The ironic thing about self-improvement is that sometimes instead of going forward, you go backwards. My life took a turn over the last 24 months. I lost friendships, old perspectives, beliefs communities, made new friends, made new communities and adopted a different identity for myself. That’s not entirely a bad thing.
I’m getting older, I’m no longer the free-spirited 21-year-old rebel. I found myself measuring myself in ways that conventional culture measures you and I. My job, my career, how much money I have in the bank, how good my grades are, whether I’m going to settle down by a certain age and most recently, my life purpose.
If you’re Asian, Singaporean especially, you’re brought up in a manner to expect that life pans out a certain way and life that should play out like an equation.
You should are supposed to figure out this relationship thing by 25.
You should have a degree by 25.
You should be in a kick ass career job by 25.
For the majority of my teenage days, I’ve been known amongst my friends as the person to ‘not give a fuck’.Truth is, deep down, I did, I was just too afraid actually give a fuck. I was merely afraid of achieving, afraid of fulfilling my potential. Hence I went around telling everyone that I ‘didn’t give a fuck.’
I looked back at my life and I found myself beating myself up for adopting certain identities at different periods of time, due to environmental circumstances etc. I found myself telling myself I shouldn’t have been so rebellious during my Junior College days, along with a string of other regrets. I would have achieved so much more.
For years and years, I had feared failure as much as I had feared success. I merely cope by avoiding certain decisions.
The Achiever’s Syndrome
Hence, achieved I did. Start my own business, got good at marketing and competent socially and etc.
I chased the new, the sexy, the novel for the last half a decade. Perhaps it was these values that slowly failed through the years. Or maybe I was just overcompensating to cover up past failures. The pick up artist community, after all, motivated hundreds of men to swear off everything to become serial players at all cost.
I can now understand why some can never feel secure about their looks, wealth, popularity, intelligence no matter how much of those they accumulate.
Uncovering psychological denial is extremely painful. When you finally address those blindspots in your life, you’re left to question the years of past decisions with it. You’re left to question what if? You’re left to question: who is to blame? Your parents? Society? Upbringing?
I was dealing with loss, unbeknown to me.
I had to find a new sense of appreciation for the ordinary. Not the sexy or novel.
I’d rather hang out with someone who is struggling with his new startup as opposed to some fancy millionaire boasting about his wealth. I’d rather be out with a girl who makes me feel comfortable and at ease as opposed to someone who’s maybe intelligent but abstract and annoying.
In fact, I don’t enjoy being perceived as a ‘dating advice/self-improvement’ persona amongst the people I meet. I’m similar to you. I like the same things as you do and I fail at the same things as you do. When I’m out with friends, I don’t enjoy only talking about business or self-improvement, but also authentic conversations.
How to Let Go – Dealing with Grief and Loss
For all our heady talk about abstract concepts, you and I are psychological steamships. We’re like the Titanic when it comes to our emotions. Just like our physical habits, our psychological components of us are also made up of habits.
They take time to change.
The problem with the majority of self improvement advice is that it doesn’t address loss, grief and all that unsexy part of genuine introspection. The time that’s lost. People that you lose. Friendships, communities, identity and long-held beliefs.
One way that many of us cope with loss is to overcompensate and attempt to achieve our way through our insecurities.
Just a month ago, I found myself in a similar hamster wheel again. I went on three dates over three weeks with three different girls: obviously overcompensating.
- If you sacrifice emotional health just to meet some absurd metric that you or others set for you, you’re going to find yourself in an extremely miserable position.
- If you base your self esteem or self worth on how much you can achieve, you’re going to lead an extremely miserable life.
I figured that no matter how hard you tried, there are some things that you have to be more accepting of, instead of merely attempting to will power through them.
Our daily habits take months, or even years to change. You can’t brute a physical habit, just like you can’t brute an emotional habit. It doesn’t work and it’ll never work.
The problem with mainstream advice is that it doesn’t address trauma and loss. It also doesn’t address the fact that you can’t solve trauma and loss with more improvement. The more I find myself seeking ‘better’ relationships, the more I feel insecure about never ever finding ‘quality’ relationships.
You may attempt to become more popular, well-liked and to never feel alone again. Instead of having no friends, you now find yourself with a sea of strangers at a party faced that you can’t truly connect with. You’re left with a similar set of issues and you’re back to square one. That’s because you never addressed the issue of feeling comfortable from being different from others and your ability to be alone.
Internal growth is equally important as external growth. You can’t grow psychologically without a genuine form of acceptance. I mean the real kind of acceptance and not those kinds you see on self-help books by bullshit life coaches or cliche Instagram memes.
The pressure for change to balance out with a sense of acceptance.
That’s because with any genuine change in your life will follow a period of loss, a loss of friends, beliefs, communities and even perhaps even in yourself. You’ll need to grief and mourn that loss at some point. Or it’ll merely haunt you back some time down the road.