Becoming Self-Made: The Antidote to Self-Improvement
“We build our pedestals out of untapped potential.” - David Richo
Have you noticed how living in modern society seems to strip people of their… umph? Chutzpah? You know...balls?
From kindergarten until retirement, we are ushered into a system that does little but hinder our development as individuals. Rather than being encouraged to express your values or nurture your talents, you're encouraged to lock them in the basement & throw away the key so those savage, uncivilized beasts never get out. It’s safer that way, we assume.
But little by little, this sweep-it-under-the-rug attitude starts to wear on us all. It becomes harder and harder to keep all that truth jammed in the basement (the metaphorical room of the unconscious). It creates unnecessary shame and even terror of our real selves. We grow tired, jaded, and uninspired with life, believing nothing but mediocrity is possible for us – or maybe that nothing but mediocrity is safe for us.
So we fall in line.
This is not normal. It is not the natural progression of the human being, but the result of a man-made system designed with survival, scarcity, & conquest in mind. As individuals, we become repressed rule-followers who get high on safety & predictability. While it seems harmless to most people, what we’re actually losing is our dignity.
When everyone is dumbed down and homogenized to fit a narrow mold of acceptability, not only is it atrociously boring, it erodes your self-respect. Then comes low self-efficacy, and suddenly we don't trust our ability to DO anything.
Some can fall in line and be “fine.” You might wonder, “Why is everyone else able to live like this? Why am I the only one who’s struggling?”
I’ve heard this sentiment several times recently, and I bet some version of this question lives in every outcast’s gut: Why can’t I adapt/succeed/conform/figure it out like other people have?”
The simple answer is that you’re not meant to. Sensitive folks are especially un-resilient when they have to suppress parts of themselves and conform to unhealthy things all day. But there’s something way more important within that question of “why can’t I be ‘fine’ like the others?” – It is the seed of your shame.
Shame is convinced that there really is something abnormally wrong with you, and it craves an answer: What is it? We desperately want to fix it & conform because we need connection with other people. So we face the worst kind of dilemma: Do I be myself and risk isolation and failure, or conform to things I know deep down aren’t right and betray myself?
This is the perfect tension point for getting stuck on the hamster wheel of self-improvement. If you've been into self-development or psychology for a while, but never quite see the pay-offs of everything you've learned, this may be why. We've been trained to focus on what’s wrong with us. In other words, all your self-development efforts are fueled by shame. As we know, whatever we focus on tends to expand. There always seem to be more things to ‘fix.' It becomes a game of whack-a-mole.
But rather than desperately trying to rid ourselves of our shadows, 'hustle' our way to significance, or heal our chakras of all those pesky 'blocks' for just $599 - We can shift our focus to one simple idea.
"The truth of the matter is that the Shadow is 90% pure gold." - Carl Jung
Have you noticed how most content about shadow work emphasizes trauma, self-sabotage, weakness, or even how humans are evil? (shut up, Freud.) If the shadow really is 90% gold, it needs a serious re-brand.
The Golden Shadow is the term used to describe the parts of ourselves that lie dormant, just waiting to break out and dazzle the world. These aren't scary, evil traits we must somehow change or dispose of. The truth is, we already have more than enough inherent value - our skills, interests, values, curiosities, and ambitions provide ample breeding ground for a good life. But our already-stressed, neurotic brains take the concept of the shadow & go into a frenzy of trying to "self-improve," only to get burnt out & disillusioned.
We’re not alive just to berate ourselves into changing. We’re here to experience the relief of coming clean & expressing who we already are.
This process is challenging. The modern world often drains our energy & gives us every reason to lay low and play it safe. Many live in a constant state of amnesia, insisting they have no purpose, convictions, or deeper reason for existing. In this state, we remain underdeveloped & immature, never giving our talents to the world. It's a lose-lose, a negative feedback loop between individuals & their society.
So why can’t we just mine all this inner gold and skip off into the sunset? The problem is, shitty circumstances are incredibly convincing – We believe in their power more than our own. We believe in the power of our shitty job, unfulfilling relationships, or our meager bank account, and who can blame us? These things seem like evidence of our inherent valuelessness, our inability to change and grow. But this inflated belief in circumstances (aka outside authority) is like the Wizard of Oz – behind the curtain, he ain’t shit.
In light of all this, I’ve become way more excited about the idea of being ‘Self-made’ than the exhausting idea of ‘integrating my problematic shadow.’ Being self-made isn't about getting rich or famous. It's a conscious practice of uncovering your identity & letting it loose in the world. It's a conscious sifting of Self from not-Self that begins to create a tipping point, a new clarity.
Your decisions, boundaries, speech, the way you carry yourself, & even how you dress all become a cohesive expression of the real Self buried underneath the layers of apathy & negativity that modern life tends to pile on us.
Instead of becoming more like everyone else in order to safely belong, you realize that's fake belonging anyway. But when you take the risk of becoming your full self, a new level of freedom & lightness gets unlocked. This is what Camus meant when he said, "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."