I hate Bradford Pear trees. Hate them.
It’s not because they’re trees. Trees in general, I like. As a whole, nature is my friend.
My dislike of the poor Bradford Pear has to do with the human tinkering that brought it to so many suburban lawns in the mid 1990s. Dubbed the “perfect tree,” Bradford Pears were planted in droves throughout the Southeast, their human-influenced perfectly round shape rising like mushroom clouds above over-fertilized lawns.
And then spring came and the trees bloomed and we all learned in one horrifying moment that those beautiful white blossoms smell not like cherries but like feet. Stinky feet. Stinky, fungus-y, unwashed feet.
And then winter came and the ice storms and these perfect little trees proved utterly fragile, weakened by over-breeding, cracking like glass beneath wind and weather. Bradford Pear trees lay in tidy little ruins all over suburban lawns.
This is what happens to a living being that was just fine on its own before we showed up to improve it.
And so I come to my point: As I turn 39, I am officially declaring myself done with self-improvement. It has finally occurred to me that I am totally, utterly, completely whole and fine just as I am. And I need to stop tinkering with my self, or like the Bradford Pear, I might end up with blossoms that stink like feet.
What’s ironic is that for years, I’ve worked as a counselor and counselor educator. My whole business is built around helping people “improve” themselves. I have a gold mine of tips and tricks for changing thoughts, behaviors, and feelings at my beck and call, tiny adjustments meant to create better people. I have spent much of my life engaged in introspection and focused on “self-improvement”. I’ve bought books, sought counseling, gone on vision quests, all in the interest of improving myself, eliminating my flaws, and in the vain hope of finally, finally achieving perfection.
The idea of “improvement” is based on the notion that the status quo is unacceptable. Improvement implies some vague and external goal to be reached, a line to be crossed. Generally, when we strike out on a mission of self improvement, we have no true idea of what we want to become. We simply know we feel empty, confused, or unhappy, and we want to dash like mad from that condition to something better, less painful, less confusing.
When we decide to improve ourselves, we’re typically reacting to messages old and unconscious, messages from our childhood or adolescence informing us that we’re not “normal” or OK. The part of ourselves we try to wrestle into submission during bouts of self improvement doesn’t want to fit into a tidy mold of our imagining. Rather, as we struggle in the mud with whatever part of ourselves we find lacking, our true, wild, honest being sits off to the side with a small smile on her face, wondering what all the fuss is about, waiting for the fight to be over.
Self improvement is really saying, “Make me perfect so I can finally love myself and others will love me too.” It’s a crazy quest for wholeness from a fragmented world. It’s trying to have a logical conversation with the schizophrenic voices in our heads. The paradox is true love only comes with self-acceptance; thus we must learn to love ourselves, flaws and all, before transformation can ever begin.
The longer I do this work as a counselor, the more I firmly believe that the goal of counseling is not to change anyone, but to help each person see that she is, essentially, absolutely fine and whole and perfect just as she is. I think life genuinely begins to change for the better when we release the need to improve, and instead come to that grounded, quiet, sacred space where we can fully accept our authentic selves and in that stillness, allow it to speak.
Self improvement requires us to examine ourselves through the eyes of the world. Accepting our authenticity, in contrast, means seeing ourselves through the eyes of the compassionate divine, seeing our glorious, flawed beauty with all the love the universe holds for us, each one.
Understanding the true nature of wholeness floods into our awareness the minute, the very second, we choose to see ourselves through the eyes of that divine intelligence.
So today, I hope you’ll declare your own independence from self improvement. You are not a project. You are not a Bradford Pear tree. You are not broken. You are whole and complete and real and stunning and flawed and perfect.
You are not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.
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Today’s guest blogger is Heartspoken Connection Messenger, Cyndi Briggs, a talented young woman living and working in Winston-Salem and author of The Sophia Project. She has generously given me permission to share her posts when they seem especially appropriate for Heartspoken readers.
Please leave us a Comment below. What have you been thinking about yourself had to be fixed? Try telling yourself, just for a moment, to say to yourself, “I’m perfect just the way I am.” This post made me scramble to throw away some of those Self Help books I thought I ought to read. EHC