There is no doubt about it: Self-improvement is big business. Everywhere we look, we seem to see men dressed in business suits and fancy haircuts. They talk to us as if we were attending the annual general meeting of their multinational self-improvement company, which I suppose is not so far from the truth. They speak to us in sound bites: “I will show you how…”, “you just have to follow my plan: no thinking required, just follow the plan”. Success and victory, which they preach to the public, is a sure thing.
But is personal development a sure thing? If, like me, you believe that personal development is a life journey that is never completed, you know that the only sure thing is that the quest for personal development is far from a sure thing. The journey will bring more failures than successes, more losses than gains, and more doubts than we think we can handle. The only way to improve is to challenge the habits and assumptions we have acquired along the way. It takes courage to take risks without the guarantee of finding what you want. No “success plan” would consider such a course of action!
So, if we can’t get support from the self-improvement “gurus,” who can we turn to?
The answer, I believe, is to turn to the people who have always explored every aspect of the human condition. They have not always found the answer, but they have all had courage. These are, of course, the artists of the world.
How can a painting help us achieve our goal of self-improvement, you might ask? Well, some paintings help to bring serenity and a sense of inner peace; I feel this every time I look at an impressionist painting, especially the paintings of Berthe Morisot. She was never recognized as a great artist during her lifetime; she was relegated to the category of “female” artists because of her usual subjects – women, children, and domestic scenes. Her paintings are intensely intimate. She is an example of someone who never gave up pursuing what she thought was worthwhile, even though she was largely ignored.
Jackson Pollock instills different but equally powerful feelings. I used to believe that all modern artists “just throw a little paint on a canvas and call it art”. My preconceived notions were shattered when I was fortunate enough to attend an exhibition of his work. His paintings were beautiful and challenged the way I looked at a painting. The search for your inner self is about challenging the notions you currently have.
Music is probably the easiest art to accept to help us in our quest for personal development. How often does a certain piece of music make us feel happy, relaxed, romantic, hopeful, fulfilled? You name it, music touches all the buttons. My favorite music is Beethoven’s. His music makes me feel all of the above. He was a man who accepted nothing less than perfection. He sorted out redemption through his music. In the end, he didn’t find it and spent much of his life feeling alone. But his courage of conviction made his life, and the lives of countless others, a better thing. His last words were, “Clap your hands, friends, the charade is over. “
Perhaps our greatest inspiration comes from writers. They have helped me and millions of others find the inner self. Life would be a much poorer experience without our great writers. I won’t name all the writers who have inspired me; there are too many. But if there is one thing I urge you to do, it is to read. If you don’t know who to read, go to a library and ask! Tell the librarian what you want to experience, feel or learn when you read a book. They will help you; don’t let shyness defeat you. If you can’t get to a library, join an Internet book club. The one thing I’ve found is that people who like to read like to help others read books.
So forget about buying those testosterone, success-at-all-costs seminars, e-books and DVDs. Go look at a painting, or lie on the couch and listen to music, maybe dance madly to it, cry with it, have sex with it in time, or curl up and read a book that will take you where you never thought possible.