Posted by: Donna Cunningham | February 24, 2010

Do You Need to “Better Yourself”?

©2010 by guest blogger, Ali Hale of

I had a conversation with my sister while I was at my parents’ for Christmas, and I wanted to pick up on something which she said to me and explore it here, because I suspect it’s an issue for a lot of people. She started at Cambridge University last October, and just like I did when I was at the same stage, she feels under pressure to live up to all those around her.

We had a long chat on Christmas day: she told me “I don’t want to better myself” and I know completely what she means. And actually, I agree. (And she doesn’t need to. She can’t see it how her big sister does, but she’s a beautiful, funny, clever and very talented young woman.)

If you’ve ever felt under pressure to make new year’s resolutions because your friends were; if you feel guilty because your partner works longer hours than you and is constantly talking about doing more; if you read what everyone’s up to on Twitter and feel that you should have the same drive or determination; if you get a nagging feeling that you’re not supposed to be simply content with who you are and what you do … this post is for you.

You Are Enough

Firstly, I want to make it very clear that – whatever state your life is currently in – you are enough. Deep down, you are a fundamentally good, interesting, creative person. There are people who love you and value you. Each day, you already have the ability to make someone’s life a little brighter.

I feel that some personal development advice can be aimed at turning you into a different person. That’s not how it should be. By growing and developing, you become more yourself – not less. If you find yourself trying to follow a path which leads you missing the spontaneity or the joy or the fun of the “old you”, stop. Don’t try to turn yourself into a carbon copy of your best friend, or someone who you admire.

With all your imperfections and flaws, you’re still a lovable and wonderful person. If you’re impatient at times, is that simply the flip side of your desire for action and your dislike of procrastination? If your house is untidy, is that because you – rightly – focus your attention on things which matter more to you? If you never manage to stay in touch with old friends, is that because you’re good at embracing the present moment?

You are not a dress shirt that needs every wrinkle ruthlessly ironed out. You are a warm, snuggly jumper, loved not in spite of but because of your loose threads, your crumpled bits, your huggable qualities.

Your Happiness Matters

I know I mentioned this recently, but I wanted to bring it up again because I think it’s so important – and so easy to ignore or sweep aside.

Your happiness matters. Seriously, it does. I find that hard to accept myself: it might be an oldest sibling thing, but I’ve spent a lot of my life worrying about keeping everyone else happy. I often find it incredibly hard to figure out what I really want just for me.

It’s good to be happy. It’s right to pursue the things which you find enjoyable and fulfilling – even if those things seem silly or trite in the eyes of the people around you. If you’re perfectly happy, thank-you-very-much, with your chocolate habit or your penchant for a good stiff drink at 5pm, or your weekend mornings spent curled up under a duvet … then who the hell am I, to tell you that you should change?

I’m not saying that your adventures will always be easy – sometimes, a deep happiness means working through some less-than-pleasant moments. But, if you are perfectly happy with who you are and what you do, don’t force yourself to change things just because your friends or your parents or the folks you look up to do it differently.

Being Content is Good!

Of course, it’s great to grow and develop; that’s pretty much what is all about. But it’s also great to learn to be content. At some times of your life in particular, you’ve got enough going on without trying to force yourself to do something more.

If you’re a student, like my sister is, it’s fine just to work towards your degree. You don’t need to feel pressured to join up to every extra-curricular event going, or to keep up with your music, or to start a business or write a novel or run a marathon. Cut yourself some slack, keep your goals to the bare minimum – getting your degree – and make sure you’re doing what you love during your time at university.

I experienced this first-hand five or six years ago, when I was at the same stage as my sister. There were days when I told myself “I should work harder”, when I looked at friends who were getting Firsts and thought that I should push myself to do the same.

After a couple of days of that, I realised that it was making me miserable. I wasn’t reading and studying because I enjoyed it – I was doing it because I felt I had to.

I took a look at my priorities, at what I really wanted from my time as a student. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to have time to simply have fun.

It was one of the happiest periods of my life.

There is a sense, sometimes, that if you’re content, you’re a bad person: you should keep on striving, struggling, growing, doing. Actually, it’s fine just to be. It’s good to be content. It’s good to enjoy your life with the money that you have – rather than feeling the pressure to keep working for more. It’s good to have fun hanging out with your friends – rather than feeling you have to go and get a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It’s even good, dare I say it, to kick back and watch television, rather than force yourself to read an “improving” book.

Sure, read the book if you love reading. (I do.) But don’t feel you have to.

You get one life. This is it. If you’re not going to enjoy it, then what’s the point?

About Ali:  I’m Ali Hale. Like you, I can’t be easily summed up with a label. I play a number of roles: freelance writer, post-graduate student, incongruously young Church “Elder”, occasional babysitter, unpublished novelist, girlfriend, daughter… I believe we’re all here to live the best life we can. One of my big “things” (call it my mission or goal if you want) is helping people make the most of their potential. That includes working on myself: shedding bad habits, becoming more bold and courageous, resisting laziness, and pushing myself beyond my cozy comfort zone.  I’m a regular, paid blogger (what I call a staff blogger) for several blogs. is where I wrestle with the really big questions and – hopefully – where I help you to find answers. I’m interested in getting more from life, and helping you to do the same.


  1. Dear Ali,

    I cannot believe the synchronicity of this post. I had just emailed a friend about this VERY subject. How I am constantly thinking I should be doing this or that. Or achieving more than I am, while at the same time enjoying exactly where I am. She said, “Why don’t you just enjoy what you are doing for the enjoyment of it?”
    I sometimes compare myself to others and what they do instead of valuing where I am right now. And truly, I feel just fine doing what I am doing now.
    As usual, a well-written, timely, lovely post.


  2. Thank you, Donna. Exactly what I was just facing/beating myself up about. Timing of this posting, as usual, was perfect. I appreciate you tremendously.

    • Yes, Jo, I was delighted to run across Ali’s blog and got some good reminders myself. Donna

  3. Timely Post! Reminder that I am a Human BEing, not a Human DOing.


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