Are You Still Working on Yourself?

Working on car

Jill came to our first coaching session saying that she’s been “working on herself” for twenty years but still feels she has more work to do.

Every time I hear that phrase, “working on myself,” I visualize a car with the hood up and someone bent over the engine with a wrench. Frankly, it makes me cringe.

Like many women I know, Jill’s taken workshops, trainings, and courses with top self-help experts–the best out there. Meditation, spiritual direction, success training, more productivity, self-compassion, better thinking, building confidence–she’s done them all.

She even saw a therapist to see if she was depressed. The therapist told her she wasn’t and sent her away.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“I just don’t ever feel good about myself,” she said. “I’m a phony and a quitter. I procrastinate. I don’t use the tools I learn. I keep trying, taking courses, listening to podcasts, but I think I’m just not good enough.”

“Jill, what if the real issue is your self-attack? You’re believing what you’re telling yourself–that something is wrong with you that needs work. What if you don’t need more confidence or self-compassion or productivity? What if the key to feeling good about yourself is accepting yourself right now, this minute, just exactly as you are?”

This is a novel concept for Jill and for many of the women I talk to. It’s as if there is a far-off destination, the land of “I’m fixed and don’t need to work on myself any more.” It’s always a faraway destination, miles from where they are.

But here’s the truth: We have good days and bad days, times we screw up and times we succeed. Sometimes we’re articulate and confident, sometimes we’re withdrawn and awkward. Sometimes we’re kind and sometimes we’re not, especially to ourselves.

In short, we’re human.

When we listen to the inner voice that attacks us, we forget our victories, our successes, and our kindnesses. We don’t remember our loving acts towards others and we can’t see the beauty that surrounds us.

The biggest problem Jill and many other bright, competent women share is believing the inner voice that tells them they’re not good enough exactly as they are

Consider these words from “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

We’re all magnificent and messy, fabulous and awkward, deeply spiritual and disappointingly profane. And we don’t have to crawl on bruised and bloodied knees across a desert, futilely trying to be so good.

So how about getting your nose out of the engine of your heart and soul and gently lowering the hood. Walk away from the idea that you need to be fixed, tinkered with, worked on.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Can you quiet and listen to its soft whispers?

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