I first heard this statement muttered by a zen master at a meditation retreat in my early twenties and it’s stubbornly stuck with me ever since. In fact, the older I get, the more wisdom I see in it. You are already good enough as you are… but you can also always be better.
There is an inherent tension between self-acceptance and self-improvement. This tension is within each of us. On the one hand, we want to feel at peace with ourselves, to understand that we are good, valuable, worthy human beings and we deserve love and respect and occasional backrubs.
On the other hand, unless you’re comatose, it’s abundantly clear that we have no fucking clue what we’re doing most of the time. We mess up all the damn time. There are so many ways we could be better—that we could learn more, achieve more, grow more, etc.
I love this principle because it bluntly acknowledges that this internal tension will never go away. It doesn’t matter how productive, competent, and awesome you become, there will always be something that you kinda suck at. That gnawing sense of inadequacy will never be conquered. There is no perfection, only progress.
But, at the same time, you are still a worthy and valuable human being, regardless of how screwed up you are, regardless of how many mistakes you’ve made, regardless of how much room for growth you may have.
The beauty of this principle is that it shows that self-acceptance and self-improvement need each other—that having one without the other inevitably leads to dysfunction. If you’re all self-acceptance without self-improvement, then you become a lazy, indulgent, selfish twat. If you are all self-improvement with no self-acceptance, then you become a neurotic, hyper-critical, over-anxious mess.
Self-acceptance doesn’t work without self-improvement. Self-improvement doesn’t work without self-acceptance. You are perfect just as you are… but you can always be better.