What If We Self-Improved for Others?
Self-improvement is centered around the self. It’s in the word. How can I run faster? How can I make more money? How can I look more attractive?
These questions can quickly become all-consuming. We might miss asking a more important one for each change: What is it for? Why am I doing this? Will it really make me better? Or just different? Is this an act of generosity or one of compensation?
Sometimes, it’s absolutely right to prioritize yourself. Losing 20 lbs is generous when you’re overweight. Your heart will thank you, but so will everyone else. You’ll be nicer around them. You’ll feel better in your skin.
But do you really need 8% body fat? Do you really need perfect abs? Or are you overshooting? Did you cross the finish line and forgot to stop running? Where is your gift now? How does it contribute to those around you?
The price of self-improvement is isolation. Constant observations lead to a comparison spiral, you-vs-them judgements accumulate, and, soon, you realize: You’re the best, but you’re alone. External rewards are hard to enjoy without sharing. If you can’t buy your parents a house, what good are $5 million? If no one gently touches your abs, who did you get them for?
Self-improvement is best when it’s done for unselfish reasons. It’s okay to take care of yourself first, but, once you have your foundation, stop compensating. Stop acting out of scarcity. Turn your generosity on others.
Your boyfriend makes you want to stop smoking. You want to provide for your family. To inspire others by pursuing your artistic calling. Suddenly, reading about habits is an act of kindness. The job is infused with meaning. The work matters because it’s bigger than yourself.
Humans are a connected species, online and off. We can’t draw joy from numbers in a bank account. Satisfaction, maybe. But not contentment.
Fixing what’s broken won’t make you happy — just less sad. Happiness is created with others. Only when you share it does it multiply. It defies the laws of math. You can’t measure connection, but you can make it. That’s why it feels better to get a pat on the back than a million-dollar check.
Are you changing just to change, or is your change an act of service? Are you extending a courtesy by stretching a little more than you’re used to? Or repairing a flaw that’s not there?
The world feels egocentric from our narrow point of view, but it has been turning for a long time, and it will never make a single rotation around us.
The best we can hope for is that our stories will resonate, that our actions will be useful, that the sparks we create will ripple forever into the universe. Don’t waste those sparks on achievements you won’t celebrate. Don’t climb the wrong mountain.
Remember to ask: What is it for? Connect ‘self’ less with improvement. How about ‘selfless’ improvement? Make yourself better to better help others.
Never stop changing, except to ask if your change will be generous. Whenever you know it will be, go all the way and don’t look back.