Over Improved

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

I came across an interesting word the other day: Schlimmbesserung
It means to be worsened by improvement, specifically self-improvement, which psychologist Mary Pipher was discussing in Women Rowing North, her book on flourishing as you age. This, however, was exactly why I was there; self-improvement is a big hobby of mine. Mary admits a weakness for this form of art herself.
“I have strived much of my life to be a better version of myself…My constant quest to be a better person has often kept me from just enjoying my own personality.”
Apparently this sort of improvement can go too far, like taking cosmetic surgery to the extreme. These things can sometimes be hard to see yourself which is why it’s so helpful to have society provide a mirror. Sometimes seeing our misguided ways or the corrections for them from the outside can shock us awake, as if our brain got jolted by a glimpse of some important truth and is saying take note.
My own brain got the jolt during an appointment with a nurse practitioner a number of years ago. I can’t recall why I was there or what we were even talking about, but what got my attention was a story she told about how she handles it when something from her personal collection of signature quirks, shortcomings, flubs and compulsions comes forward. When she does something signature Dawn-like, she just says, “Oh Dawn.”
I can still hear the tone of her voice and the expression on her face when she said that with a mildly rueful, warm-hearted fondness. Like she was her favorite little sister, so different from the teeth-clenching mortification I feel for the latest Elizabeth-ism I have released out into the world. But as Anne Lamott says in her TED Talk on the 12 truths she learned from life and writing, “Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky annoying self is home. It’s where world peace begins.”
There it is, permission from two wise women to go enjoy the big, beautiful catastrophe of ourselves today.