Do you want to piss me off? Send me a woman’s magazine.
There’s nothing I hate more than being told I’m a failure because of my poorly groomed brows, disorganized pantry, and lack of a thigh gap.
Want to piss me off even more?
Take that culture of self-improvement used to sell worthless products and make it pervade every discussion of importance. If you can’t feed your family on your minimum wage job, you’re not trying hard enough. You need to work harder at saving your marriage. And you’re a rotten parent if your kids decide to act out.
Y’know what? Sometimes we have bad luck. Humans make wrong choices that are tough to recover from. And we can’t fix everything. And we shouldn’t try.
Not with ourselves. And not with our dogs.
The Perfect Dog Myth
Honey had the best start any puppy could have.
Her breeder tested her parents for common genetic abnormalities in golden retrievers. Her first few weeks of life, Honey slept not only with her mother and siblings, but with the breeder who stayed on the couch at night until he was convinced all the vulnerable puppies would be okay.
She was exposed to normal household noises, old people, children, grooming, and travel at a very early age.
I knew that given all her advantages, I could train Honey to be a perfect dog.
I was wrong.
Honey is not perfect. And neither am I.
But she’s perfect for me.
Despite months of careful socialization, Honey is a little on the shy side. I continue to work at boosting her confidence and have watched her make tremendous progress. But her timidity is part of who she is.
And I’m glad I haven’t trained her completely out of it. Because her slight uncertainty keeps her safe. Off-leash, Honey stays close to me. She’d never go dashing off on a great adventure like my previous dog, Shadow. Or some of my beagle and hound mix foster pups, for that matter.
But if dog magazines were anything like women’s magazines, I’m sure I’d be reading articles telling me how to give Honey the confidence of a rottweiler or shiba inu. There would be the five steps to keep your dog from rolling in smelly things. And advice for grooming her feet so they look like a show dog’s.
When we’re always focused on improvement, we judging something else as wrong. And that’s a horrible way to live. Who wants to think if themselves as always lacking?
I Love and Hate Self-Improvement
One of the reasons I hate bossy self-improvement literature so much is because I love it at the same time. As a teenager, I pored over magazines to figure out how to make myself perfect. I tried some crazy stunts to make myself thinner, like refusing to eat on weekends or swimming three miles or more each day.
As I got older, men stopped following me off the bus or propositioning me on the street. There wasn’t much I could do about my looks anymore. So I focused on my job skills.
I get a lot of compliments on my public speaking skills. And I still wonder if I should be taking classes to make them even better.
I worry about how bad I am at following up on details. I adopt systems and lists to get better.
But like Honey’s timidity having a good side, I find that my unwillingness to tie down every detail in my work has its benefits too. It makes me more creative.
If I never quite finish a project, I have to “fly by the seat of my pants” when I present it. If I forget to nail down a detail, I have to figure out some way to work around the problems that arise.
Listening to the advice that I need to be better organized and more detailed-oriented would probably cause my creativity to suffer. So what should I do?
We need to find a balance that keeps us striving to be better and more engaged without beating ourselves up for not being perfect. And we need to do it for our dogs too.
Start With Kindness
It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to be kind.
But I think kindness is key to finding the balance between striving to do better and accepting ourselves for who we are.
And the first part of kindness is asking, “Does this need to be fixed?”
Do introverts really need to know how to make cocktail party chatter or how to network at a conference? Or are there other ways of showing your value?
Does Honey, in the life she’s living, need to be bold? Or is a slightly timid dog who looks to her people for comfort okay?
And do I really need to feel bad that it took me three years to design my blog and that I’m still tweaking it and making changes? (Check out my new footer at the bottom of the page to see what I’m working on now.) Maybe I can just feel good about writing 975 posts on a greater variety of topics than probably any other dog blog out there. (Except perhaps for Kristine in Rescued Insanity who puts my creativity to shame.)
Or maybe, if I get really radical, I can accept myself just for breathing air without worrying about what I accomplish at all.
We can’t fix everything. Especially since many of our problems aren’t problems at all. They’re just different ways of being.
And if we can learn to fix fewer things and be more forgiving of ourselves, our dogs, and others, we’ll end up being better anyway. I bet that little bit of kindness would be good for the dog and good for us.