Coming Home to Myself: #A-Z Challenge

“It is easier to try
to be better

than you are
than to be
who you are.”

Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body & Soul by Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick

Easier? I have spent a lifetime dreaming of and seeking transformation, immersing in the challenge of relentless growth. Perhaps you can relate? If so, you know that this constant striving is anything but easy.

But where I see my desire for self-improvement as positively heroic,  Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman views it as a damaging form of perfectionism. She urges us to stop.

“Do not try to transform yourself.
Move into yourself.
Move into your human unsuccess,
Perfection rapes the soul.”

Of course, we don’t stop seeking perfection just because someone tells us it’s awful. In part, that is because we live in a society where are a lot of people are invested in holding our feet to the fire, keeping us on the quest for self-improvement.

The Thriving Self-Help Industry

Marketdata Enterprises’ 2017 report shows that self-improvement products and services are a $9.9 billion business in the United States alone. By 2022, it is estimated that the market will be worth $13.2 billion.

Female baby boomers are the target market. Female millennials are gradually becoming more important. Men ignore most self-improvement efforts other than work-related productivity and goal-setting.

Loosening the Noose of Self-Improvement

My quest has changed recently. I suspect that it’s a natural evolution that comes with aging. Instead of wanting to be better than I am, I want to find out who I am. And I want to be content, even happy, with what I find.

I’m not alone. Geneen Roth, in her newly published book, This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide, refers to it as “dropping the Me project.”  A few years older than me, Roth has only recently been willing to “stop trying to fix what had never been broken.”

But, ironically, even this quest–to find one’s true self and be at home in one’s life–turns into a weird form of self-improvement. Roth exhorts us to buy her book before deadline so we can watch her ‘Women and Power’ video free of charge (a $97 value!) Or to attend her retreat where she will “teach us to experience joy.”

I think Marion Woodman is right. “It is easier to try to be better than you are, than to be who you are.”

What do you think?

 

 

 

59 comments

  1. I agree. Being who we are means we have to learn to accept a lot of flaws – and that goes against everything we’ve always been taught. Plus, it’s tough on the ego!

    Happy A-Z’ing!

    1. Hi Jz,
      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. You’re so right that being who we are means accepting warts and all. No wonder it takes a lifetime to get to this point, and that’s those of us who are even willing to try. Karen

  2. I’m with you Karen. Because of my INFJ nature, I am on a constant quest to figure myself out and to be “my best self” (courtesy of Oprah, a fellow INFJ). I suspect you might be one too – an INFJ, I mean. And it does seem a bit ridiculous to shell out a bunch of money to be taught how to get off the self-improvement treadmill. Sorry Geneen Roth – I do admire you, but…Yeah, isn’t it ironic? Thank you, Alanis. (See what I did there? Hehehe). I like being this age, and “coming home to myself”, at last. Thank you for this post.

    Deb

    1. Mornin’ Deb,
      I remember when I was younger and believed that logic was king, I wanted to be an INTJ so I took the test and made it so. I can get the answer I want on personality tests. On a high school career test, my fervent and idealistic nature somehow resulted in a career choice of ‘head nun’ – and this for a non-religious girl.
      But I digress. Yup, I’m an INFJ and am on a forever quest. I actually love questing and can’t imagine what I’d do if I had to give it up. But, but. I think the quest now has to be for the essential me, strengths and weaknesses, not the perfect me of some future, never-to-be-reached time. If making that decision only helps me close my ears to the siren call of all of the self-improvement gurus and saves me a truckload of money, that’s a very, very good thing.
      Have a great day, my friend.
      Karen

      1. Hehehe! One of my suggested INFJ career options was/is pastor, according to one book. (Ducks head to avoid incoming lightning bolts). Also because of being a possessor of a fervent and idealistic nature, no doubt!

      2. Well, there you have it, ladies …. it seems we are the Three Musketeers of INFJs 😏

        It really is a bit of an anchor …. the whole questing for transformation thing? Yup. I am intimately aware of that one.

        While the opening quote didn’t really talk to me, the line “Do not try to transform yourself.
        Move into yourself” did, and I must say it’s a whole lot easier now compared to when I was younger.
        Generally speaking, I think the working world struggles with INFJs and so we expend so much of our energy just trying to *fit in*. To me, it feels like we’re a little defective and we’re either trying to fix it, or camouflage it from being too obvious to everyone else.

        Letting go of that need to *fit in* was like releasing a huge burden for me.

        1. Ain’t retirement wonderful. Long ago I spent my time trying to change the working world. Now I’m just so happy to be questing to transform myself or, better, to uncover myself.

        2. Well, well, not surprised at this at all, Joanne.
          I wonder if there are not an inordinate number of INFJ bloggers out there. I found a link to a great article about “the rarest of all personality types” a few days ago and I will email you both about this. The title had me at “rare”. It sure beats what I used to call myself: “weirdo”. I used to struggle to fit in everywhere, not just at work. Thankfully, I got over that as an adult.

  3. Hi Karen
    I also like the initial quote. Being yourself is tougher than trying to get to be better. However, I am in a bit of a quandary. I was struck by Cristie Hawkes’ recent blog from So What? Now What? where she challenged us to define who we are once we strip ourselves of defining ourselves in terms of our careers or characteristics. At our core, who are we? So where to from here?

    1. Thomas Moore, author of Ageless Soul, would tell us that is the task of proper aging – to uncover our essential selves, the selves that have nothing to do with what we did or even who we think we are. The answers as to how to do that are neither quick nor easy, and some of it has to be discerned for ourselves over a long period of time.

      My posts for this challenge are forays into some of the where to from here – at least for me. The three posts so far are telling me that I want to make this journey of proper aging; that noticing and appreciating beauty in all things will help; that it’s okay to keep questing but to turn the quest into uncovering the essential me rather than trying to become some amalgam of every self-help ideal I’ve ever read. And it will continue. It really is a profound journey, I think , and the most important journey of our lives. 🙂

  4. Hi, Karen – What I love most about retirement, is that I finally feel the freedom to be more ‘me’ than I have ever been before. There is much unlearning to do here…but I am up for the challenge!

    1. Oh that’s so true, Donna. In fact, I was just working on one of the later A-Z posts this morning where I express that sentiment almost identically.
      And so true – you are absolutely up for the challenge!

  5. I guess being a perfectionist means belonging in the category of trying to be better than you are? Thing with me is that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to “pleasing” other people (like organizing and cleaning the house as well as possible before the owners return, doing a job to the best of my capabilities, writing a book that is as close to “perfect” as I can muster before calling it quits…), but, on other fronts I couldn’t care less what other people think (my looks, my priorities, my lifestyle…). Of course, the perfect part is subjective!

    1. I don’t know for sure (I’m a newbie at this stuff), but I would guess that being a perfectionist at the things you mention is a very positive and healthy form of perfectionism, whereas if you were a perfectionist about looks, priorities and lifestyle, you would be persistently unhappy with who you are and always striving to be better than you are.
      So my guess is, you’re in great shape, Liesbet! Now I just need you to tell how you get to the point where you don’t care what other people think of your looks, priorities, lifestyle. I would so love to get to that point.

      1. My first question would be “Why do you care?” I am actually curious about that. What is the benefit to you, caring about what other people think? What is the part that would make you happy about knowing that other people “approve” what you say/wear/do? Would you be happier with the thought that someone else “adores” or “respects” (or is jealous of) the way you look and/or act, or, would you be happier doing the things that are important to you and wearing clothes that are comfortable instead of fashionable or classy? Anyway, you know what the answers to these questions are for me, but how about you? Let me know! 🙂

        1. Very good questions, Liesbet. I’m not hugely concerned about what I wear. I’m far from a fashion plate and find people who expect that of me to be a bit shallow so I don’t worry about that. Ditto for things like makeup – no interest.

          But as far as how I act, yes, I want people to think well of me. I suspect it’s validation of being “a good person” and is, in large part, a result of being hyper-sensitive from early on to reading parents’ and others body language, seeking approval and trying to make sure that everyone else stays happy. I’d always felt that other people’s happiness was in my control and that, as a good person, I had the responsibility to make sure not only that I never offended, but that I did indeed make them happy.

          As I age, I do want to change that. I think making those changes is a part of my own profound journey, my inner quest to become fully and uniquely me.

          Thanks for caring to ask.

          1. I think we all have that a little bit. I always want everyone around me to be happy as well, but it shouldn’t take away from my happiness. Or, it shouldn’t cost too much energy that only drains us. Mark has often said that I can’t make him happy, that this has to come from within himself.

            One thing I try to remember is that people like me, because I’m me and I don’t pretend to be “better”, “nicer”… I’m convinced that you are a good person, Karen. And, if you are honest, I think you can affirm that yourself. So, there… Done! 🙂

            By being kind, caring and interested in regards to our loved ones, we show our value(s). As far as strangers are concerned, we don’t need that validation. And, especially in regards to people who don’t care about us, or whom we don’t care about… it’s not worth the effort. Sorry. I”d rather use my energy towards my own happiness and preferences.

  6. Hmm, interesting post! I read in the comments everybody talking about their personality using letters so I set out to find mine. I took the test on 16Personalities.com and found out I am a Defender (ISFJ-T)…who knew? My strategy is Constant Improvement and my life bears out this fact, I am always trying to be better.

    Self-improvement is always my goal but I am trying not to have that be my goal. I never feel that I am good enough just as I am. I have often been told I am too sensitive and take things too personally. I care way too much what others think of me and in general. The older I get the more I am settling into who I really am and find more often than not I could not care less about what others think of me.

    1. Hi Susan,
      I just went and took the test at 16 personalities. It’s not bad for a very short form version of the Myers-Briggs which is where the type indicators (the four letters) actually come from. The actual Myers-Briggs is the only statistically valid type indicator in existence and to do it properly you need to take the half-day test with a trained facilitator. So… your results may not be truly accurate for you, but bottom line is, that doesn’t really matter because, as you say, at this point in your life your goal is to be fully and wholly you just as you are!

      I too find that as I get older, I’m becoming ever so slightly more comfortable at not caring what others think of me. But the operative phrase here is “ever so slightly”. I hope to make some big strides in this direction sooner rather than later.

  7. Karen – the phrase in here that speaks most to me is “I want to find out who I am. And I want to be content, even happy, with what I find.” Self-awareness and self-acceptance is my focus at the moment. Both could be classified as self-improvement – not to be better, but to be more aware. But perhaps self-acceptance is being better?

    OMG – we are different! I am an ISTJ. I’ve worked for years to develop my intuition and sometimes can move to INTJ. But usually my engineering background keeps the S pretty solid. But, I once scored zero on “F”. Really. The T in me is strong! And that TJ combination – you know my love of lists and planning. Also, most folks find it odd that I’m an “I” as I have also learned many “E” skills. But “E” stuff takes work and leaves me exhausted… a natural “I”!

    I too know how to get what I want on personality tests. But I think that’s just lying to yourself… that TJ thinking/judgmental side of me screaming. Most of the time I can predict where I’ll end up – the analytical/left brain stuff high, the empathy/right brain stuff low. I think they are fun, but not necessarily new knowledge at this stage of life. As I said, it’s now about self-acceptance!

    I’m liking your A to Z and looking forward to more insightful quotes.

    1. Okay Pat, when you said we’re different on this, I actually had to haul out my books and take another look because that just didn’t compute. I used to teach this stuff. My books are about differentiated instruction – matching teaching to the learner’s needs – so I’ve got lots of charts of the characteristics of different people based on Myers-Briggs and various other type indicators.

      Turns out that we are a bit different but not that much. I’m definitely N for intuition, rather than S for sensing. But I’m definitely a TJ with desires to be an FJ. As I age, those desires to be ‘F’ get stronger and stronger. I wonder if they are my essential self, long covered by the personas of my work life.

      I often taught that the way to think about extraversion and introversion is that it’s how we get our energy. Extraversion is gaining energy from other people, as opposed to extroversion (with an ‘o’) which is about being the life of the party. Introversion is gaining energy from time alone.

      I’m glad you’re liking the A to Z posts. I’m really enjoying writing them and loving the conversations that are happening as a result.

      1. Karen – I agree with the E versus I – always said the difference between introversion and extroversion was the extroverts sucked the energy out of the introverts at gatherings! E’s left energized and I’s left exhausted. Because I learned skills to be outgoing at gatherings, none ever saw the effort it took. There are times still when if I’m out at a conference, I’ll come home and hubby knows not to even talk to me.

        I’ve also learned (continue to learn) how to be more empathic (feeling towards others), but again, it takes work…so I don’t think it’s my essential self. The “T” comes naturally!

        One thing that many of these personality tests things have taught me however, is to appreciate the innate talents of others. I appreciate the N and the F and the E. The “P” folks however continue to drive me crazy. Yup, hubby is a “P”! LOL.

  8. I do think that the culture of self-improvement can lead to the trap of perfectionism. Instead, our energies are probably better spent in coming home to ourselves. Love that idea. Thanks!

    1. I like the way you’ve phrased this, Jenny, both the ‘trap’ of perfectionism and the idea of devoting our energy to coming home to ourselves. When I think in terms of where to put my energy, that makes lots of sense. Thank you!

  9. I was thinking the other day about when grandmas looked like grandmas. Now we have a culture that is so perfection and youth-centered that we no longer feel comfortable with a few lines on our faces and a little extra around our midsections. I know that it’s good to be healthy and active, but I wonder if there is some sort of happy medium. I always loved that Jamie Lee Curtis took a stand on this, eschewing airbrushing and plastic surgery-and even stopped coloring her hair. It made me feel powerful somehow, knowing we don’t have to keep up with Hollywood. (Stepping off the soapbox now.)

    1. Hi Heather,
      So when we get to the ‘L’ post, I hope you will copy and paste this entire comment. It’s so perfect for that one and for this one, and for yesterday’s letter B post. I love the idea of the happy medium. If we strove for that in all aspects of our lives, how much easier things would be.

  10. A wise graduate student that I once worked with taught me an important truth: we all have “a blind spot in the centre of the eye.” By that she meant that it is hard to know oneself.

    Another interesting lesson that I learned occurred when I gave birth to my first child. I looked into the knowing eyes of that newborn baby and saw a little person looking out. Before that, I had leaned toward the nurture side of the nature-nurture argument. I thought that humans were primarily shaped by society and their experiences. But the person my daughter is was already there at the moment of her birth. Yes, it was a bud of potential that has grown and flowered, but she was not a blank slate to be shaped by me or anyone.

    Oddly, sometimes others know us better than we know ourselves. Yet how reluctant we are to really listen to what our loved ones could tell us about ourselves.

    Jude

    1. Hi Jude,
      I remember seeing a movie or reading a book once where the mom, on seeing her new baby for the first time, said wondrously, “Oh, there are you are.” That moment popped into my mind when you described looking into your daughter’s eyes.

      I agree that other people often know many things about us that we would benefit from learning. I think that’s one of the big advantages of 360 degree performance appraisals at work. But I wonder if they can know us, the essential us, if it requires aging for us to know ourselves. Perhaps what they know are the personas we’ve shared with the world. I don’t know. Just speculating.

    1. Is it that the rest of the world has trouble with your flaws, or that you have trouble with theirs? Or maybe both!
      Either way, I think it’s great that you are okay with your flaws, Jacqui – so much more comfortable and far less draining than hiding or denying them.

      1. When I re-read my comment, I see that it’s confusing! No–they have trouble with mine. Why should they care if I trim my own bangs and don’t always get them straight? Hmm?? You’re with me on this, aren’t you?

        1. Oh, I am so with you on this, Jacqui. On the exact same theme, I’m letting my hair grow a bit so that a new hairdresser will have more options to work with. It is a topic of MUCH discussion, although I’m still not sure why anyone cares!

  11. Hi Karen,
    I guess I will never know what my letters really are then if I have to take a half-day test with a trained facilitator because, frankly, I don’t care THAT much to know what they are from a statistically valid point of view. The test I took at 16Personalities feels pretty much right. I got percentages for each category 91% Introverted, 63% Observant, 81% Feeling, 61% Judging and 81% Turbulent (that one kind of scares me as it is under the category of Identity and confirms a previous test I took.

    This turbulent designation does line up with the MMPI test I did in the Mental Health Centre years ago. It was a booklet with over 100 multiple choice questions that you had to fill in with a pencil. Anyway, that MMPI test explained that my identity was turbulent. :-0 The psychiatrist explained it to me like this; imagine your identity is like Jello so you follow the package directions (you are born) and you are allowed to sit in the fridge to set (living your life) and most people set up just fine. You, however, were taken out and stirred (things that threw me off track in life – thinking of the abuse from my ex-husband among other things) regularly, as a result, you never got to set up. 🙁 So, I am trying to accept my stirred up, unset, Jello status. As I said, all this feels right (makes sense) to me

    As for you getting more comfortable with not caring what others think of you, you will get there. You are doing a lot of work on uncovering who you are right here on Profound Journey (and showing us how to do that for ourselves too -which I love by the way, thanks.) My word for this year is ENOUGH so I can really appreciate Beth’s comment. In fact, I am going over to check out her blog now!

    1. Hi Susan,
      I certainly didn’t mean to offend you with what I said about the 16 Personalities test. I made the comment because of the turbulent designation that is concerning you. In Myers-Briggs there’s no such designation. It’s just the four letters, period.
      I’m glad you’re checking out Beth’s blog. Her theme is an interesting one of ways we can ‘stretch’ into new activities.

      1. I am not offended at all! That is the problem with the written word on the internet, with no way to see my expression when I wrote that comment or hear my tone of voice it is easy to miss understand or misinterpret what I was trying to say. I want to thank you for being concerned enough to reassure me the test I took is not the benchmark test for personality designation. If I was really upset or concerned I would have found a way to get a Myers – Briggs test to get the straight goods. I appreciate you caring enough to point me in the right direction. 😎

    1. Hi. Thank you for being here. I’ll return the favour and start following your A-Z posts.
      It’s sad, isn’t it, that we feel that way. Time for a change, J-Dub. And now’s the time.

  12. Hi Karen! I totally agree although I might not have when I was younger. I was always trying to be something that perhaps was not really me in the quest to be more popular or loved. Now at 60 I am happy with the person that I am. In saying that, I do think we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves but remain authentic to who we really are.
    Loving your AtoZ and look forward to ‘D’ tomorrow.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond
    ‘C’ is for Conquering Change – Overcoming your Fears

    1. Hi Sue,
      I think it’s a real achievement to be able to say that you are happy with who you are, and an especially significant achievement when it was a long road to get to that place.
      Like you, I don’t want to give up striving to be the best. I just want to focus on it being my best – whatever that ends up being.
      Thanks for being here, Sue, and sorry about being late to comment on your C post. I’ve done D as well to make up for it 🙂

  13. Thank you for visiting my blog and your very kind encourging thoughts.
    Deciding to be who you are right here right now is not always comfortable for others around you. Children especially have expectations of who you are supposed to be. Sometimes it takes moving 5000 miles away to be allowed to live your own life. Even at 65.
    Nancy
    https://ourrightplace.blogspot.com

    1. There’s a story there, Nancy. I’m so impressed that you and your husband made the leap. We are all entitled to live our own lives. It would be terrible to die with regrets.

  14. Oh, my gosh, I so identify with this! I am always trying to improve myself: peak times are near the first of the New Year, and then in August near my birthday…but it goes on all year long! WHY can I not believe I am good enough? Good, thoughtful post, thank you!

    1. Hi Cindy,
      Allow me to quote my favourite songwriter, Kris Kristofferson – “I recognize the symptoms girl, I’ve got the same disease. I just haven’t got a clue to how to cure it.”
      Actually, I do. One small step at a time.

  15. I think perfectionism and trying to be all you think you should be are both traps – too much comparison and too many opportunities for disappointment. I just wish I’d realized this before I turned 50! Now I’m just working on being true to myself and being kind to myself – long overdue. I also really love this quote: “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    D for Don’t Give Up

  16. I read some of the other comments and had to Google all those letters, though I guessed it was from a personality-type test. As you’ve possibly already noticed I can be a bit of a cynic and my cynicism extends to these. I think if I defined myself that way I’d get caught trying to prove (or maybe disprove!) it. Coming home to yourself is a great way of looking at things, though – I think that’s what I’m doing as I get older. I’ll keep hold of that idea, I love it.

    1. I hear you, Anabel. While Myers-Briggs does have scientific and statistical merit (and the concepts originated with Carl Jung who knew what he was talking about), we got sidetracked in the comments. Interestingly, that sidetrack proved, to me at least, the very point of the post – that we have great difficulty coming home to ourselves without the added layer of others’ definitions of us – including the definitions that come from type tests.
      And yup, me too. I do find these tests fun to take, but if I do them at anything other than party game level, I seem to enjoy either corrupting the results by giving answers that aren’t true of me, or I set out to reinforce results I do like and argue those I don’t. It kind of defeats the purpose.

  17. I have found it so much easier to be myself as I’ve aged. My kids are horrified when I sing and dance to the shop music in the aisles of the supermarket or wear really loud clothing. But it makes me happy and if people are going to look past the smile to criticise the wobbles and wrinkles that’s their problem not mine =)

    Had no idea what INFJ was but have consulted Dr Google. I’m introverted, organised and follow my values but love facts. So I guess I’m in a different basket.

    1. Oh, I think just forget the Myers-Briggs stuff, AJ. What matters is that you are you – the woman who embarrasses her kids, rocking out to tunes in the supermarket and writing fascinating posts about serial killers. I’m so glad to have met you!

  18. Oh, I think just forget the Myers-Briggs stuff, AJ. What matters is that you are you – the woman who embarrasses her kids, rocking out to tunes in the supermarket and writing fascinating posts about serial killers. I’m so glad to have met you!

  19. Wow, is that ever a powerful, loaded quote to begin a post! It certainly makes you think, and wonder why that might be. Perhaps because being our true selves puts us in a vulnerable position. As long as we’re striving to be something “more,” we might expect to fail or to fall short in some way, so it’s less painful when we do, because we’ve set up an expectation of more than that which we could achieve. And if we hide behind a mask, and someone doesn’t like who we present as, it’s easy to say, “Well, they just don’t know the real me.” But when we’re transparently ourselves, everything feels more poignant, more personal. On the one hand, always striving to be more sets us up for the issue of perfection. And on the other hand, it may be a way to shield ourselves from disappointment, by setting ourselves up to fall short. Just thinking “aloud” here. 🙂

    (And yes, don’t all those “buy now for this FREEBIE, valued at hundreds of dollars” and huge conference upsells make you wonder if it’s really about self-improvement and self-growth to begin with?)

    Great thought-provoking post!

    1. Hi Alana- Great thinking aloud about the quote. I appreciate your musings. The quote often feels like a koan to me – something that I will have to live my way into understanding.

  20. I can relate to all that. I tried and I tried and then I inquired and the inquiry leads me …give up trying is where I came to. perfection is an idea and has its roots in original sin.the unhappiness market is huge and plays well upon our fears and insecurities . lets face it there are many terrific books workshops guides/friends /blogs out there that can help us along the way. we are perfectly imperfect and the best we can be is who we are and who we are is who we are becoming and that is already unfolding as we journey thru our lives. love thy self warts and all.

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