This post was originally written for Post Grad Survival Guide.
A while back, I wrote about the fine art of getting your shit together, based around a line from Adam Phillips: sanity is the talent for not letting the things that scare you about yourself spoil your enjoyment of life.
In other words, getting your shit together doesn’t mean being perfect or even changing anything about yourself. It means being able to look at the parts of yourself you dislike or don’t understand, admit they exist, then carry on with your life. People who have their shit together are not flawless creatures, they are just in touch with themselves. They don’t need to ignore painful aspects of themselves.
I recently came across a similar sentiment in No Boundary by Ken Wilber: “ …you needn’t control yourself in order to accept yourself.”
Self-control is not a prerequisite for self-acceptance. To expand on that, the ability to like yourself should not be contingent on the ability to change yourself at will. The self that is to be accepted is the current, real one — not a hypothetical future one who somehow develops superhuman self-control.
So many of the actions that make us struggle to accept ourselves are based on a lack of self-control — procrastinating, sleeping late, overeating, not taking care of ourselves, addiction, losing our tempers at other people.
But self-worth can never be contingent on anything external. It can’t be about how much money we make or how we look or how many friends we have. Otherwise, it’s not genuine. It’s not acceptance.
No one has perfect self-control. No one is fully able to control themselves. We’re not wired that way. We wouldn’t be human if we could.
Every so often, I meet someone who seems completely comfortable with themselves, someone who radiates confidence.
I’ve been fascinated by these types of people for as long as I can remember. What always strikes me about them is how at ease they seem to be with every aspect of their personality, including the more controversial or unusual parts. They don’t try to trample it, they just work with it. If people judge them, they find people who don’t.
Now, I can’t know all the ways those same people are probably insecure or the issues they face and don’t talk about. They’re usually older than me and I’ve heard that self-acceptance gets easier as you age.
But it’s a reminder that the ultimate goal is to be able to accept everything, while still maintaining the motivation to improve when appropriate.
It’s a reminder that I’m wrong when I think I’ll be able to accept myself once I develop the self-control necessary to get up early without snoozing the alarm, to stop wasting money ordering junk food, to work harder with fewer distractions, to read more and publish more blog posts, to be more sociable and a million other changes. Believing that is just a form of procrastination.