Friday, October 1, 2010

Already Perfect?: Self-Acceptance, Self-Improvement, and Smugness

You may already by reading what is one of the most successful self-improvement blogs out there, Zen Habits. If so, you saw his recent post "you're already perfect." I have been a long-time reader of his blog, but Leo Z's change in blog style had already left me feeling cold about his blog for quite awhile. This post only continued that uneasy feeling.

He's right that most of the people reading such blogs, like Zen Habits and Unclutterer or the other half dozen personal finance/organizing/life tips blogs I have on my RSS feed, are there because they have things about themselves and their lives they want to improve. I certainly do. That's why I started this blog--to help me keep on track, to give me a place to think out loud a bit, and to share my journey with other people even just a little.

Where I think the post goes wrong is not in telling us that we are already perfect, because I certainly approve of self-acceptance, high self esteem, etc. I'd be the first to admit that I tend to be hard on myself and to be very critical of both myself and others; this is one of the things I hope to work on during my self-improvement project.

I was taken aback by two points: one, he jokes about how if you can be content with yourself as you are"You can be smug about it, like me." I wish that was completely a joke, but it is that smugness which radiates from Leo's blog for the past year which has turned me off of what was once my favorite self-improvement blog. He used to have interesting posts with specific tips; then he suddenly changed, both the style of writing and then the style of the site. The writing is now as bland, formless, blank, and (yes) smug as the uncluttered style of the site. I hate to think that accepting yourself has to turn a person into a smug individual, happy in his own superiority and way of doing things. That is the last thing I want for myself.

The second point that bothered me about this post was that he then recounts various things we should be grateful for--our eyes, hands, etc. I completely agree with being grateful for what we have. I am thrilled that my ears allow me to hear music or the birds currently outside my window; I'm happy to be able to read books I care about and to be able to dance (maybe not well, but enthusiastically) whenever I want. However, Leo words it in a way which I am afraid indicates that those who don't have those gifts, those who are blind, or deaf, or unable to walk, or use a hand, etc. are automatically not able to be perfect and be grateful for it. Maybe this is another example of smugness, the nonacknowledgment of privilege for the writer, but it certainly increased my discomfort with the post.

As for my feelings, I do think that I need to work on self-acceptance, but I don't believe that I am perfect. Nobody is perfect. That doesn't mean I can't accept myself, flaws and all. And that self-acceptance doesn't mean that I can't work to improve myself, to work to make myself a better person even while being grateful for who I am and how much I have.

I'm grateful to Leo for writing the article, not because I liked it or agreed with it (it actually furthers my belief that I may soon want to remove him from my RSS feed for being no longer worth my time), but because it helped me think about these issues. It was the most engagement I've had with his writing in almost a year and it made me think about what I want out of the self-improvement blogs I am reading.

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