to be more successful in the eyes of society. I wasn’t satisfied with who I am — I always needed to be pursuing improving. I realized that I’m pursuing an illusion rather than a rosy dream, I realized that self-improvement is a master that is almost impossible to please.

Reading made it worse

One of my favorite methods of self-improvement was reading. Although reading books and taking classes opens our eyes to many ways of life, they rarely change us. The change, if it exists, is mediocre and short-lived.

Books provide us with subtle nudges and introduce us to new ideas that we rarely acted upon. We also selectively read books and listen to podcasts to confirm our own beliefs and theories.

Books and podcasts heightened my ego which is precisely the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing. The more knowledge I accumulated, the more dismissive I became to contradictory opinions.

Books, also, gave me a constant reason to wait and not act upon what I already know. They impaired my decision-making because “I didn’t have enough information.” For many years, I’ve been putting off working on side projects because “I’m not good enough and I need to learn more.”

Books fueled my desire to read more and improve more — without actually helping me improve. In hindsight, I consumed them to adhere to the self-improvement cult. I was conforming to the zeitgeist.

But, aren’t we here for constant improvement?

I’m a firm believer in humans’ capacity to improve and better themselves. Although, I believe now that a strategic, lazy approach might prove to be better in most cases.

When you notice something you want to change in yourself or a missing skill that’s hampering your career advancement, by all means, act upon it and learn it well. Trigger a self-improvement process when you need one. Be proactive only when it matters.

Stop obsessing over self-development and feedback loops. Live a slow-paced life, wander, and enjoy every moment. Don’t stock yourself with information that you could find online.

Now, the next time you’re trying to improve something, take a minute to ask yourself why am I improving this again?

Software Engineer @Microsoft

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