Over the past several years, I have been developing an interest in self improvement. I’ve always been an introspective person and I’ve always been committed to lifelong learning, but recently I have been trying to take a more purposeful approach to achieving my goals and living a happy and full life. I will own that the results of all this have been mixed. Some years I do a great job with following through on my goals and other years, life throws a few too many curve balls and I get distracted. Due to my illness, however, this year I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to stay grounded, live in the moment, and manage my time well. I have things that I want to accomplish, and I have a great opportunity to get started on them.
I haven’t always lived my life with this much intention. In fact, for the first 30 or so years of my life, I mostly played things by ear. In university, I chose my major solely based on the courses that interested me the most, rather than based on what could assist me in developing a successful career. I applied for a Masters program in Archival Studies mostly on a lark. There aren’t words to express the relief that I felt when I fell in love with it. After finishing graduate school, I continued to learn new things and to challenge myself intellectually; however, I never made an actual plan and I never had a clue as to where I wanted my life to go.
Throughout the years when I was trying to cultivate my career as an archivist, I lacked self awareness and personal insight; as such, I completely destroyed my chances of being successful in that endeavor. The fumbling ridiculousness of my adult career development is an essay for another day, but it was the difficulties that I encountered in my career that served as the genesis for my self improvement journey.
During a long and depressing stint of unemployment, I began to realize that I was basing all of my self worth and happiness on obtaining a highly specific job in a field that was shrinking. With the job, I would be happy and fulfilled and without the job I would be miserable. This attitude destroyed my self confidence (which has never been particularly great) and made me even less attractive to potential employers — I couldn’t hide my desperation. After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I was going to have to change my attitude, or I was going to be stuck in this negative feedback loop for a very long time.
And so I started to seek out mentors. I tried to think of people in my life who might not be 100% satisfied with their jobs, but were constantly striving and working toward happiness in their lives. I evaluated what those people were doing that I was not doing and eventually the tremendous error I had been making became clear: I was relying on something external to make me happy.
In order to be truly happy, I would need to work to be the source of my own happiness. From there, I started making a lot of positive life changes. I started setting goals, even if I wasn’t always great about following through with every intention I set for the year. I made more conscious plans for ongoing learning and began focusing on skills that I felt would be both fun and useful, such as cooking, baking and knitting. I sought out tools and mechanisms that I could use to accurately and honestly evaluate my life and my progress.
I won’t lie and say that all this suddenly turned my life around and instantly made everything better. I still struggle most of the time with depression that can make it difficult for me to take aggressive action on aspects of my life that need improvement. I am still working through the heavy slog of trying to figure out which path I’d like to start meandering toward career change and growth. I am still completely selfish and judge others too harshly. I am a work in progress.
Despite the fact that I’m still not exactly where I would like to be, I feel I do need to give myself credit for making some great changes. I have indeed come a long way. I am far more comfortable in my own skin these days and I have let go of at least part of the enormous chip on my shoulder. I’m more understanding and vulnerable; I’m a better romantic partner. I’ve always been introspective, but I am now much better at accurately assessing myself without being either way too harsh or way too lenient. I am more honest and better at taking responsibility for my actions.
Because I have learned so much from my self improvement journey over the past few years, I will be writing from time to time about tools and techniques that I have used to facilitate all of these changes. I hope that some of you find them useful or, at least, interesting to read about! Have a great weekend, everyone!