The Death of Self-Improvement

Note: Today’s post is a guest contribution from Dave Ursillo.

I personally dig Dave for a number of reasons, the most entertaining being that “one minute he meditates while reading Thoreau, and the next, he’s in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard with a thousand-dollar bottle of vodka.” Chuggg! Chuggg! Chuggg! Without further ado, allow me to introduce, my dude, Dave……………………

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that we must erect the ramparts of peace.” ~From the UNESCO Constitution

Today, I’m calling for the death of self-improvement.

It’s not dead yet; and it’s certainly not going anywhere any time soon–but we need to kill it. You see, we’ve created an epidemic. Allow me to explain.

While on travel last autumn, I was having a conversation with a fellow vacationer who was probably in her mid-30s. Sharing our lines of work, I described my style of writing. “That’s so cool,” she enthusiastically remarked, “I always browse the titles of different self-help books at the bookstore and they look so interesting!”

After a slight pause, she alarmingly added, “…not that I need ‘self-help’!!”

The reason for her conversational disclaimer was clear: the very phrase “self-help” is spun up into a strong social stigma. Self-help sparks labels and misconceptions spanning desperation and depression, a confused and sad soul, a dangerously unbalanced person who is possibly mental ill. Aside from the social stigma, the self-help genres also serve purpose bigger than day-to-day living; a notion that has been widely shared over history.

Since we are all naturally imperfect, we are thus flawed and each capable of growing; of improving ourselves and our behaviors; doing “better” in our lives and to try harder and to strive for important goals and to ultimately better our very souls. And so, just a short step away from “self-help” resides the self-improvement genre, one that serves to help people better themselves, overcome troubles, improve weaknesses, and ultimately lead happier and healthier lives.

However, there is a dark side to the world of self-improvement, and I fear it is quietly becoming a dangerous epidemic that we must stop – and kill – in order to truly help and save our species and planet.

The Dark Side of Self-Improvement

Many esteemed bloggers, thought-leaders and life-explorers have been recently noting this so-called “self-improvement problem.” Danielle LaPorte at White Hot Truth touched upon the problematic dichotomy when she recently proclaimed that self-improvement makes you neurotic. Farnoosh Brock from Prolific Living also bordered along the dark side of self-improvement when detailing how a number of her coaching clients were suddenly and increasingly “overwhelmed with self-improvement and personal development.”

But that only begins to scratch the surface of this quiet epidemic.

Self-help, self-improvement, personal development — for all their simple benefits in helping others better themselves and improve their lives — can lead to a dark and dangerous place. These genres can ultimately instill a mentality in someone that is overly-fixated on one’s problems, imperfections, flaws and shortcomings, which we then naturally compare to those of others… it spurs an obsessive, never-ending battle that simply cannot be won because we as human beings can’t ever achieve any level of outright perfection.

Indeed, under the guise of genres that we call self-help, self-improvement, personal development and so on; writers, bloggers and authors across the globe (myself included!) have incidentally exacerbated the very plight that they were hoping to cure… the ego.

Egoic Self-Improvement

The ego is the part of our minds that focuses so heavily upon our flaws, shortcomings and weaknesses. It quietly and subconsciously exploits the differences in others to inflate our individual senses of Self. It’s the voice in our heads that critically judges others and narrates our thoughts and actions without our choice; as if this voice has a mind of its own that we cannot consciously control. The ego subtly instills a zero-sum mindset, a hoarder’s mentality, that there’s “not enough to go around” and “what’s mine can’t be yours.”

Here we’re discussing the ego as not simply an air of arrogance but a human epidemic of the mind, as defined by the Eckhart Tolle school of thought:

“Without an ego, a human would be easily recognize his connection with Source and with all other life. Without ego, a human would not seek the drama that makes us feel superior or dominant. Without ego we wouldn’t need to complain, and wouldn’t need the stories that we tell. Without ego we wouldn’t fear loss, because we would be in tune with who we are, which is a limitless, eternal being. Without ego, there would be no past and no future. We would be able to live in the present which is the only time in which we do live. Without ego, there would be no resistance and no resentment and no dysfunction.”

What We’re Suddenly Realizing

It dawned upon me recently that maybe — just maybe — every one of our perceived imperfections, self-described shortcomings and flaws that we hope to “improve upon” or “fix” through the self-improvement actually don’t exist (at most, maybe they exist only in our minds to serve to help us awaken to our innate gifts, hidden talents and true potential).

Nevertheless, while every human being is naturally imperfect, we are each complete and whole within ourselvesin other words, you do not need or require anyone or anything outside of ourselves to make you complete, whole or validated. Thus, upon this basis, perhaps our perceived flaws and shortcomings are not genuine parts of “who we are”, but only who and what your ego perceives you to be.

Maybe all of our personal inadequacies and weaknesses are figments of our imaginations — that is, they only exist when viewed through the lens of the ego: the imagined “I am,” the false-self.

The Logic Problem That Ensues

If the ego is the only reason you perceive yourself to be so heavily flawed and in need of improvement, we still recognize that we can each “do better” and “try harder” in our lives — especially for the sake of bettering the lives of others around us in a world that so desperately needs improving. But, if we are each complete and whole within our naturally imperfect selves, what, then, are we improving? What are we “bettering”?

The logic that follows begs questions like,

“If I am without flaw, then what? What if I’m still not happy? I know I’m not as good of a person as I can or should be… but if my shortcomings only exist through the lens of my ego, then what do I do to be any better of a person? A better friend, spouse, parent? What, then, comes next?”

Perhaps the greatest mission in your life is not to “better” yourself at all. Maybe this social paradigm, this widely shared cultural meme that tells us we’re “less and should be more” only bolsters and confirms the ego’s false sense of Self.

What if, instead, your greatest mission in life was to (1) strive to divorce yourself from that very egoic lens through which we’ve grown into seeing yourself as so heavily flawed; and (2) instead realize your natural wholeness, completeness, potential and embark upon a lifelong path toward a goal of enlightenment?

The Root of All Evil?

Money is not the root of all evil. Ego is. Every problem, every argument, every conflict, every war, every earthly problem in your world and every flaw that exists in your mind has ensued as a result of the human ego manifesting over thousands of years and across millions of lifetimes.

And today, it’s more than 6 billion egos that compete with one another, misunderstand one another, fight with one another and neglect one another that cause a seemingly infinite number of problems, hardships and pains for us all. We’re all culpable.

It would be an impossible, uphill battle for one person (or even a small group) to overcome the human epidemic, the ego; a mission that we’re individually incapable of winning. But, that’s the thing: this epidemic is not a battle of one (or some) against all. It’s a battle of me against myself — who I truly am on the inside against the egoic perception of “who I think I am,” the self-projected image of “Me”, the false-self.

Self-improvement is the practice of “bettering” a heavily flawed and never-perfect sense of Self. Self-improvement truly exists only when we view ourselves through the lens of ego. Divorced from the ego, we become less of a “series of problems needing remedy” and more of a “source of inherent potential with unique purpose” — we realize the extent of our beauty and limitless capabilities, within our completely whole and wholly imperfect selves.

The Death of Self-Improvement

The death of self-improvement is a far cry from advocating that we all stop “trying” — in a world riddled by the convenience of indifference over positive action, we need to each encourage each other and challenge ourselves to do more to help and better the lives of others around us. Instead, the death of self-improvement spells the end of “trying to fix my problem-laden Self.”

The only real flaws of your personality, weaknesses of your mind and body, and problems in your life are created by the ego within. With the death of self-improvement, we are liberated from a long-standing, deficiency-minded mentality that has been impressed upon us by society (without our chance to even realize it). We instead can choose to shift our minds from focusing upon “lack” and “problems” to “abundance” and “solutions”.

From here forward, the journey is far from over. Simply realizing our individual completeness and wholeness is not the end-goal… it’s a new, purer starting point from which we begin to act and think and live with less egoic interference and more of a heavily empowered, heartfelt compassion.

The journey of effort, trying and working toward a better “me” still exists within each of us… it’s just different now. Devoid of the self-improvement epidemic, we’re no longer distracted by our egos’ false-projections of our many faults and flaws and problems. Instead, we work to remedy the very disease itself, within our minds, and on behalf of the world around us.


Dave Ursillo is a 25-year-old former “politico” turned writer and alternative leadership speaker. He writes primarily at to explore life, this world and its people. Dave also speaks to various audiences across the country on how to “lead without followers” in any walk of life, encouraging men and women to reclaim a purer sense of personal leadership in their lives ( ((Photo Credit))

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