Since I have been around on the planet it seems like the main advice we are given about living a good life is to focus our attention on working on ourselves. We are told that trying to change others is a fruitless effort. We are better served by turning our attention to ourselves. We at least have some control over ourselves, so we should change what we can change and leave others alone. This appears to be sage advice.
From this basic idea, massive self-help and self-improvement industries have been born. We are given advice and support to change nearly everything about ourselves. We can change anything from our physical appearance to our intelligence to our emotional states. We are given self-improvement plans to make us more likable, more attractive, more powerful, more wealthy, more interesting, more skilled, etc. We can even work on changing our inner condition; to have more inner calm, less fear, a more positive attitude, a better character, less anger, better self-esteem, more inner peace, etc.
There was a point in my life I thought that it would be impossible to find enough time in the day to work on all the things that I needed to change about me, to become the me that I wanted to be. Or the me that I was being told would be better or bring better circumstances to my life. And, interestingly, much of this advice and many of these programs actually worked, at least to some degree. So why am I telling to quit? I am telling you to quit because there is something very unfortunate hidden in this quest to become a better you. The quest itself will cause you to suffer.
The problem with all quests in life is that they have no real end-point where success is finally reached and the quest is over. Whenever one thing is attained, then there is always another goal to be reached. And anything that is attained or achieved can never be sustained in time forever. It will always, eventually, be lost. Therefore, in this pursuit of self-improvement we find ourselves on an endless treadmill of seeking a better self and fearing the loss of any ground we have gained. And in this process, we suffer.
Why is this the case? Why is this pursuit of self-improvement a path to pain rather than the answer to a fulfilling life? There is a truth that remains hidden to us while we pursue this illusive ideal self. The self that you are attempting to change and improve can’t really be you. How could it be possible that something that can be changed be who you are? Yet, we mistake these transient properties for ourselves all the time. We get so focused on changing them and making them better, we don’t stop to even ask, ‘Who is it that wants this?’, ‘Who am I?’
The pursuit of making a better you is intended to obscure these questions. You may think you are pursuing the right changes because you are pursuing a positive attitude, an admirable character, a calm mind, or even inner peace. However, these are all conditions that are experienced and obey the laws of transience. They aren’t who you are. And their pursuit will obscure the question of, ‘Who am I?’
Often, we don’t even realize that our true motivation in the pursuit of changing ourselves is to run away from our true Self. It will only be when you stop pursuing an ideal ‘self’ that the Truth of YOU will find you.