There is so much talk in the self-help, psychology and spiritual field about being prefect the way you are and at the same time, so much talk about all the ways to improve yourself, that people are completely confused. They are confused about what is true. Are they perfect the way they are? Or do they need to change things about themselves and aim to become different or better? Today, I’m going to cut straight through that confusion for you.
The foundation of this philosophical issue lies in spiritual teachings that present a different philosophical conundrum… Attain what you Desire or Surrender to What Is. For thousands of years, there are teachers who teach that desire is the root of suffering. And that the way to become happy is to realize this and to remove yourself from the cycle of dissatisfaction and desire, so that you are in total surrender and nonresistance to what is. And there are teachers who teach that desire is the root of personal expansion. And that the way to become happy is to consciously use your desire to bring about what you want, knowing that what you want will always be evolving. Teachers who teach you to be in non-resistance to what is, often teach you that everything is perfect as it is, including you. On the other hand, teachers who teach you to use desire as a method of consciously creating personal and universal expansion, often teach that one of the main points of life is to evolve, and because this implies changing oneself and one’s life for the better, they end up teaching what many people would call self-improvement. If you want to learn all about this philosophical debate, you can watch my video titled: The Great Spiritual Conundrum (Attain What You Desire or Surrender to What Is).
But these philosophical concepts are then clouded by the fact that socialization makes all of us an enemy to ourselves to varying degrees. When we are children, we learn that parts of ourselves are not acceptable and must be denied, disowned and suppressed. This is a painful process. We were in pain about having to be different rather than being valued the way we are. And that leaves most of us at war with the parts of ourselves that we feel we must change or get rid of or improve, in order to have our needs met; most especially the needs that we have from others, like feeling loved.
At the same time, we feel desperate to have our needs met, such as to be loved, but the way we are, without having to change ourselves. Of course, when we say we want to be loved, what we actually mean is that we want to be valued, wanted and appreciated. This trauma that all of us experience to varying degrees, causes us to not be able to have a truly philosophical look at whether we are perfect the way we are or whether we need to commit to self-improvement in this life. It makes it so that we have personal agenda regarding what we want the answer to be. We have our own personal desire for what we want the answer to be, based on our own personal experience. If you suffered more because you fall more to the extreme end of never feeling valued, wanted and appreciated and because of it, have fallen into self-hate and therefore are coming at self-improvement from a place of self-rejection, teachings around the perfection of what is (including that you are perfect the way you are) will cause immense relief. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch three of my videos. The first titled: Want to Be Loved for Who You Are? The second titled: Why You Can’t feel Loved for Who You Are. And the third titled: The Value Realization (A Realization That Can Completely Change Your Life).
On the other hand, if you suffered more because no one around you changed and kept you stuck in the pain of dysfunctional patterns, where you felt powerless to bring about anything you want, teachings around using desire as a method of consciously creating personal and universal expansion, including changing yourself, will cause immense empowerment.
And it is here that I am going to tell you that you need to drop your search for what the answer to this objective conundrum is. In other words, drop thinking about whether it is “right” to try to improve yourself or whether you are perfect the way you are. That is just you trying to find out what is objectively right. Instead, you need to discover your motive for doing either. It is the intention behind doing either that is important. It is the motive behind doing either that will reveal whether practicing one or practicing the other is right for you in any given situation.
For example, if you are doing some self-improvement practice because you so hate and so reject a part of yourself, you will get nowhere with that practice and you will do more damage to yourself and to others. If you are doing some self- improvement practice because you are wanting to help a part of yourself, you will be benefitted by that practice and so will the people around you.
Or for example, if you are doing some practice that aligns with you embracing the way you are, because you are using it as a way to avoid your fear of taking a necessary action in your life, you are using that practice to feed your own shadow and enable your own dysfunction. It will be a detriment to you and to those around you. If you are using some practice that aligns with you embracing the way you are, because you want to end a war with a part of yourself and integrate it instead, then you are using that practice to establish a condition of true internal peace. It will be a benefit to you and to those around you.
Now, let’s pull this concept apart even further… What does it mean to be perfect? It means that you have all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics. It means you are as good as it is possible to be. It means that you are free from flaws, faults or defects. This implies an ended-ness. This implies that there is no change wanted or needed. See the relief there? It offers us a retirement from the life-long job of self-resistance.
When we hear the phrase “You are perfect the way you are”, we feel immediate relief. We like it because it feels good. We feel the immediate relief of not having to be in resistance to ourselves, along with the relief that maybe it is possible to be good and right and for someone to love us, without us having to put so much effort into changing ourselves. It is a kind of salve to the wound we all share.
Even when you hear someone say “We are all perfectly imperfect”. What this means is that we recognize the flaws, faults and defects and even with them, we are exactly as we should be, and therefore don’t need to change.”
So, if perfection implies no change is wanted or needed, I want you to answer the question, WHY are we so relieved when we hear that nothing has to change? What is it about change that has been or that is so painful to us? And is it all change that is painful to us? What change is and what change isn’t painful and WHY?
Let’s look at a universal truth. You are not a static creature. You are always changing. You were not caused pain because your body had to change from an infant body into a toddler body. Or because you changed from speaking one language to another. Or because you got better at playing the violin over time. Or because you went from being addicted to a drug, to being sober. When it comes to things like this, you don’t involve the question “Am I perfect the way I am, or do I need to commit to self-improvement?” That question only enters the picture when we are caused pain because of some change we feel we should or must make. And because of what we make it mean that we have to do so. We don’t really want to do it. We simply think it is the only way to get something else we want. In this time-space reality, there is always change, progress and expansion occurring. We could say there is always improvement being sought out and created. That can be done from a place of resistance to and rejection of what is. Or, it could very well not be. You can in fact appreciate what is and also create improvement. The two are not inherently juxtaposed concepts.
Improvement suggest that something has gotten or will get better. Better is a perspective dependent on comparison. How are you going to determine whether something is better or not? And who for? You see, you can always argue over the rightness or wrongness of the judgement that something is or isn’t better.
You can also argue that there are positives and negatives to anything, including the way you are vs. the way you might change yourself to be. And this really adds complexity to a comparison argument like what is better. Don’t shy away from really questioning whether something is or isn’t better and why or why not. This questioning will bring you closer to knowing whether it is right for you to change something about yourself. Or whether it is right for you to embrace yourself the way you are and not change it.
If you feel that you are truly satisfied with your life the way is, then you do not want or need improvement to yourself or to any external elements of your life. This is an ended-ness and would mean that there is no expansion that you can find through life anymore. If you have decided that the improvement would be embracing and appreciating yourself the way you are, without changing, ironically, that IS the expansion. That is the change. And that is the self-improvement.
Most people think that the concept of self-improvement and the concept of being perfect the way you are, is a contradiction because they think one is self-loving, and the other is not. In other words, one is rejecting of the way you are, and the other is approving of the way you are.
I’m going to say this, and I want you to sit with it because it is something that hardly anyone seems to understand… Self-development (i.e. changing yourself) does not have to come from a place of self-rejection. It might currently be coming from that place within you, but it doesn’t have to. It is an assumption people make that the recognition of something within yourself that you want to change, is inherently self-rejecting. And this assumption is not correct. You can in fact recognize something within yourself that you want to change and change it, in a way that is self-loving and self-supportive. There is a difference between change being motivated by you being FOR all parts of yourself and change being motivated by you being AGAINST a part of yourself.
In a given situation, it might be self-loving to do either. It might be loving to embrace yourself the way you are, therefore not changing the way you are. And it might be loving to change yourself to experience an improvement. It may even be self-loving to do a little of both.
Here is an example of what I mean. Simon grew up with his grandmother. She raised him to be super passive, nurturing and kind. To do this, she punished him for any and all of his aggressive tendencies, until he was effectively able to suppress them himself. The problem is, in this process she taught him to bury things like his assertion, his strength, his ability to say no and his inherently active nature. For Simon, the way he is, is harming his life experience. It’s keeping him apart from what he truly wants. The way he is, is causing him to end up in narcissistic-codependent relationships. It is causing him to do all kinds of things that pull him away from what he truly wants to be doing. It causes him to not be respected by anyone. And it’s making him depressed because he isn’t taking action to make things different. It doesn’t matter if objectively, everything is perfect the way it is, even in its imperfection. The self-loving thing for Simon to do, and the in-alignment thing for him to do, is to commit to self-improvement. Namely, to re-own his assertion, his strength, his ability to say no and his inherently active nature too. And this will change all kinds of things about him and also about his life.
But let’s look at something else, Simon has always been an obsessive person. When he finds something that he is interested in, he becomes consumed by it and all his attention goes to that thing. People are bothered by this behavior. They say he needs to be more balanced and are upset that they don’t get more of his attention when he is obsessed with something. Simon feels really ashamed of this part of himself, but can’t seem to stop. When he is brutally honest with himself, he doesn’t really want to change this about himself. He loves the feeling of being totally immersed in something that interests him. It is also something that has served him very well because he has a job that he loves that requires intense attention to detail, something that only an obsessive personality could pull off. He just doesn’t want it to come with the social consequences. Simon decides that he is sick of putting so much effort into trying to change this about himself, because he feels so much shame about it. He decides that the in-alignment thing for him to do is to fully own and embrace that he is this way, and that it isn’t going to change. To do this, Simon engages in practices that one could say are more aligned with “you’re perfect the way you are”. Things like finding approval for his obsessive character and deciding that the people he wants around him are those that appreciate his obsessive behavior and aren’t hurt by it. And finding proof that he was meant to be this way, because it is so much a part of his purpose etc.
Self-Improvement and embracing yourself as you are, is not a matter of either/or. You don’t need to be perfect to have irreplicable valuable. You don’t need to be perfect to own, accept and love yourself. You also don’t have to be perfect to be valued, wanted, appreciated, owned, accepted and loved by others. You don’t need to be on a self-improvement quest because you are not valuable or wanted or appreciated or owned or accepted or loved the way you are and thus, must become better, good enough or perfect, so that you are. If the question of whether you are good enough was removed from the question of: do I need to improve myself? Or am I perfect the way I am? What would be left then? What would be your motivation for changing yourself or for keeping yourself the way you are then?