Sometimes this whole self-improvement thing looks like a global obsession: if you’re not following along, there’s something wrong with you.

It’s contagious.

Of course, the heart of the improve thyself mania is a good thing, with one important problem nevertheless.

It often feels like the term self-improvement implies the presence of imperfection or inferiority, as well as the idea that it should be fixed.

But should it?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to improve means

to enhance in value or quality : make better

Sounds great, right? At first sight, there’s nothing wrong with the word, and certainly, there’s nothing wrong with the attitude.

Making stuff better is awesome.

But it’s not always needed and it’s not always for the best.

Can art be improved?

Look at this piece, for example.

Could it be improved?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

(Hint: nope.)

The beauty of every piece of art lies in its individuality.

Be it a painting, a poem, or a song — it embodies the unique blend of emotions and ideas its creator wanted to share with the world.

In his or her own fashion, all imperfections included.

When you think about art like that, the idea of improvement sounds out of place.

Could The Mona Lisa be improved, for instance?

Photo by Eric TERRADE on Unsplash

Depending on your esthetic standards, maybe you could say that there’s space for positive tweaking here and there.

Would this increase the painting’s value, however? Not likely.

Would it deprive the canvas of its personality? Absolutely.

Would it be an improvement, then? Not in the slightest.

And there are countless examples like that.

Could the Parthenon be improved?

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

Restore the roof, add some extra illumination, maybe a few speakers, why not? From a certain point of view, this would improve the place. From another — the Parthenon is already perfect, as a beautiful vestige of times long gone.

Not everything should be “improved” in the first place.

Some things should be cared for, respected, and protected, but not necessarily improved. Children, for example.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

Can a child be improved?

In this context, the whole improvement thing sounds even more absurd.

Improve a child?

A child isn’t a broken or imperfect thing to be improved. It’s growing, it’s discovering the world, it’s exploring the frontiers of its own body, mind, emotions. Our goal isn’t to change a child as we see fit (for the sake of improvement), but to nurture its growth and do our best to strike a healthy balance between freedom provided and restrictions set.

To nurture, not to improve.

If we can look at art and children like this — 

— why are we so merciless with ourselves?

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

Self-nurturing as a gentle form of self-improvement

According to the Oxford dictionary, to nurture means

to care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing.

Notice how both nurture and improvement evoke similar imagery (growth, enhancement) from somewhat different perspectives.

Improvement is like a strict teacher standing above you, pointing at your wrongs, lecturing how you could (and should) get better. Improve, would ya?

Nurture feels more like a caring parent, a guide who allows you to make your own mistakes and loves you anyway — on every step of your journey.

Whom would you prefer to have by your side?

You are a piece of art, not a creaking door

Nurture yourself. Protect yourself. Respect yourself.

Allow yourself to grow with compassion and care.

I believe this slight change of perspective (from improvement to nurturing) may help every one of us lead a happy and self-compassionate life without the excessive pressure of the global “get better” race.

You are already getting better. Bit by bit, day after day.

You are already growing. With each breath and every heartbeat.

Nurture yourself and enjoy your growth, just as you would enjoy a beautiful painting. Or a flower blooming in the spring sunlight.

Ivan is a writer who explores the links between happiness, productivity, and emotions. He believes emotions can be used as a universal fuel for explosive growth and the foundation for a better life.
Ivan is a writer who explores the links between happiness, productivity, and emotions. He believes emotions can be used as a universal fuel for explosive growth and the foundation for a better life.

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