I’ve Given Up on Glowing Up And Never Felt BetterYou are not an iOS.
As early as 13 years old, I was setting New Year's resolutions around diet, exercise, and weight loss. This lasted well into my mid-20s, and with each passing year, I grew more upset and frustrated with how I looked. I was comparing myself to others, longing to look like previous versions of me, and pining for a “better” future version of my body—all at the same time.
In my late 20s, I finally broke up with diet culture, leaned into body liberation, and stopped stressing about body goals. But that didn’t keep me from absorbing the self-improvement and “new year, new me” noise in other parts of my life.
Everywhere I turned, there were transformational 12-step skincare routines, tips for better time management and productivity, and people singing the praises of a five-year plan—and that was just my Instagram feed in 2019. (No surprise, but capitalism plays a huge role in this. After all, in order to be “better,” you’ve got to buy all the stuff that goes along with it.)
Despite the normalcy of all this, I'm convinced that our collective attempts to "glow up" and our penchant for consuming content that encourages it are a big problem. In my eyes, our interest in transformational stories leaves us feeling less content with the lives we have, anxious about not being where we should be, and exhausted by yearning for what feels out of reach. This unhealthy mindset is making us our own worst enemy.
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That’s not to shit on anyone who genuinely enjoys embarking on a new beauty routine or whatever, but all that leveling-up talk can make us (read: me) feel like we’re falling short if we’re not regularly updating our lives like some iPhone software. I’ve personally spent too much time obsessing over promotions, making six figures, and finding the partner of my dreams. I believed hitting those milestones would mean I finally had my life together.
But after buying into that B.S. for over a decade, I came to realize that chasing after these jobs, partners, and even perfect skin didn’t actually add to my life. In fact, it made things noticeably worse. My brain felt burnt out, I was buying things I didn’t need, and I felt like I didn’t have any room to prioritize the things I truly cared about: spending time with my friends and creative hobbies I enjoyed.
Since ditching that “level-up” lifestyle in 2021, though, I can say I genuinely love my life just as it is. Listen, that doesn’t mean I’ll never have dating or financial goals or buy a face mask ever again. But I’m finally able to feel truly content. For a long time, that felt out of reach.
I get that seeing yourself out of a cultural narrative like that sounds much easier said than done—but it’s possible. To help you dodge those "new year, new you" vibes or just the ongoing pressure to “live your best life,” here are a few reminders and mindset shifts that worked for me and might come in clutch for you.
1. Remember your true goals.
Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by the self-improvement side of TikTok. I’m talking about the ridiculous amount of “habits that make my life better” videos currently taking up the app’s bandwidth. I recently fell into one of those scrolling traps, and before I knew it, I’d created a laundry list of things I thought I needed to add into my routine (and shopping cart) to improve my 2024. Waking up by 6 a.m., drinking a liter of water before coffee, walking 10,000 steps per day, you know the drill. But after sitting with the list for a bit, I remembered that this kind of to-do list made me feel worse in the end. My post-scroll clarity showed me that leveling up like the TikTokers wouldn’t help me reach my ultimate goal: enjoying who I am in this moment.
Instead, I focused on what enables me to feel joy right now, like taking pottery classes, trying rock climbing just for fun, spending more time with my community, and reading more fiction books.
2. Accept what currently is.
When I realized that a past version of me was dreaming about this version, I thought, Why not spend more time focusing on this part of my life by just existing?
I found that, if I wasn’t careful, I could easily spend my entire existence laser-focused on what’s next, crossing my fingers that the next chapter would finally bring happiness. I could forget to enjoy my life as it unfolds.
So, to stay in tune with all the greatness that’s around and within me today (and to better assess which goals I can reasonably take on), I regularly remind myself that I don’t want to regret not appreciating the time I was given. I also prioritize a gratitude practice, taking five minutes each morning and evening (more when possible) to focus on all the things that are going well right now. That helps me stay grounded in all the beauty of my current life.
My life is far from perfect, but when I take a step back, I can see that so many of the things I’ve accomplished (moving to a new city and writing a book, for starters) are the things I dreamt about in my 20s. So while I haven’t perhaps accomplished all the societal markers of success (marriage, making a certain amount of money, buying a house), it doesn’t mean my life is somehow inadequate. Those milestones might not even be things I want to chase after.
3. Recognize you’re always evolving.
When I was in my 20s, insecure and still under the thumb of diet culture, I had a pair of jeans that were my absolute favorite and also symbolized when my body was “thin enough.” If the jeans fit, I was happy with myself. But if they didn’t, god help my body, which would be forced back into unhealthy and unsustainable yo-yo dieting.
But finally, one day, I had an epiphany. My favorite jeans from high school weren’t supposed to fit my grown-ass-woman frame. So why did I keep retraumatizing myself to shrink back into them? How ludicrous would it be to expect my 16-year-old body to fit what I wore when I was 6?
The point I’m making here is that we change, and it’s normal. We’re created and designed to do that. Once I made peace with there being many different iterations of my body throughout my lifetime, I stopped feeling the need to constantly try to shrink into a different version of it. And that goes for other parts of my life as well.
4. Trust your timing.
For all the things I love about social media (building community! styling tips! endless memes!), there’s a lot I dislike. At the top of that list is the illusion that everyone has things “figured out.” For the majority of folks, summers on a boat in Europe and flawlessly decorated, never-messy bedrooms are not reality. Still, the pressure to have it all based on the lives people share on social media exists. We want to keep up.
At 33, I left my job, got divorced, moved across the country, found a roommate on Criagslist, and started a new career trajectory. At that time, I felt like I was unraveling when everyone in my feed seemed put together.
When I let go of made-up timelines, I became more compassionate with myself (speaking kindly and showing the same gentleness I show others) and gained the sense that my life is unfolding in perfect timing.
Now, I get to write and speak for work, I have time and freedom to travel the world, and I live in a lovely bachelorette apartment in Brooklyn. Yeah, there are other goals, but with this mindset shift I get to enjoy that journey. I’m no longer dunking on myself for not having life figured out before my 30th birthday.
I’ve learned there’s no expiration date on our power, our dreams, or our desires. And we all have different starting points and hurdles to overcome, so comparing our timelines to others isn’t a good indicator of our success at all.
5. Being nicer to yourself works.
When I was approaching the deadline for my first book, I was behind schedule and beating myself up terribly. After stressing for days, I decided to show myself some grace and ask for an extension. My publisher was happy to grant one, and I realized that judging myself for being behind was pointless. It all worked out in the end.
We are the people we spend all of our time with from the moment we arrive on this planet until we take our final breath, and it’s imperative that we learn to love—or, at the very least, be nice to—ourselves. Would you spend the entirety of your life consistently berating a friend or a partner? Would you tell them they weren’t good enough? Would you force them to focus on being a better version of themselves every day? Of course not.
Life is so short, and I can promise it’s not worth devoting it to becoming better. When I started talking to myself with kindness and care, I started to respect all I’ve been through and appreciate myself as I am. Most of us are truly doing our best, and that’s enough.
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