"5 tips for living your best life”, “lean in”, “self-improvement made easy”. The internet is full of tips, memes and headlines on being your best self - quite often aimed at women. But what if we don’t want to be on our A-game every day of the week? What if we are tired of putting 100% into everything, of striving, of feeling inadequate every time we see the latest 28-year-old entrepreneur profiled in HBR?
To counter this, there are plenty of other memes doing the rounds - “be yourself” “be who you are, not who the world wants you to be” - sometimes used at the same time as the ones above. Is the world telling us that it’s ok to be ourselves as long as we constantly strive for self-improvement?
I am a regular reader of business books, not all aimed at women, but primarily so. As an executive coach, my entire business is around helping both men and women improve their life at work, being more intentional about how they lead and live. But increasingly, as I get older, I feel a little world-weary about all the pressure to be the best I can be. Sometimes I just want to get my work done to a good enough standard and then collapse in front of Netflix. It’s not that I don’t aspire to be my best self, but if I’m honest, I can’t always be bothered. And if I did get to a higher level of success, I’d be worried that I wouldn’t have the energy to maintain it.
Recently I’ve been considering how to square my desire for success with my need not to be “on” constantly.
It starts with redefining success and how we measure our worth. Assessing ourselves against other people will never work, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog. Assessing ourselves against personal, carefully thought out goals is far more rewarding. To do this, we first need to create our own definitions of success. Every year I set both goals and intentions (for a helpful distinction between the two, take a look at this free workshop by Tide Riser’s founder Lara Holliday).
The important thing is to set the right goal for you - not what Instagram tells you should be the right goal for you. What target will make you feel better each day when you achieve it - for some, that may be just figuring out tweaks to our routine that means we’re not running late for school each morning. The point is that the benefits of achieving the goal need to be worth the effort to attain it.
I don’t want a 6 figure coaching business - I don’t want to work full time, and my ambitions go much broader than financial success. But that’s the point - they are my ambitions. I review them every few months. If I achieve them, then great! If not, then I don’t beat myself up about it. I’ll move them to next years list or edit them out if they don’t excite me anymore. Setting goals gives us a direction of travel - they help us move forward, even if it’s only slowly.
The other principle I hold to is that you don’t need to do everything. I recently read Tara Mohr’s “Playing Big”, an excellent book covering many topics, with thought-provoking questions and practical advice. When I finished, I just felt overwhelmed - boy, did I have a lot of work to do if I was going to play big every day. I would need to re-read it, take time on the journalling questions, and prepare to put all this great advice into practice. And then I had an epiphany - I do not have to do everything this book tells me to. Even if it’s sound advice, practical to implement, and it will help me move towards my goals. I just need to take the one or two chapters that would help me move forward the most.
To conclude, to engage with the world of self-improvement without self-destructing:
Work out your own definition of success and set goals or intentions around that.
Make incremental progress - go at your own pace. Every step is a step in the right direction.
Focus on one or two skills or behaviours that will make the most difference in achieving your goals. Forget everything else.
In my own life and career, I’m moving forward at my own pace. I know I have the resources to get there, and some days I’ll have the energy and inclination. But other days I don’t, and that’s fine. As long as I’m checking in with myself and asking if I’m happy enough with my situation (and the definition of happiness is a whole other can of worms), then I keep going, one step at a time.