It’s now been more than a year since I began my sabbatical. It’s has been a powerful learning experience. Some of the lessons are predictable; others have been surprising. One of the most fascinating lessons along the way has been this:
Realizing the difference between self-development versus self-torture.
The work I do is driven by a belief in the inherent goodness of humankind. I actually do believe that most people would prefer to do the right thing, act virtuously, and become a better person. It’s the reason I write this blog and probably the reason you read it. There is great joy and satisfaction that comes from self-improvement – feeling every day you are a little better person than you were the day before.
But there is a danger on this pathway that becomes present when we drive ourselves too hard or for the wrong reasons. Let’s explore each of these scenarios:
Danger number one becomes real when your goal turns into perfectionism.
It’s great to decide to get into shape and become healthy. But comparing the image you see in the mirror with Photo Shopped pictures of gorgeous, fitness magazine models on a heroin diet with eight-pack-abs will only leave you feeling less than.
We strive for the countenance of Bruce Lee, the enlightenment of the Buddha, the mercy of Jesus, or the patience of Gandhi. And while these are noble examples to endeavor, these people are dead and what we know of them now has been embellished by legend, lore and superstition. Comparing yourself to cultural institutions like them can only less you feeling inadequate. Use your personal heroes to inspire you, but the only person to compare yourself with is yourself.
Some of you reading the above are probably preparing to comment below that there is an exception because you believe one of them was a god. You certainly have every right to believe that, but if you want to approach this subject rationally, you must understand that there is really no rational evidence to support your beliefs, and this is no more illogical than the people who believed in Zeus, Neptune or Mercury.
Now if that belief brings you closer to a self-actualized human, then it serves you. Unfortunately for most people in the world today, the religious beliefs they were programmed with don’t take them closer to enlightenment, but instead prevent them from reaching it.
I hate to even bring this topic up here, because the fundamentalists in many religions will want to change the debate and convince me of the truth of their particular deity. That conversation now bores me, and takes us away from the real point here – whether these sky god myths from the Iron Age really bring humanity (and more specifically, YOU) closer to self-actualization.
The relevant issue here is that the ideal of perfectionism is unreachable, so when you use that as your goal, it allows the opportunity to beat yourself up, because you’re certain to fall short.
It’s when self-development turns into self-torture. It is hidden under the guise of self-improvement, but the usual result is endless self-castigation, self-flagellation and worthiness issues. (Christians will likely be quick to point out that their belief is that they are sorry sinners and forgiven for their sins due to the sacrifice of their savior. But that’s hard for me to reconcile with the endless stream of Christians who come to me with deeply engrained worthiness issues.)
If you set perfection as your goal, you are certain to come up short, and that leads to nervous breakdowns, insanity, or a chronic condition of low self-esteem. The end result is you strive for prosperity and success on a conscious level, but end up self-sabotaging yourself on the unconscious level.
So it is vital that you separate yourself from the beliefs you were programmed with – religious or secular – and question whether or not they really serve you. Attempting to become better every day builds character and takes you toward enlightenment. Striving for perfection makes you crazy, disappointed and let down.
Self-improvement is a wonderful thing. Every good habit you develop means one less bad habit you practice. The more knowledge you seek, the more wisdom you acquire. As long as you’re living in the moment and celebrating the journey, it is a path taking you where you want to go. It is only when you measure your progress against the final destination of perfection that it becomes a trip down frustration avenue.
Danger number two happens when you mistake self-image actualization with real self-actualization.
That is you are attempting to actualize a concept or image of who you desire to be, instead of actualizing yourself. One of the contributing factors that caused me to sell everything and begin this sabbatical, was the image the world seemed to want me to maintain. I’m the prosperity guy, so everyone wanted to talk about how many sports cars I had, my $50,000 watches, or the merits of Singapore Airlines suites versus flying private.
It’s understandable that people want to see a prosperity coach actually manifest prosperity and live vicariously through them. But I have no desire to be the Viper guy any longer, and just felt there was too much emphasis on superficiality and materialism. (And being honest here, I have to take responsibility for creating a lot of that.) I’m not interested in being what anyone wants me to be, other than myself.
Yes, when you manifest true prosperity, it does include money and material things, but it also includes much more than that. And when you’re seeking success and self-actualization, it’s important that it be on your terms, not any one else’s. If you are projecting yourself as something you’re not, it will only leave you with an unfilled void. There is no joy and fulfillment in living for an image.
You have to love yourself first. Only then can you fall in love with the rest of the world. And only then will the world fall in love with the real you.
There are too many people becoming doctors because their mother wanted them to, or becoming lawyers because that’s what their father is. It’s very easy to fall into a trap where you are trying to actualize an image of who you want to be, not the actual person you want to be. When you seek approval from others it’s very difficult to avoid this result. Trying to become the person your parents, spouse or boss wants you to be doesn’t often lead to happiness. (At least not for you. It may make them very happy.) This is another reason why the people you surround yourself with is so important.
Most of us surround ourselves with people who give us permission to stay where we are. That’s no good either. You want to surround yourself with people who challenge you and push you to greatness. But it’s important that these be people who want the highest good for you, and aren’t just pushing their agenda of who they want you to be. They need to be people who simply want to see you unfold into the most amazing person you are capable of. That’s what I want for you.
You up for that? Thoughts?
Randy Gage is the author of nine international bestsellers on success, including, Risky Is the New Safe. He’s currently on sabbatical, writing his next book, but posts occasionally here. If you find these postcards helpful, please share them.