The Dark Side of Self-Improvement

I’ve come to a crux in my life where I know things have to change. Slowly and steadily, I’m reaching my goals and taking steps towards my dreams, but I find myself short of where I want to be. Part of me sees my wheels are spinning, but I feel like I’m standing still. When am I going to get over the proverbial hill and reach the promised land? How long will it take for the self-improvement steps to add up to my larger goals? Why do I feel like a failure when I’m regularly checking off accomplishments? It’s because I stopped celebrating the small wins and let myself slip into an idealized version of what success is. And that’s how dreams die. Understanding the dark side of self-improvement makes the journey easier to understand.

Every journey is different

I’ve experienced, first-hand, the dark side of self-improvement. No matter how many books you read showing case studies, giving advice, or discussing other personal experiences, nothing will prepare you for your journey. Seeing how easily someone else was able to accomplish something can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. You’re not. Many times, we don’t see the clearest picture of what it took for others to get to where they are. We only see the results, and we want those same results. You’ve still got to work.

Everyone has their own individual battles to deal with along the path to success. And your journey isn’t any different. There’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be times you feel like you’re never going to reach your goals. Don’t give up. Keep pushing and keep celebrating the small wins.

Self-improvement takes time

Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.- John F Kennedy

We’ve been fooled into believing we can come up with an idea, implement it, and see immediate results. Whether it is in business, a personal development goal, or pretty much anything in life, that belief is a fairy tale. I won’t say it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t happen as often as we are made to believe it does. Every flash ad claiming you can accomplish such and such in a matter of weeks doesn’t take into account things worth achieving are harder than you expect.

My biggest struggles lately have come from forgetting how big my goals actually are and the work it’s going to take to achieve them. Reminding myself and genuinely acknowledging the work I need to do makes the blog posts that get minimal reads, the new articles with zero engagement, and the constant rejection from publishers easier to take. It isn’t time yet. I’ve got to keep honing my skills. I’ve got to keep working towards my goals, with my head up. My journey towards self-improvement will just have to take a little longer.

You definitely won’t succeed if you quit

No shit, right? It’s more than that, though. Changing course, coming back stronger with a different strategy, dropping ideas that don’t work — these are all these that may seem like quitting, but they’re not. These are how you can keep from burning yourself out. Understanding when what you’re doing isn’t the right thing is a pivotal key to success. Here’s an overused and appropriate quote:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

Being able to get over yourself, admit some failure, and improve your methods is how you grow. Giving up completely is how you remain stagnant. Feeling sorry for yourself is a quick way to discover reasons to quit. If you can’t stand to fail, you’re not going to try new things. You’re also not going to be able to look that failure in the mouth and say, “Fuck you, I can do better.” Look failure in the eye, own it, and do better.

Keep figuring it out

I’m not where I want to be in my writing, I’m not where I want to be with my physical fitness, and I’m not where I want to be in my other projects, but I’m not a failure. I look back at the years I coasted through life, without any real view of what I wanted, and I cringe. I cringe because of the time I wasted. From there to now, I’m miles ahead of where I was; and that’s something to celebrate.

We all want to reach the finish line, to hit all our targets, and achieved all our goals, but is there an end for people who crave growth? I don’t think so. For those who aim higher than the rest, there’s no such thing as a final finish line. With that in mind, make sure to celebrate the small wins. Take the time to pat yourself on the back when you take a step in the right direction because the larger majority are standing still. If your wheels are spinning, look for better ground. If you’re still working on your dreams, you’re not a failure, but you’re going to have to work hard and keep your head up if you genuinely want to succeed.

Previously published on

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Photo credit: By Ty Williams on Unsplash