The Personal Development Dilemma: Striving Vs Self-Acceptance

By Seamus Anthony

Should you strive to change your habits, your circumstances, your whole life?

Or should you enjoy increased inner-peace by accepting who you are right now, unconditionally so you can relax and enjoy the moment?

I find life to be a constant tension between these two approaches, and I can’t help but notice that in what we loosely call the “personal development” field there are many pushers of both ways towards inner satisfaction.

I have for a while now leaned heavily in favor of the “Zen” path of warts-and-all self-acceptance of yourself and have been scornful of the Tony Robbins “go-get-em-tiger” school of hyped up motivation and the “follow-these-sacred-rules-and-kiss-my-Guru-ass” schools of overtly serious and holy spirituality.

That’s the attitude we founded Rebel Zen on: a different, down-to-Earth, street-savvy approach to Enlightenment and Worldly Success – and God help us if we ever lose sight of this mission because in my opinion it’s what is sorely needed.


The other night I was awake at about 4 in the morning and a thought struck me like a punch in the face.

As I sat there next to the cot, trying to coax my little 1 year old daughter to go back to sleep, my mind was racing through things in a semi-conscious way and I suddenly realised that if I kept going down the path I am on, of comfortable self-acceptance, then I am quickly going to turn into on of those mouldy middle-age dudes who is stuck in a nice comfortable rut and has lost his edge.

What I mean by this is – unless I decide to change some things then, while the good things in my life will probably stay good (and there is plenty of that for which I am infinitely grateful), the BAD stuff will GET WORSE.

Example: I don’t exercise enough and my pot belly is inching its way forward day-by-day and my muscles are fading bit-by-bit. And that shit don’t get better – it gets WORSE.

Example: I STILL haven’t learned to speak French very well even though my partner and her family speak it around me all the time and we want our children to speak it also. And that shit don’t get easier – it gets HARDER.

And there are more examples, but that will suffice for now!

Why Do You Read Personal Development Stuff?

Is it because you want drastic change in your life or because you want to learn how to be happy now as you are?

In my case, more than ten years ago, I got into meditation and personal development because I desperately needed to change my ways and figure out “what it’s all about”. Once I had tempered my self-destruction a fair bit and developed a model of the Meaning of Life (links to my old model which needs a revamp as according to this post here) I then stepped into a different mode, the above mentioned mode of just chillin’ and accepting myself as being perfect even though I am human and regularly fuck things up and then some. (I have, as you can see, learned a little French at least!)

It’s a Yin Yang Thing

It probably won’t blow your mind to hear me say that I reckon we need a bit of both in life, we need to strive to achieve and meanwhile we need to accept our lot as is, be grateful for the gifts we enjoy and be happy now. But the Yin Yang model isn’t about just hovering in a static place in perfect balance, it is about moving through different ratios. A good example of what I mean is day and night: at one point of the 24 hour cycle it is brightest, at another it is darkest, and during the rest of the cycle we are bathed in degrees of light and dark mixed together.

So what I am getting at is sometimes we need to swing to extremes and there is nothing wrong with this. My friend and Rebel Zen business partner Steve, calls it ‘Dynamic Balance’. He is a classic for it, sometimes he won’t write a post here for months because he is immersed in another project. Then when it’s done he moves back into a more generalist space.

The reason for this long-winded post is that I have come to the realization that I need to move into an “extreme” phase now. A period of Striving for Big Changes. It’s just what I need to do and to be honest I am a little scared because it means I am going to set myself up for possible failure.

To add an extra element of craziness to the mix, I am going to document this process here at Rebel Zen. I have no details yet, but hopefully it will be of benefit to you and your progression through this kooky old life. Meanwhile let’s just finish off with a quick look at the two polar dynamics of personal development:

Striving and Self-Acceptance

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both extremes…

Striving – the Pros

  • Can result in lasting change for the better
  • You CAN be healthier, richer, happier, more productive, a greater contributor to the problems facing society than you are now
  • and such success CAN bring you increased enjoyment of life
  • Tomorrow DOES come and the seeds you sow today … you know the rest

Striving – the Cons

  • Can set you up for failure and disappointment
  • Can lead to unhealthy obsession and alienate you from your family and friends
  • Can distract you from enjoying the moment and being happy now (‘now’ being the only reality you will ever actually experience)
  • Can bring negative effects of stress into your life, eg. reduced immune system functionality

Self-Acceptance – the Pros

  • Can be a huge weight off your shoulders
  • That allows you to Just Be Happy Now (no mean feat)
  • Gives you a lightness of heart and a self-confidence that is a pleasure for yourself and others to behold
  • Attracts luck your way because your positive vibes make people want to work with you and help you
  • Helps others because you stop focusing on your own perceived problems and start reaching out with compassion

Self-Acceptance – the Cons

  • you run the ‘danger’ of becoming stuck in your own self-satisfied rut, i.e. you can become very mouldy 😉
  • you may actually only be so full of self-acceptance because you live in a very sweet situation day-to-day. Therefore if the shit hits the fan, will your enlightened state persevere or will you succumb to stress, self-pity and fear?
  • You may be underestimating yourself and settling for a lesser contribution to society than you could be making
  • You may be deluding yourself – you may in fact have actually given up on your dreams and are masking your own deep, sad sense of disappointment in yourself and life with a veneer of false self-satisfaction.

Well that’s all for me for now but this is certainly the beginning of a series of posts exploring these themes and setting myself up for some kind of public challenge.

What are your thoughts on these ideas?

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Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author, artist and musician from Australia. Here at Rebel Zen, I document my journey as an creative artist and human and in doing so, hopefully help you in your own progress through your life of creativity. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".