In Greek mythology, there is a story about
soul mates. Zeus feared how powerful humans would be so he split them in two, forcing them to roam the Earth until they found their “other half.” In the story of Cinderella, the Prince loved the glamorous version of Cinderella. She feared that he wouldn’t love the real her, even though she was the same kind person he met at the ball, but with uglier clothes. In Grease, Sandy and Danny both changed the way they acted and dressed to please each other, when in reality, they liked the person they met on the beach at the beginning of summer. Summer loving had them a blast. (Stuck in your head yet?)
Becoming the best person you can be is going to get you a lot further in life than “becoming the person you want to marry.” When you really examine yourself, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, you are able to better understand yourself and then extend that understanding to others.
Girls, you are not a princess that needs to be rescued. Guys, you are not a punk that needs a woman to reform you. You are you.
Why is self-improvement important?
Self-improvement is not just a buzzword created to sell books. Self-improvement and reflection are a vital part of becoming happy and comfortable with yourself. When you work to improve yourself, you can have higher self-esteem.
Aimee Heffernan, a licensed marriage and family therapist, describes self-esteem as having a warm regard towards yourself. It’s not thinking you are perfect and great at everything. Rather it is being able to recognize your weaknesses but still believing you are a good person and are of worth. Sure, you may need to work on your gossiping problem (who doesn’t?) but that does not mean you are a bad person who deserves to be unhappy. But self-esteem does a lot more for us then just giving us good feelings.
“When you have self-esteem you make better choices,” Heffernan said. “In order for you to be happy, married or not married, you need to have self-esteem so that you make good choices no matter what. I see that on so many levels, every day, all the time.”
Without self-esteem, people often look outward to gain the recognition and worth they crave. This can often put them in danger of having dependent, abusive and generally unhealthy relationships, according to Kristin Hodson, a therapist specializing in sex and intimacy therapy at The Healing Group in Salt Lake City.
Another reason to work on self, echoed by many, is that when it comes to dating, you are the only person you can control. You cannot control other people’s thoughts, feelings or even who you meet.
Marty Erickson, a counselor in BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, said, “So much energy goes into being angry or frustrated about not being in a relationship. Put that energy into becoming a better person.”
Josh Weed, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, echoed that sentiment. “We can definitely fine tune ourselves and our own spirituality and our own sense of self,” he said, “so that when we do encounter that person that feels right and it feels comfortable and it’s working, we’re able to recognize it for what it is.
By becoming your true and best self, you put yourself in a better place to meet someone. And whether you get married or not, you will be happy and comfortable with yourself.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
Popular culture often tells us that you need to change to get the girl or have a happily ever after but according to Weed, changing yourself just because you want to get married is not going to help you in the long run.
“When I see people that are trying to improve themselves in order to achieve a relationship or something having to do with interactions with others I find that self improvement work is less genuine and it’s not really them improving themselves,” Weed said. “It’s not them taking an assessment of their own personalities and traits and trying to improve those things. Instead it’s usually someone trying to fit a mold or somebody else’s expectations. That can work for a little while but it’s bound to crumble over time.”
People often say that they need to be worthy of the person they want to marry. But Erickson said, not only does that perfect person not exist; it’s going to be incredibly difficult to live up to that person.
Heffernan also explained that we undermine our personalities and ourselves when we act a certain way because we think we are supposed to as opposed to because we want to.
“If you fake it and you put on a facade, you’re doing yourself no favors at all because then you are married and you realize, this person doesn’t love the true me,” she said. “And it’s a really painful place to be. You have to show up 100% yourself, imperfections and all. You have to realize that your spouse will have imperfections too.”
Just do it
The best way to begin the process is to hold an honest inventory of yourself. What are my strengths and weaknesses? What makes me happy? What makes me uncomfortable? Am I surrounding myself with good people?
While this can be done on your own, it will be more productive with a little help. Of course, prayer is really important.
“Heavenly Father is amazing in that He helps you see your strengths while showing us our weaknesses so that you’re not discouraged but you’re able to want to improve and want to become your best self,” Weed said.
He also said that listening to feedback from those that you love and that love you will help you see strengths and weaknesses. Most people will see a pattern in the feedback and that’s what we need to embrace.
Ask the therapists; they can help you
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it with friends and family, you can also see a counselor. Counseling is not just for people who are depressed or have a mental illness. Just like you go to a medical doctor just to check up on your physical health, you can go to a counselor to check up on your mental health. It can be very beneficial to anyone who genuinely wants to start this process. A counselor can help you with the process of self-discovery. Any full-time BYU student can receive free counseling services through the Counseling and Psychological Services office in the Wilkinson Center.
A few things to remember
No one is perfect. You have weaknesses and that’s ok. By accepting your weaknesses, you will become more comfortable accepting weakness in other people. On the flip side, when you see your worth, you are more likely to see worth in others. You will also be more comfortable accepting when you are wrong in a situation, instead of placing blame on the other person, according to Hodson.
There are parts you won’t be able to fix. Some things are just part of your personality. When you do a self-inventory, you will be able to find these areas. However, according to Weed, no matter the problem, you can always find “negotiation corners.” If you are sarcastic, your “negotiation corner” may be to not use sarcasm to belittle others.
It takes time. I once heard someone say he wanted to find a girl just like his mom because she is just perfect. He did not realize though that his mom had been working on becoming that way for 50 years. Neither you nor your partner is going to be and remain “perfect” when you turn 24. Weed said self-improvement is not something that should only be a priority while single but also while dating, engaged and married. It is a continual process as people and situations change and grow. And remember, things will change.
Expectations. All us girls have those lists we made at sleepovers of the traits we want in a husband. Throw those lists away. While we should have a basic set of values we want (kindness, spirituality, respect etc.) things like “well-dressed” or “intellectual” are not as important. We should be focused on values, not behaviors.
“The marriages that I see work are marriages that are people that are pleasantly surprised with who they ended up with,” Weed said.
Whitney Lawter, a BYU graduate living in Kansas City, Missouri remembers getting ready to start the next chapter in her life and meeting the right person.
“After thinking about it way too much, I decided to give up,” she said. “I actually wrote in my journal ‘I’m just going to focus on my goals, be the best Whitney I can be, and let the Lord take care of the rest.’”
Two weeks later, she met the man she eventually married. So while it probably won’t happen that fast for you, when you are working on yourself and trusting in the Lord, good things happen.
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