In the personal development universe of books and blogs, two overarching schools of thought bubble to the surface as the kingpins, yet they seem to be in direct contrast to one another.
On the one hand, you have “following your passion” and all of its variations. Acting on your true calling, the things that make you feel “expansive versus contracted” (as Marie Forleo puts it). Many experts say acting on your inner calling is the key to unlocking happiness. “If you’re truly passionate about what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” as they say.
On the other hand, you have gratitude. Acceptance. Some say the key to happiness and inner peace is accepting that what you already have and who you already are is good enough. Dr. Robert Holden says, “No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.” Being authentically happy starts with the realization that you are both the source and the cause of your well-being.
I believe in both of these ideas. But, doesn’t it seem as if they are in competition with one another? I feel pulled to be better, do better, create more things, make a positive dent on the universe, invest more in relationships, and learn more every day. But at the same time, if I meditate or do a gratitude exercise I’m reminded to be thankful for what I already have.
How do you navigate the drive to be better than you were yesterday with acceptance of things as they are?
Self-Acceptance is different from Self-Approval
It’s possible to accept your reality and completely let go of the desire to change your reality, while still not be in approval with yourself about your current trajectory.
Say you have an entry-level job at a company you like just fine, but aren’t head-over-heels in love with. After a few months or years in that role, you may start to yearn for something more or different.
You might start thinking things like:
- “Do I really need this job?”
- “I don’t believe in my company’s mission with my heart and soul.”
- “They should have promoted me instead of that other guy.”
- “I’m realizing I don’t want my boss’ job.”
These are normal thoughts. You aren’t alone in thinking them.
In the case of realizing you don’t want your boss’ job, you are feeling a lack of self-approval of your current trajectory; you don’t like the idea of where things are going if they play out as-is. This is a great motivator to work on improving this aspect of your life and find a different job and/or employer that better suits your future vision.
But that doesn’t preclude you from also feeling a sense of self-acceptance, focusing your energy on appreciating what you do have. This job you’ve come to not like so much, it’s served you well up until now, hasn’t it? You got your bills paid, forged new relationships, created some happy memories, and learned some things. At the very least, you learned about yourself and uncovered a path you now know you don’t need to go down ever again in your life.
There are always things to be grateful for.
You made your decisions along the way to the best of your ability with the information you had on-hand at the time. Accept yourself and be confident that your younger self was doing the best it knew how.
Come to Terms With Your Limitations
No one is great at everything; don’t try to be. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and some self-improvers get frustrated when they just don’t seem to be able to make progress on developing a skill.
For example, I am terrible at making any kind of hand-made art. You give me a blank piece of paper to draw something on, and all my brain sees is a blank piece of paper. When I do try to draw something, it looks like a third-grader put in about 40% effort. Now, I could take drawing classes, watch YouTube videos, and practice every day to try to improve this skill, but I have come to accept that this type of creation is just not how my brain and body are wired. It’s not for me. I’m not going to be that kind of artist. I am, however, pretty good with words, so I can work on honing that skill and express myself that way.
Let the improver in you play to your natural affinities.
Let the accepter in you be at peace with your weaknesses.
I’d like to say I’ve come to a conclusion on this topic, but it feels like I’m still writing this chapter in my own improvement/acceptance mental framework.
Suffice it to say… you can do both!
The drive to improve is a good instinct. Nurture it. Get after it. And accept that just because you aren’t where you want to be today, doesn’t mean you are in need of anything.
Have you ever struggled with the same mental tug-of-war these two forces play with each other? How else do you make peace with these ideas on your path to self-betterment? It would really help me out to know in the Comments, I could use the tip!