Be Your ‘Okayest’ Self

Why striving for self-improvement is part of the problem.

Mollie Birney, M.A.
Mind Cafe
Published in
4 min readMar 5, 2021

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Before I step on my soap box I want to go on the record here: I’m totally in support of self-betterment. I’ve devoted my career to it, and I’m pretty sure I single-handedly supported the self-help industry through my mid-twenties. I firmly believe the cultural surge in wokeness, mindfulness, meditation and healing is an unquestionably Good Thing. Now that that’s been established, allow me rant.

I’ve got some beef with all the self-improvement noise flying around these days. I don’t know about you, but I have about 14 Meditation podcasts stacked up in my library, and a disproportionate amount of guilt about the fact that I haven’t gotten around to listening to any of them. My instagram feed is perpetually reminding me to be grateful, mindful, present or brave at every possible opportunity.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been pummeled with inspirational reminders of how we could take advantage of this downtime to learn a language, write a novel, pivot careers or take up the bassoon, but personal growth simply isn’t an authentic, realistic or even appropriate response to pandemic circumstances for everyone. We are positively saturated in content that gently reminds that we could be using this moment to grow — it’s a veritable swell of self-betterment! So…why aren’t we feeling better?

For too many of us, “doing the work” has become a barometer for our goodness or badness, our worthiness or unworthiness, and in some cases our whole identities. We have become positively compulsive about striving for self-improvement.

I’m currently the mother of a newborn, and like many new moms, I have to get on the breast pump for fifteen minutes at a time about seven times a day. I usually use this time to clean out my inbox, but a quick perusal of a few online mommy forums alerted me to the fact that I’m apparently squandering a perfectly good opportunity to learn Italian, or coding, or stock trading in fifteen minute increments. There’s even a Breastfeeding Book Club where women read classic literature while pumping, and a meditation group for those that want to devote pumping time to mindfulness practices. That’s right, one can even over-achieve while lactating! As a new mom, I’m so beat that if I just…

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Mollie Birney, M.A.
Mind Cafe

Clinical Coach in private practice — life coaching with an eye towards mental health. @molliebirney www.molliebirney.com