No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance. – Robert Holden
I’ve been addicted to self-help books for most of my life.
In fact, I remember scouring my high school library for books with titles like The Compleat Young Woman–an actual book, by the way, and one that triggered paroxysms of agony in me over the apparently misspelled word in the title. But if it promised me that I could improve myself, and gave me a list of things I should or should not be and things I should or should not do, I borrowed it, I slipped it shamefacedly into my bag, and I practically memorized it in the privacy of my bedroom.
I suppose you could say I grew up around an idea that I wasn’t good enough, just as I was. I was always being told, one way or another, that I should “improve” or “better” myself, because I just wasn’t…good enough. I didn’t study well enough. I didn’t take care of my looks well enough. I wasn’t well-behaved enough. I wasn’t mature enough (whatever the hell that meant at age fifteen). When the actual people in my life told me those things, they felt like criticism, and they hurt. Bad. But when books told me those things, it felt as if a bunch of well-meaning friends and counselors were on my side. Books were my friends; people were my critics.
And yet, somehow, all throughout my teenage years and my early twenties, I never came upon a book–much less a person–who told me I was okay just as I was. That I didn’t have to change anything to be loved or accepted. I kept running into “you’re great, but…” statements, never into “you’re great, period.”
Learning this–that self-acceptance is the foundation of self-improvement, and that in fact self-acceptance already is self-improvement–has been nothing less than revolutionary for me. And maybe, it was right that I learned this in my mid-thirties.
Now, I’m ready for this truth. Now, I can accept it, just as I can begin accepting myself.