A Lesson from Trees: Can We Please Stop Self-Improving?!

Lessons from nature

As I’ve often been riding my bike along the lake and through various parks and nature trails, I couldn’t help but realize the many different sizes, shapes, and varieties of trees that grace the Chicago landscape – providing different smells, textures, shade, and beauty.  Could you imagine a world where we defined one tree as ‘perfect’ and all the others in need of self-improvement?

Yet we somehow expect – and even demand it of ourselves.

Also, a few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog on Over 50 & Thriving titled “Just the Way I Am” and then I completed the “101 things to do in 1095 days” list. These two posts got me thinking about the idea of self-improvement – and wondering if we aren’t perpetuating negative attitudes and reinforcing old tapes that convince us we just aren’t good enough.

In creating my list, I intentionally chose the headings ‘professional fulfillment’ and ‘personal fulfillment’ to avoid the term ‘self-improvement’ – a word that makes me cringe – because word connotations matter.

Improvement is a judgment that implies a lack, something is not good enough, a need to be better.

Fulfillment, on the other hand, implies a sense of happiness and satisfaction. And you can be happy and still continue to find new ways to be happy.

The concept of self-improvement feeds the perfectionism that chips away at self-esteem, destroys self-confidence, and keeps us from trying new things – for fear of failure. But unless we go around treating people poorly – disrespecting others; lying, cheating, stealing; living with no integrity – do we really need to improve?

If you do intentionally hurt others, then by all means – please re-evaluate and find ways to self-improve!

But if we don’t set out to do others harm, would the efforts we make to stay healthy, try new experiences, stretch our horizons – actually be more about being content than they are about becoming perfect?

Even the word perfect gets a bad rap. The word has several definitions – but somehow we landed on the ‘without flaw or fault’ as THE definition. What if we focused on the meaning, ‘highly suitable and just right for someone’ – or ‘having the desired elements, qualities, or characteristics’?

If we consider perfection from that angle — then we can view different aspects of our personality, the different stages of our lives, various experiences, and even mistakes – as perfect at that time, given our specific circumstances.


Please join the conversation – do you really need to focus on self-improvement or are you ‘just right’ and looking instead for continued self-fulfillment? 



  1. Such a good point–about trees. I am working at leaving those kinds of judgments behind in my youth. I often stop my friends short with a “You’re looks-shaming” comment. Because, all of it, it’s way to judgmental for me anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So well written and thought out! I was called perfect one time and I denied it venimently. Now I can see that maybe I was perfect by a different definition.
    🙂 gwingal

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a self improvement junkie all my life and more recently managed to get to a place where I caught myself thinking “ I love and appreciate myself exactly as I am but I’d like to lose those last few kilograms… this has been me all my life. But now, I’m getting on with living. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for you – getting on with living and loving and appreciating yourself — if we don’t, who will? If it makes you happy to eat well and exercise, go for it — but not because you need to lose weight to be perfect. Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I recall years ago when at work they finally dropped the “areas of improvement” from yearly reviews. Some managers did start focusing on utilizing people’s strengths instead of trying to get everyone “perfect” in all things. But some managers still talked improvement areas year after year. It’s such a part of our culture.

    I had not caught the fulfillment term in your 101 List, but now that you pointed it out, I love that idea. I’m going to totally steal it.

    I’ve often used the phrase “perfect for me” as in “my husband is not perfect, but he’s perfect for me”. A great way to show the 2 different meanings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat – yes, you are so right, it is part of our culture – which is why I pushed the plea to stop in the title. bigger, better, faster, thinner, richer. The curse of the -er. And I like the “perfect for me”. Feel free to steal the idea of fulfillment. I hope it catches on! Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I haven’t deeply thought about the different terms we use for self-improvement. I like personal development. I am a personal development fan, but it doesn’t come from external pressure. I am not looking to be like someone else or look a certain way. I am on a self-fulfillment path. I want to continually learn and grow. I do not want to be perfect, which I know is unattainable and ill defined. I do want to be the best person I can be, and there is always room for growth there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michele – I totally get what you mean about not seeking external confirmation but looking for opportunities to learn and grow! Intrinsic motivation, curiosity, passion — all characteristics that drive a growth mindset and lead to self-fulfillment. Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Nature can teach us so much truth if we just slow down enough to listen…

    I do love your idea of self-fulfillment. What will fill me – what will give me joy. This is where I want to focus my time. Thank you for this valuable distinction. While I’m not sure I can manage a list of 101 things right now… I do want to start small with a list of twenty things before I retire in May 2019 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post. The comparison to the beautiful variety of trees is lovely. Life would be so boring if everyone was the same idealized version of perfect. I also connected to the idea of fulfillment rather than self-improvement–a subtle, but highly valuable distinction. Thank you Janet.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re so right Janet – we’re constantly bombarded with the “ideal” of what we should look like, behave like, think like, what we should desire, where we should work etc. I look at the smooth faced, plump lipped, breast enhanced young women of today and I feel pity in my heart for them and how they all look the same. Now I just need to remind myself that I can be my own version of fulfilled/perfect and not be overwhelmed with the outside voices that call for more. Great post – MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leanne – I’ve never been one to buy into the ‘ideal’ when it comes to fashion, style, physical appearance etc. I am so happy I escaped that nightmare. But I did buy into the need to ‘act’ perfect for many years – personality, characteristics, etc. So glad I realized it early and I don’t think I passed it on to my kids. Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post Janet! I don’t believe in striving to meet some ‘ideal’. I believe in learning to accept ourselves as we are. I also prefer the term self investment to self improvement. Self investment is about making time for ourselves and understanding ourselves so that we can live happy, healthy lives. Self improvement sets the tone for thinking that we’re not good enough and that we need to ‘improve’ in order to be acceptable. #TeamLovinLife

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your term self-investment too – but sometimes that term is used by folks who are trying to convince you to buy service packages with a tinge of guilt-trip. Somehow if I don’t buy ‘this or that’ package, I don’t care enough about myself…another no no for me. If we can look at it as time and attention for ourselves, I think that’s great. Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think self fulfillment is a much better aim in life than self improvement – which always kind of sounds a bit conceited to me (although I have been known to use the term!). Self fulfilment is a much more nurturing idea while self improvement sounds like me me me and rather ambitious. #MLSTL and shared on SM 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love the imagery you’ve used here. Self-fulfilment is a lovely way to put it. Rather than improving I like the idea of growing into your possibility – gently – with a tweak or two here or there when required to support ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Continually putting pressure on ourselves for self-improvement can be very damaging in the long run. I think self-love and acceptance is much more important and something that we all should aim for. I’m a much happier person since I’ve stopped trying to find perfection. #TeamLovinLife

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s a quote somewhere (I can’t remember what it is exactly) that says something about being able to accept who we are while still being a work in progress. I like to think that rather than focus on what needs improving… that concept of things constantly changing so we need to respond in part to adjust to what’s happening around us. (If that makes sense!) #teamlovinlife

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I feel that humans (like trees) are meant to continually grow. So I’m in the self-improvement camp. Simply because I’m not a person who likes to just coast. I really enjoy the feeling of continual growth. Whether it be exploring new places, gaining knowledge, achieving results. Perhaps I’ll be different in my retirement years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leanne – I think your word ‘grow’ is similar to my word ‘fulfillment’. I also enjoy exploring new places, gaining knowledge, and achieving results — my concern is with the word ‘improve’ because it connotes something is ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’. I guess it is really just an issue of semantics.

      Liked by 1 person

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