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Against Self-Improvement

What if you aren't a problem to be solved?


Neoliberalism and other systems have us constantly thinking at the level of the individual (health, wellness, mindset, choice). And while it’s true that what happens at the levels of our bodies and minds is so, so important, I think it’s also important to remember that we live in a culture defined by systems that keep us caught in individual thinking and individual solutions (particularly if in doing so you feel small and isolated against the scale of the problems, which are, these days, planetary).


It makes sense, because if the problem is YOU, then you have control: you have to work harder, grow more, change yet another thing about yourself (or shame and berate yourself for the ways you don’t change, don’t work harder, keep “choosing” the things that keep you stuck).


But if we don’t focus on ourselves as a/the problem, if our solution isn’t to improve ourselves, what then?


If you’re a person living within systems of domination, often you are just experiencing the results of one of these systems as they operate and shape our lives. This can show up in many ways: that harsh voice in your head, that feeling in your body, a sense of tension that won’t ease, the very real anxiety about money and security and safety…all the ways our nervous systems respond to the stress of living in & under systems of domination.


If we look at what’s going on from this perspective, then the way through isn’t to change yourself, (and many times, to “change” or “better” yourself is just to entangle ourselves even deeper into the logic of these systems), but is just to remember the context of what you're experiencing. Sometimes this realization/knowing means we feel the grief of our experiences more deeply. Sometimes it means we feel a little more ease, knowing that if the problem isn’t us, we don’t have to carry the weight of judgment and blame so closely. Sometimes we realize that when we don’t have to hold so tightly to the idea of bettering ourselves, that there’s a whole landscape of experience here for us to be with. Sometimes it means realizing that you know something about what it’s like when these systems are working on you, and other people, in a particular way.


I think this kind of noticing helps us remember that we are a part of a collective of people experiencing different parts of the same workings of cultural systems. (And sometimes, we hold a knowing about ways we might make it through the hard times systems create.) It can help us turn towards each other, remind each other that maybe nothing is wrong with us, that no matter what the systems in our culture tell us, we aren't a problem to be solved, but a human, living a life.

If you’re interested in learning more about my coaching, or know someone who might want to work with me (angst about your job or what the heck you should be doing with your life is a good indicator), there’s lots of ways to connect with me - I send out bi-weekly email notes, have sliding scale monthly check-ins through Patreon, and offer 1:1 coaching work for people leaving their jobs, seeking career changes, working on writing or other creative projects, or who feel stuck around work or purpose under capitalism.

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