More. Higher. Faster.
That‘s more or less how you could sum up the spirit of Generation Y.
We are the generation of self-optimizers, the core of the „always-on-society“. We exercise several times a week, we take care of our balanced diets, we give all in our jobs, we rack up followers, and we are productive even in our spare time. We live and breathe the spirit of carpe diem, and we aim to get the most out of ourselves. We do it for ourselves, and for our market value.
After all, a higher market value indicates you are a better person. Right??
photos: Theresa Kaindl
Are we constantly reinventing ourselves because our current selves are simply not good enough? Do we have to keep optimizing ourselves in order to keep up with all those other optimized people out there?
As you can see, I‘m taking a bit of an exaggerated stance here. In principle, I do think personal development is very important, and I find it valuable to work on myself, maybe even to develop new habits that help me to grow. I‘ll be straight with you: I like self-optimization. That‘s right, I fall right into the category of characters I outlined above.
I exercise before breakfast, I am very disciplined with my diet, I try to learn something new every day, I meditate, and I have a folder with inspiring quotes on Pinterest, just in case run short on motivation. And you know what? I really like it. I like this improved version of myself I am creating.
That said, I do have a few character traits I don‘t wish to optimize away. And that‘s exactly the challenge.
„Who am I?“
The profound paradox of our generation of self-optimizers is that we know exactly who or what we are NOT, and that we have a very clear idea who or what we wish to become.
We see ourselves as perpetual works in progress, and barely ever perceive the traits and qualities that define us as human beings, and that we can be proud of.
We often tke those traits as a given, to the point that we sometimes sacrifice them all too easily on the altar of self-optimization.
What are good examples of traits that fall into this category?
Finding out which traits on the one hand define me, but are also often subject to criticism (by myself or others), in other words, singling out the traits that are in danger of being rationalized away, was by no means an easy task – quite on the contrary! I actually needed to get some help to find answers to this rather complicated question. While it should have been obvious, it wasn‘t to me! And how else was I going to preserve the traits that define me if I didn‘t even know which ones they were? After giving it a lot of thought and time, I eventually came up with quite a few of those traits I knew I didn‘t want to lose to manic self-optimization.
How about each one of us finds three traits we want to preserve as partsof ourselves?
To show you what I mean, I‘m going to start with myself.
I both hate and love my seriousness.
I would often love to swap my serious attitude for lighter, more fun, and , well, possibly more superficial ways. I tend to take things to heart too quickly, and I have the suspicion that this trait is – at times – an obstacle in my professional life. Superficial conversations drag me down, and profound conversations sometimes drag others down. I often have so little interest in superficial conversations that I end up being perceived as arrogant. The simple truth is, I just prefer weightier subjects and profound conversations with knowledgeable and interesting conversation partners over repeating the same old lines over and over again in the same old party-smalltalk settings. I‘m not a naturally lighthearted, sunny person, and that sometimes gets on my nerves. I do try to loosen up a bit, to project a bit more lightness. But how can I become a social entertainer without losing the essence of me? After all, I really like being a pensive character, and I truly enjoy a real conversation.
I love my energy and I hate the stress.
„Why don‘t you relax, for once.“ It‘s one of these phrases that I hear quite often. I‘m definitely not someone who enjoys sitting down and doing nothing. I‘m always looking for a way to use my time sensibly, and I often move at twice the speed as the people around me. That stresses me (because I often perceive others to be slow), but – naturally – it also stresses the people around me. And I must admit can get quite bitchy when things just aren‘t moving at the pace I expect them to. When it comes to wasting time, I have little patience. The result is that I am often perceived as working around the clock. But the reality is I simply enjoy putting my time to good use. Even during Netflix & chill sessions I retouch images or work off other little items from my list. I feel this permanent unrest in me, this constant time pressure, which makes it seemingly impossible for me to simply let go sometimes. I can even get stressed out when I‘m going to a spa, when the premise is: „We have so and so many hours to relax“, and then the countdown starts and the challenge is on to relax as efficiently as possible. Sounds exhausting, right? And it is. At the same time, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing barely a second of life goes to waste. I love using my time consciously, and with appreciation for the hours I have in life. „Being more laid back“ – I guess I‘ll cross this item off my optimization list.
I love my strong will and I hate my stubbornness.
„You are like a little terrier“, my boyfriend sometimes tells me. He then barks at me like a little dog, growling and pulling on some imaginary prey. Once I have my mind set on a goal, I go for it with full focus and consequence, no matter what. This trait may easily be interpreted as discipline, strength of will and perseverance. But it is also just stubbornness. And this stubbornness does not always serve me well, especially when it comes to physical performance. Unfortunately, the line between „going to my limit“ and „destroying myself“ is incredibly thin. And that‘s exactly the problem: I often shoot over the mark. I utterly overwork myself. I don‘t rest. I use up my whole substance. I‘m sometimes not even sure how I manage to motivate myself to the extend I do, how I find the drive to do things I set my mind on for whatever reason, even though I don‘t feel like doing them at all. Be it five cycles of the most vicious exercises (to improve), taking bikini-pictures at sub-zero temperatures (because I have the vision to take home a particular shot and I don‘t let off until I get it right), jumping into freezing water (it‘s good for the circulation), or to live on four hours of sleep for days on end to get all the work done that‘s been piling up. More than once, I have paid the price for my doggedness. Last year, for example, I tried to learn a backflip on the trampoline, and after about 30 attempts I had clearly slipped a disk, but it took me another 10 attempts and unglamorous falls to realize that I was not going to learn the backflip that particular day. Ironically, the realization that I was not going to achieve my goal – the backflip – hurt much more than the slipped disk. It can be really exhausting trying to get my head through all these walls, but ultimately I usually reach my goals this way.
To sum it all up, I think it‘s fair to say that I can be way too intense sometimes, with my overly serious and hyper-motivated ways. Still, maybe I shouldn‘t try to optimize these traits away, so to speak. After all, these are aspects of myself that really define who I am. It‘s probably wise to remember that with self-optimization – as with everything else in life – it all depends on the right measure.
Generally speaking, it‘s great to be self-reflective, and to work on one‘s self, but it‘s crucial to have a good handle on the own identity before jumping head-on into optimization. Failing that, on the road to become better people, we can all too easily lose the essence of who we really are to begin with.
Now it’s your turn!