- Dora Nudelman
Self-Help, Spirituality, and the Myth of Perfection
I am a big advocate of personal-development, spirituality, and self-help. I think that learning the tools and methods of releasing ourselves from our personal enslavement caused by our misguided beliefs, fears, and doubts is one of the most important skills we can master in our lifetime. However, sometimes us self-help enthusiasts can take what we learn a little bit too far, thus creating unrealistic expectations for ourselves and those around us.
Anyone who has ever embarked on the plight towards self-actualization and personal enlightenment will likely attest to the high you get when you first learn about these revolutionary ideologies. It feels great to be encouraged to think outside the box, to be told that you have no limits, and to be supported by others who have similar ambitions and desires. However, once the novelty wears off, many self-help enthusiasts tend to find themselves stuck in a seemingly endless process of self-criticism and pressure to be "perfect" and positive all of the time.
I fell into this trap too. When I first started reading about self-help, spirituality, and the esoteric I was pumped. I had always been open to these types of topics but there was a specific point in my life when I became obsessed with them. I attended as many seminars and lectures as I could find, I read book after book, sometimes divulging two or three at a time. I invested in mentors and coaches and I threw myself into every practice that looked good to me in the moment, often impulsively jumping from one to the other without pause. But then one day I realized that something felt off.
While I do wholeheartedly believe that immersing ourselves in practicing positive speech, taking positive action, and hanging out in positive environments is healthy, we must still be mindful to be authentic to ourselves and others in the process. For instance, I became afraid of saying the "wrong" thing, feeling negative feelings, thinking negative thoughts, and even being my sarcastic self for fear that it would bring dire consequences. I started equating self-help and spirituality with an unrealistic measure of perfection that simply did not account for the wide spectrum of human emotions that we all have. As a result, this pressure to be "perfect" I had placed on myself caused me to feel depleted, discouraged, and generally exhausted.
It wasn't until I stopped cold turkey and did a total regroup that I realized the true meaning and purpose of personal-development, self-help, and spirituality, and it had nothing to do with the concept of "perfection" as I saw it at the time. I thought I had to be a certain way in order to be "good enough," spiritual," or even "worthy." But what I didn't realize was that I was already perfect as I was. I didn't need to "fix" myself, repress my feelings, or meet any unrealistic ideals. Instead I could simply be myself, whatever that meant, and know that this was totally acceptable. Now this didn't mean I resigned myself to my egoic impulses. It just meant that I no longer put pressure on myself to be 100% Zen all of the time.
After years of being trained in the power of positivity I finally learned that positivity was not about pretending to be okay or playing a role in order to fit some standard of perfection, but rather an ability to be real, authentic, and completely accepting of myself. It was okay to be in a bad mood, to feel angry, or to be disappointed. True positivity and spirituality were not about hiding these feelings or pushing them down but rather accepting them, understanding them, allowing them, dealing with them, and transforming them in proactive ways. Being enlightened didn't mean being unaffected but rather capable of shifting into a higher state of consciousness at will and with intention. It meant being in control of my thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions and doing things mindfully rather than strictly from an egoic impulse.
We are all part of the human experience. What that means is that we are all vulnerable to the highs and lows of human emotions. But this does not make us weak, inadequate, unworthy, or even "un-spiritual." The true power of personal-development is to acquire tools that we can use to better ourselves, but not from a place of fixing our perceived imperfections. Our true power lies in realizing that our perfection already lies within us. Our egos will have us believing that there is something missing from our lives and that we are not good enough as we are. But all of this is an illusion. Our inherent qualities, our quirks, our knee-jerk reactions, our personal style, and our deepest fears, doubts, and desires all make up the core of who we are. This doesn't mean we have to resign ourselves to accepting mediocrity, though. Instead it means that we can realize that everything has its purpose in our lives and that we can make changes where and if we want to by being aware and willing to take the appropriate actions as we are called to do so. Spirituality and self-help have nothing to do with being "perfect" by one standard or one definition. On the contrary, they are simply tools and ideologies we can use to acknowledge the perfection that already exists within us that simply needs to be revealed.
Bottom line, we do not need to change our personalities to fit a specific mold. We do not need to deny our true feelings for fear of being judged. Instead, we can be our true selves, real and honest, and embrace the beauty of our uniqueness whilst sharing it with others.
We are all seekers of truth in one way or another. As such, our job is not to create self-imposed limits and expectations to which we cannot live up but rather to accept ourselves as we are and see if there is something within us that needs to be transformed. This means transforming our fears, our insecurities, our doubts, and our negative self-talk so that we can express our individual perfection as it was intended. Perfection, then, is simply that state where we reveal our authentic selves, beyond the ego, and align with the powerful and magnetic beings that we truly are.
As a coach, being somewhat in a position of authority has taught me many lessons, one of which is that in truth I am nobody's guru, and I don't aim to be either. I am not claiming to be on a higher moral ground than anyone else nor am I placing myself on any sort of pedestal. My word is not law and I do not claim it to be. But so many people place their power of knowledge in the hands of others who they think know better than they do, and I know because I have done this too. But, in reality, everyone will have their moments of doubt, fear, insecurity, and vulnerability. Even coaches, authors, leaders, experts, and your beloved celebrities will experience these feelings from time to time, no matter how enlightened or successful they may appear.
For instance, I can be snappy, I can be cranky, I can get angry, and I can be bummed out, but the difference lies in how I choose to deal with those emotions. For me I always allow myself my feelings. I give myself permission to feel how I feel because I know with 100% certainty that I will not only get over it but that I will also learn something from it. I believe in my ability to transform negative emotions and thoughts into something more productive and because of that I am able to be in charge of my moods, actions, thoughts, feelings, and choices that much more.
When you are your own guru you are always capable of figuring out your own answers to life. But being able to do so does not come through feigning perfection or putting your head in the sand; it comes from true personal-development work. And in truth, we are each a work in progress, including experts and coaches alike. We all have to step up to the plate and not only accept ourselves but also forgive ourselves and allow ourselves the room and freedom to learn and expand to our next level. Our lives are, in fact, perfect as they are because they are giving us the opportunities we need to learn and grow, and of course succeed as we desire. But in order for us to be successful in any realm we need to realize that perfection is very subjective and, as such, we each need to find our own definition without imposing harsh pressures or unrealistic expectations upon ourselves. We need to use the tools we have available to each of us to uncover who we really are at our core whilst accepting our "imperfections" as our actual perfect state in the moment.
Most of all, we need to acknowledge when we need a little help from others to assist us in getting to where we want to go. I did not get to this place in my life alone. Every teacher, every book, every mentor, every close family member, every friend, every acquaintance, and every experience played a role, big or small, in how I perceive myself and my life today. But the most important thing about learning from others and our experiences, though, is to ensure that we always check in with ourselves to make sure that what we are receiving resonates with us. That way we can always remain in control of our own actions and be open to trusting our higher-selves for our own personal truth. And that truth is: we are each already perfect; it is just a matter of peeling back the proverbial layers to see ourselves for who we really are.