This essay is part of the monthly Collective Culture column.
By Keosha Love
Edited by Bobbi Adair
I know what you’re thinking, how does one obsess over self-development? Everyone should be striving to do better, otherwise we fall into complacency.
Self-development has become a huge online frenzy and even I have fallen into the traps of self-development and self-help memes that have taken over Instagram in the last two years. The hashtags #selfdevelopment and #selfhelp have over 3 million tags online with users of all ages showcasing the highlights of their self-growth journeys. The good part of this phenomenon is that people are genuinely invested in improving their lives and receiving help, whether from a friend, mentor, therapist or themselves. The problem with obsessing over self-development is that it skews our sense of self-worth and prevents us from celebrating who we are presently. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about learning and growing (that’s a great thing), but obsessive self-improvement can create feelings of inadequacy, a lack of self-satisfaction and be detrimental to our well-being.
Evidently, self-development doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an everyday journey and it’s important to enjoy the process. A lesson I wish I had learned much earlier in my life is to stop convincing yourself that you are unworthy of enjoying things until you reach a certain stage of your life. Our self-worth is not dependent on our achievements and we don’t have to be overworked or polished into perfection to be deserving of good things. We all have desperately wanted to overachieve at something so we can prove others wrong or feel like we finally matter. But we do matter. Sometimes fixating on the idea of our own potential can make us become people we don’t actually want to be but people we think we ought to be. I think people want to be their best selves (including me) but our “best self” isn’t always our most glamorous self. Whenever we push ourselves to only represent our most successful stories, we rob ourselves of our honesty and authenticity.
There is a lot of pressure to grow at a very consistent and impressive speed but the truth is, our growth is not linear. It is messy, curved and full of uncertainty. Sometimes we will move backwards, sometimes we will feel stagnant. I’ve made so many mistakes (like, a lot) and I don’t regret them because if I didn’t, all of life’s teachings wouldn’t be as valuable. Growing at a forceful pace is exhausting and only sets us up for disappointment. It’s actually okay to not be ready for that next stage in your life. It’s okay to slowly drive to the destination and enjoy the ride there. Obsessing over getting there quickly will only prevent you from appreciating who and where you are right now. Something I am working towards everyday is taking my time and not being apologetic about how much time I need to take. Rushing our growth does not create much room for self-appreciation throughout all of our developmental stages and can cause burn-out. There is so much information online that we learn faster because of it, but we also aren’t fully digesting and understanding the information we see enough- which means we probably aren’t taking the time to truly understand ourselves either. We are constantly evolving and emerging into new parts of ourselves that deserve to be seen and recognized. If we don’t slow down, we will miss all our growth’s glory and beauty. Many of our wins can be found in our daily steps and not just in the milestones we photograph.
We’ve all heard the saying “good things take time” and as cliche as it sounds, nature is a great example of good things taking its time. You can’t bear the fruit of your labour without planting seeds to grow first. Crops can take seasons to become ripe before we can fully harvest them and caterpillars spend time in their cocoons before they grow their wings.
You simply cannot rush these processes and we should also treat our self-development as such. Life is not meant to be filled with constant movement. We are in such a rush to move forward that we forget how to live and embrace our sacred and present moments. Some things are meant to go slow and once we accept that, we can properly put rest, stillness and taking breaks into practice.
It’s easy to get lost in content consumption that is filled with capitalist mantras like “hustle harder” or self-help gurus that reinforce something is wrong with us but I promise there is more to life than always chasing self-improvement. When we dedicate our entire lives to constant self-work, we lose our essence of humanity, we miss out on real connections and sabotage other areas in our lives. We often forget to give ourselves credit for the simplest yet significant things that are already positively impacting our lives and aid our growth, like learning a new recipe and making dinner for ourselves, building new relationships or getting out of bed when it feels impossible. Self-development is a wonderful thing as long as you don’t get lost in it. I do want to see myself and others grow. I just don’t want to always be searching for something. Obsessing over my self-development won’t give me answers or suddenly make me whole. I already am whole. I have learned that having agency over my life looks like a balance of taking control and knowing when to surrender it. So, my only ask to whoever is reading this is: let go of the idea that you need to “fix” yourself when there is nothing to be fixed. Hold onto your self-worth and remember that constantly obsessing over becoming more of something – whether it’s more successful, more beautiful, more efficient, etc. will not make you happier, resting in the fact that who you are right now is enough, will.
Bio: Keosha is an artist, activist and educator who uses the intersection of art & wellness to liberate racialized communities, promote positive mental health and empower women. As a writer, Keosha is notable for promoting healing, self-actualization and social change in her work by exploring the diverse narratives and identities of Black and racialized people. Keosha is also an educator with a BA in Psychology and facilitates workshops on mental health, creative writing and social justice using an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed lens. Passionate about collective liberation and community work, in 2016 Keosha founded Our Women’s Voices, a non-for-profit based in Toronto focused on amplifying the voices of women and making social change through the arts, community organizing and education. Keosha is a storyteller and driven change-maker who has become a well-recognized voice that inspires others to use theirs.