A lot of self help and dating advice comes back to the same point—that you're fine just the way you are, or that you should just "be yourself". I call bullshit.
The fact is, many of us have a lot of work to do, myself included. When you play an instrument, a sport, or work at any career, you work to improve your skills. Self improvement works the same way. It's not something you do for a while and then quit.
Do I have it now? How about now? How about...now?
There's no hard an fast rule for "when you'll have it all figured out." There are people in their 20s with great wisdom, intelligence, and compassion, and people in their 50s sitting at a bar stool on a Monday night, unhappy, talking loudly about how nearly everyone in their life is lazy and useless.
There's no magic date or age where the gods of wisdom will descend from the sky and declare that you are now a fully realized human being, and you can stop working on yourself. Sorry.
Where is the bar set?
Of course, there's a question of where the bar is set. When I was 21, I was arrogant, self-centered, dismissive of others' artistic tastes, and very confused about the female species. I also didn't listen very well, and I had no idea how to dress (pleated Dockers anyone?). So I had a long way to climb until I could roll with the changes, and be mindful about my interactions. So we're talking here about a kind of baseline of confidence, awareness, and ability to assess any given situation calmly. I still have work to do, of course, but past age 40, I feel like I've got a handle on the basics.
On to the two common claims:
1. "You're just fine the way you are"
In one sense, yes. You're human. You're being human, making mistakes and hopefully learning from them as you're supposed to. You don't need to change anything to be a fully human being.
In another sense, though, no. You have work to do. Everyone does. I chose the name Refined Self because the philosophy in this blog and books is one of self refinement. You're striving every day to be a more fully realized, more refined individual. More aware, more compassionate, more agile, more understanding.
2. "Just be yourself"
Again, in one sense, yes. Acting like you, not someone else; being authentic; being real, these are all desireable traits. But what if you're awkward, poorly dressed, inconsiderate or unaware? Then you need to refine who "yourself" is.
One of our greatest failings as individuals is our inability to recognize things about ourselves that need work. It's always easier to see others' failings than to recognize our own. And even as you try to find yours, you may not see them.
Please, call me on my bullshit
One of the best ways to find your rough spots is to ask friends to call you on your bullshit. I didn't always do this—I learned a Midwestern United States conflict-avoidant mentality, and it's taken a long time to recognize this and ask people who know me well to give me constructive criticism. Now I will actively tell people "please, call me on my bullshit," and then really listen to what they have to say. Good friends can learn to do this for each other. It's important to be nurturing and supportive to our friends, but also valuable to give them a dose of reality, of tough love, every so often. Just be careful, as some people are very sensitive to criticism, no matter how well intentioned.
See how you're doing, see how you've improved and what you still have to work on. Stay humble, but be happy with the strides you've made.