The notion that we can constantly make ourselves better, in theory, is a great idea. But when does it become too much?

For me, the best way to answer this question is to notice our strengths and work to enhance them. In my Vistage work and as a leadership coach and advisor, I refer to this as discovering and working in our genius.

According to Alina Tugend, author of this New York Times article Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance, it was Dale Carnegie who ushered in the era of introspection and self-improvement.

She asserts that we have become so focused on achieving that we are never able to appreciate who we are or what we’ve already accomplished: “[W]hen we’re constantly reaching rather than occasionally being satisfied with what we have in front of us, that’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.”

For me the best way to avoid the “better, better, better” trap is to ask the following questions:

  • What am I already good at? What do I need to do to become excellent at this?
  • Of the things I am not good at and am striving to be better at, what can I delegate to someone else?
  • Can I find a way to accept being adequate or “good enough” at the rest?

Once we know and understand what we are good at, and focus on that, we not only become more effective, we become more satisfied and ultimately become better leaders.

Elisa K. Spain

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  • Larry Dreyfus

    Enjoyed your piece. Actually, I found it thought provoking. It gave me comfort to give myself permission to put away my work and do something I want to do for myself. I was able to say to myself- good job during the week; take Sunday off.


  • Valencia Ray MD

    Hi Elisa,
    I agree that too much focus is placed on “What is wrong” or “What is lacking”. It’s a paradigm upon which the motivation is based in avoiding what we “don’t want” instead of getting passionately clear about what we have to contribute. I no longer use the words, “self-improvement” to describe growth, instead I prefer “personal development”. We are constantly growing and developing, like a beautiful garden. Nature grows with love, cultivation and acceptance. Pruning can be uncomfortable, but when done with compassion and self-acceptance, it is easier and more productive. Even research is now validating this; here is a recent NY Times article entitled: Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges

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