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Dear Self-improver, Susan Wrote You a Letter

Dear Self-improver, Susan Wrote You a Letter

Dear self-improver,

You loathe the phrase “That’s just how I am”, coming from people who think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Because, in your opinion, you can: it’s possible to grow, heal, transform! From your point of view, change isn’t just useful and advantageous, it might be the whole reason of your existence.

The idea that you can stretch yourself as a person until you reach the highest places, is the core business of the industry of self-help books, personal coaches and workshop teachers. I, too, spent years stressing important quotes in books titled ‘The 10 ways to find happiness’ and ‘Zen in five steps’ and analyzing my awkward habits in diaries. Self-improvement is my middle name, but as I get older, it becomes clearer to me that it’s an illusion to leave all your ingrained reflexes behind you.

The thought of being able to outsmart your limiting patterns using the right strategies and tricks is exciting. You think you’ll be reinventing yourself for the rest of your life, but maybe you just keep fighting your demons – just in different ways. That’s the thought I ask you to consider, dear self-improver: even if we’re willing to learn, we can never really get rid of structural pitfalls and convictions. Probably, the best we can do is teach ourselves how to fight them the most efficiently every day.

I don’t want to downplay this fight. It’s useful, it can help you to improve your life, to make the difference between feeling good or worthless. But it’s not a finish line, you’ll always be travelling. If you developed a negative image of men when you were young, you will always need to correct yourself when you meet a new guy. You’ll always have to be alert and ask yourself: is my judgement just? Or is this an old mechanism I’m following?

It takes time and perseverance to keep making choices about what’s true, what’s useful to you and the world, what’s about love and what isn’t. You can’t throw away patterns you’ve adopted at a young age: They’ll always be there waiting for you when you’re going through a rough patch and feeling less energetic – they’ll invite you to get into your old groove. And it’s not a disaster if it happens. It doesn’t mean it was all for nothing, and you’ll have to start afresh. A setback is perfectly normal. Don’t judge yourself for it, don’t think of it as a weakness. It’s just how you’ve been programmed.

You see what went wrong and you’ll do better next time. That’s all you can do, dear self-improver, it’s good enough. Self-improvement doesn’t have to be self-torture. In your effort to become a better version of you, let go of the self-hatred and think of your endeavours with kindness and a realistic view. You’re doing your best. And that’s great.

With appreciation and respect for how you’re shaping yourself and your life,

Susan Smit

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