Why we don’t need to be constantly improving ourselves

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

We’re nine days from Christmas, and I’m feeling pretty exhausted.

I don’t even celebrate Christmas. There’s no additional stress for me around expensive travel plans. Neither am I trying to buy well-thought out gifts for distant relatives I barely know. In that sense I’m quite blessed to have a calm Xmas time. But I feel tired all the same.

This year has felt more pressurised than previous years. It’s been noticeable how many people I know have been feeling the squeeze. The cut off point where projects came to a grinding halt is no longer the case with our hybrid world.

As for me, I usually write these articles about what I’ve been feeling over the week. The last month of articles have had an underlying theme of fatigue.

Usually, I would start feeling reminiscent about what I had achieved around this time of year. But right now, I honestly don’t really feel like it. It just doesn’t seem very fun to reflect right now. I’ve had an ample share of emotional intensity for the last few months, so adding more doesn’t feel like a fun thing to do.

I realise that I may be putting pressure on myself to be more self-reflective. After all, am I not that guy who likes to talk about how he feels? Usually reliving and analysing things is my happy place.

What I’ve realised is that the pressure to learn and grow can sometimes be quite suffocating. We can create a sense that we must always improve ourselves, to the point where we put ourselves on a self-improvement hamster wheel. I’ve definitely done this a lot this year without realising it.

The irony is how counterproductive this can be. One of the most important lessons for me has been around letting go of a situation without trying to be perfect. Yet without realising it, when faced with my imperfections, my response has been to go harder.

I’ve completed an astonishing number of books, courses and workshops this year. I’ve gotten loads from them, so I definitely don’t regret it. Yet there has come a point where they’ve become a distraction rather than an aide to my learning. Sometimes the solution is to sit still, rather than going on a course to learn how to sit still. I’ve learnt this the hard way – both through my reduced energy and reduced bank account.

After some rest, I probably will return to a more reflective state anyway. This is a temporary state of tiredness rather than a life-altering one. When I’m in a good space, learning is not something I have to force. So if it’s feeling like I am pushing myself to do so, it’s probably a sign that I’d be better off having a break.

I’ve felt similar with reading – I’ve gone from reading an incredible amount of books earlier in the year to basically stopping for the last two months. Whilst in the past I might feel guilty about this or question my ‘guru credentials’, now I’m far more relaxed. I have the experience to know my sense of wonder will return when I am ready to engage with it properly.

This is a kind reminder to yourself to let yourself live life fully. Learning is great. But living is greater. Only once you’re properly experiencing life, you can see what you want to learn or improve.

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