I’m Learning

I’m Not Trying to Be ‘Better,’ I’m Trying to Just Be Me

Idk if it’s possible to achieve perfection, I think we should strive for self-acceptance🦋

A portrait of a black woman outside in the sunlight, smiling
A portrait of a black woman outside in the sunlight, smiling
Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

“I should be better than this by now.”

This is a thought that I said out loud during a recent therapy session. I felt like I was talking about the same problems and anxieties that I always talk about. I felt like I’d done so much work over the years to unlearn past trauma and learn new coping mechanisms that I should have evolved past my regular struggles. And I felt really down about myself. Like I must not be doing things right, like I must not be right. Like something was wrong with me and I was not yet healed enough (read: good enough) to live my best life.

My therapist, being the wonderful therapist that she is, listened to me complain about how I thought I should be more “evolved” by now and she gently reminded me that my goal doing this work isn’t necessarily to be “better” or different, it’s to to get more comfortable in being myself. It’s to show up in the world not as an entirely new person, but as a more honest, authentic version of who I already am, who I’ve always been before trauma and societal expectations forced me to shrink away.

This reminder truly shifted my perspective.

Only when we accept where we are, as we are, do I think we’ll see the transformation we’re looking for.

For some reason, I imagined that living my best life would require me being a new person. And I don’t think I’m alone in this thought. We often think we need to change who we are in order to live better, whatever “better” even means.

We’re taught in numerous ways that who we are is not enough. Social media, professional, family, and romantic expectations, and respectability politics combine to dictate that we need to dress differently, act differently, speak differently, think differently, be anything other than ourselves in order to be happy.

But I’m learning that the idea that there is a better version of us out there just waiting for us to grow into it may be flawed thinking. Personal growth is important and change is necessary and will happen whether we fight it or force it. But what’s unnecessary is the thinking that who we are in the midst of our growth and change is not good enough, that we need to be better in order to deserve better. When all we really need to be is ourselves.

Personal growth doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a lifetime. Don’t get so caught up in the becoming that you forget to just be.

Thinking about what it really means to evolve has me thinking a lot about butterflies. People loveee using butterflies as symbols for change, growth, metamorphosis, and transformation (Mariah Carey even named an entire album after these beautiful bugs). Everyone wants to evolve from lowly caterpillar to free flying butterfly, fully realized in their final, most beautiful form. Everyone wants to grow into what they believe is the best version of themselves.

But the idea of striving to go from sad caterpillar to beautiful butterfly is starting to feel a little unrealistic to me. Not just because we’re humans and are physically incapable of cocooning and growing multicolored wings. But also because we’re humans and I don’t think our actual evolution works in a step-by-step format.

I’m learning that personal growth is not linear. I don’t think we do the work and then, bam! We’re living a better, struggle-free life. Some days in our growth journeys will be better than others. Some days, we’ll feel like we’re flying high, untouchable, and floating in peace of mind. Other days, we might be triggered by past or new traumas and feel really low.

Being authentic means having those bad days, being upset by upsetting events and not letting it change how I feel about myself. It’s knowing that having a bad day doesn’t mean I’m doing a bad job. It’s not possible to achieve perfection; I think what we should strive for is self-acceptance. Accepting where we are, as we are and trying again every day. Only then do I think we’ll see the transformation we’re looking for.

If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant in your evolution, don’t fret. It’s not a sign that you’re failing to be all you can be, it’s a sign that you’re human. Don’t get so caught up in the “becoming” that you forget to just be. And give yourself credit for how far you’ve come and far you have to go. Personal growth doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a lifetime. It’s a long journey ahead of us in this life, and we might as well be a little nicer to ourselves along the way.

As for me, I’m no longer focused on being a better version of myself. I’m just trying to be myself, and in doing that openly and honestly, I think I’ll authentically live a better life.

I’m Learning is a weekly series of essays by ZORA senior platform editor Jolie A. Doggett about all she is learning about life through living. Follow her for more stories!

Senior Platform Editor @ZORAmag | book lover | fangirl | Black woman | Terp

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