As we leap, scoot, crawl or get dragged into 2024, the ceaseless message in our heads is that we need improvement. Apparently, our face, our furniture, our travel plans, our friendships, our dog food, our recipe for coq au vin are not quite right. We as human beings, struggling along in the most challenging times, are not quite enough.
We’ve all been eating, sleeping, dressing ourselves and forming relationships for ages, yet those with the pens and platforms are telling us we are several inches off plumb, not thin enough or bold enough or bright enough or present enough or chill enough. If we were, why would we be receiving dozens of self-help suggestions every day?
Not since third grade, when Mrs. Heller wrote on the arithmetic column of my report card that “Randi needs improvement,” have I felt so under-remediated. Not since I got married and left my mother, the Great Influencer, behind have I felt so naked and afraid in the world.
The bombardment of criticism, both explicit and implied, comes from every corner of the media world — presented, slyly, as “help.” After all, why not learn to braid hair better, change your running stride, find a good therapist, get more years out of your carpet or erase those wrinkles? From newspapers to TV to the Internet, with all its social media threads, the constant offerings of how to be better tell me I am not enough as I am.
So I am here to tell you, and myself, that I love us just the way we are. (There are some exceptions. For example, as I write this, Alaska Airlines has grounded its 737 Max 9 planes after a door panel blew out of one in flight. They can do better.) At the risk of adding to the chorus telling you how to improve, I would make the tiny suggestion that we jump off the wannabe train and think about what a good job we’re doing of being humans in an inhumane time.
Thank you, but I do not want to count my steps every day and respond like Pavlov’s dog to reminders from my watch to stand up and walk around every 20 minutes. While I curl up with a book and read through a drizzly afternoon, let my blood settle, that’s what I say. What are we doing to ourselves? We seem to have lost confidence in our basic competence and ability to negotiate our way through our days. I don’t need 12 more cooking hacks or YouTube videos on how to declutter. My clutter reminds me who I am. And I am not Marie Kondo.
Parents are turning themselves inside out, stressing over their parenting skills. Folks, we do our best and we make mistakes, and we fail, and we would do it differently if we had the chance to do it all again, but most kids grow up fine, despite everything that goes sideways in everyone’s life.
Someone gave me a book on how to do nothing. Just sit in place, no book or media or puppy or changing scenery — just sit and let the mind go where it will. In my case, the book was superfluous. Nothing? I can do that.
Zillions of improvement articles focus on sleep. Dear friends, people have been sleeping for many years. Skip the meditation and the calming podcasts and the drugs and the weighted blankets. (See paragraph on how to do nothing.) Eventually you’ll sleep.
Believe me, your car most likely will not get stolen, your house is clean enough, you don’t have to put your suitcases in the hotel bathtub, and you’re probably getting enough vitamins from your regular diet. True, the sun will burn out, but not for a while. Covid will persist, but we are most likely to survive. Our kids will do well enough in school and get into college, if that’s what they want, or land jobs that will support their lives.
We have become so hard on ourselves because we’re absorbing all the voices telling us how to “improve” how we jog, how we smell, how we pack for trips and how we take care of our friends.
I would change the message: How we are is fine. We’re doing the best we can. Time to put the wrinkle cream entrepreneurs and body influencers out of business.
One message I received offered an article on how to die better. What chutzpah. We’re getting criticized even on our way out.
Copyright 2024 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.