The Number One Self Development Mistake, And The Fake Growth Addict

The Number One Self Development Mistake, And The Fake Growth Addict

Not all that claims to be growth is real growth.

Much of what masquerades as growth is a narcissistic pursuit in a shrewd disguise.

What I’ve come to realize is that much of the time, when I think I’ve been growing, I haven’t really been growing. I’ve been trying to fix or improve myself.

The line between authentic growth on the one hand, and fake growth on the other, is an obscured landscape. Sometimes I think that I’m growing, and I really believe wholeheartedly that I am. Then I notice an undercurrent of duplicity, and when I dig deeper, I find that what was perpetrating as an authentic endeavor was really not. I wasn’t starting from a place of wholeness and expanding from there. I was trying to cure an invisible illness: my perceived inadequacy.

That inadequacy is a myth driven by the ego, and has nothing to do with real growth.

We’re already whole. Already complete. You don’t need to prove that to yourself by chasing hollow achievements. Real growth has nothing to do with fixing anything. It’s about expanding what already is.

Real growth has nothing to do with…

  • Improvement (although you may inadvertently improve things, you don’t start from a place of trying to improve).
  • Solely ego-based pursuits.
  • Being more popular.
  • Adding things to your resume, or your list of accomplishments.
  • Inflating your self of entitlement.
  • “Shoulds.”
  • Making more money (though it might have something to do with creating more value).
  • Competition.

On the other hand, fake growth is all about…

  • A never-ending quest for [fleeting] fulfillment.
  • Chasing empty pursuits.
  • Doing new things for the “experience.”
  • Changing for the sake of changing.
  • Counting and measuring everything.
  • Temporarily boosting your self-esteem.
  • The future.

(On a side note: fake growth and “good ideas” seem to have a lot to do with each other.)

It’s a tricky business. You can think you’ve pulled all the weeds of in-authenticity and the next thing you know, you’re realizing you’re doing something for the sake of “growth” that doesn’t really matter. The prolificacy of fake growth often hides in hard-to-find corners of your mind. It often arrives in unassuming forms.

I’ve seen this happen too many time with myself.

  • I’m trying to create a new habit (like early rising) because it’s a “rite of passage” for personal growth. But I don’t really care about it.
  • I’m reading a book and I realize that I don’t give a shit about it. I bought it because I thought it would a good idea for me to learn about X topic.
  • I’m pushing myself to learn something that I’m not really passionate about — like a new language for instance — because it’s a socially prestigious pursuit.
  • I’m listening to music that I can’t stand to “expand my horizons.”
  • I’m pursuing a business opportunity because I think it’s a good idea, and I later realize I’m not really passionate about it.

And the list goes on.

All of this stuff sounds pretty ridiculous when it’s laid out there. And when you think about it in hindsight, it is. But it tends to be much trickier than that when you’re up close and in the trenches.

The prolificacy of comfort

The other problem I’ve found is that often you think you’re really growing, but you’re just lying to yourself. Some part of you is comfortable. You’ve developed a nice little pattern that cushions you and keeps you safe.

So you rebel against the pattern a little, and you take a little bit of risk. This makes you feel good and you tell yourself you’re growing.

But you know that real growth would be much more uncomfortable. It would kill the pattern, and in its place would be an expansion of possibility.

Then there’s the fake growth addict

You know that part of you that wants to always reach the “next level”? That’s the fake growth addict.

Real growth isn’t about reaching another level. It’s not about constantly seeking something outside yourself. Real growth is about internal transformation. It’s about the realization that you are already whole. You are already complete. You are already more powerful than you can dare to imagine.

Real growth is about embracing that power and doing it fearlessly.

Fake growth consists of constantly chasing another bullet point to put on your life resume. Another higher data point on a never ending graph. Another fake credential you can spew off to an unimportant stranger at an unimportant party. Another merit badge that you tell yourself will really make you feel “accomplished.” Then you can finally cash in on your growth and be satisfied.

But you never do get satisfied, do you? The number one sign of fake growth is: constinual seeking.

The hidden secret of real growth: it doesn’t matter that much to itself

The truth about real growth is that real growth doesn’t need validation. It doesn’t need for you to approve or disapprove. It doesn’t need a stamp of validation or a letter of recommendation. It doesn’t need to be sanctioned by a regulated list of socially approved goals.

And here’s something else… Real growth doesn’t care that YOU call it growth.

It has no ego. It has no internal or external validation system.

That’s because real growth is beyond growth.

Real growth is about…

  • Experiencing a greater intimacy with life and a deeper passion for it.
  • A new level of understanding; moving past a plateau.
  • Liberation, not confinement.
  • Fluidity, intuition, organicness, naturalness.
  • The present moment.
  • Starting from a place of wholeness.
  • Accepting the reality of the situation as-it-is.
  • Healing.
  • Not being overly positive (denial) or overly negative (nihilistic).
  • Real life, including all the warts, imperfections, blemishes, and scars.
  • Accepting the things you don’t like; and upon realizing that you want to change them, facing them head on.
  • Not simply swallowing a “think positive” placebo (denial).
  • Community. Growth does not happen in a vacuum. It is supported by those around you, and your growth has a positive impact on your immediate circle, your community, and the world.

Fake growth leads to tumors. Real growth often does not notice it’s there. It’s integrated. It gets out of the way of itself. It doesn’t try to count and measure how fast or slow it is growing.

Real growth accepts that sometimes it’s not necessary

Too much growth leads to suffocation, bursted bubbles, and overpopulation. Radical, never-ending growth is not sustainable.

Real growth knows that sometimes it’s time to stop growing. Sometimes it’s time to let go, to move on, and yes, to decline. Growth and decline are two sides of the same pole. Without one, the other can’t exist.

In the end, real growth knows that it doesn’t really matter. It’s not just about rising vertically, or expanding horizontally. Real growth knows that what goes up, must come down, and what expands, must contract.

True growth often leads to stillness. And sometimes the most formidable growth… is none at all.

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AlexaCutuBrigidJustinShreyas Jahagirdar Recent comment authors
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Beautiful, Jonathan! This is my favorite post of yours by far. I think the key about real growth is what you touched on at the end… it’s not all about you; it’s about community. I love the way you laid this out.



Great post, Jonathan. It’s very similar to discussions of the idea of Doing Epic Shit. Too many get caught up Doing (Fake) Epic Shit, and too few honor the Real Epic Shit that they’re doing because they think it’s too small.

I worry that too many people get caught on the train of radical “growth” and never take the time to integrate their experiences, achievements, and failures. That’s not growing – it’s just moving.

But saying more would be me preaching to the choir, no? Keep rocking, my friend.


Your commentext hits dead on the nail from my own personal experiences! Perfect for the article!

Barb McMahon

Geez you’re good! “Experiencing a greater intimacy with life and a deeper passion for it.” – exactly what growth is, and what I want my life to be about.

Thanks for this, Jonathan. Tweeting it now…


can someone clarify for me what real growth is? the description seems vague to me.


A very interesting read! Has me questioning which ‘growth’ I’m going through!

One point that stuck with me was about fake growth: doing things for the experience. Let’s use overseas travel as an example, from this would stem a new level of understanding, liberation and real life.

I’m really hearing what you say about it being a fine line..?

Craig | BloomVerse

“We’re already whole. Already complete.”

That could be a blog post in itself. Just that quote.

Great post, ultimately there is no growing to do. Only allowing the core of what we are to outshine the ego.

Annabel Candy

Nice little article here with lots to think about. I can certainly relate to reading books, listening to music etc that you really don’t care about because you think you ought to. It sounds as if you found out the hard way that you shoudn’t force yourself to do things that other people like. I’ve done this with TV shows that everyone watches and then discusses. Feeling left out of the conversation I’ve watched them so I can join in, then discovered I still have nothing interesting to contribute to the discussion anyway. Much better to change the topic to… Read more »

Bud Hennekes

Quite possibly the post of the year. Wow man. Really resonated with me.


There have been times in my 57 years when I have felt …ah Ive reached contentment …Im there…not always financially …but sometimes….that ever present…. wanting to be more is my guiding light …not saying its a good thing..just saying…


thank you for this, jonathan! i’ve had a lot of similar thoughts to this lately. your terminology is interesting, though; i never thought to call it ‘growth’ to simply accept what is. and yet, coming out of a place of not accepting what is, i suppose it is a sort of growth, and like you point out, it’s probably the most important kind of growth. still i feel like something is not connecting 100% here for me. Either the ideas aren’t fully formed and solidified in your own philosophy, and therefore it’s a little unclear when you try to share… Read more »


This is a truly revolutionary post.

There have been times when I’ve noticed “fake growth” in my own life. It’s a very slippery thing and it always tricks you into thinking it is authentic. It is a constant battle to keep your ego in check and determine your motives behind each new project and goal.

Again, thank you for this excellent post

Jai Kai - SharingSuccess.TV

Jonathan, I loves how you summed up this post.

Sometimes stillness and letting go allows you just to be who you really are…your authentic self.

My motto is don’t try hard, try easy…grow and go with the flow.

A tree doesn’ t try to hard to grow fast… it just naturally organically grows.

Adventures of The Fearless | Jon

Good stuff Jonathan, Keep pouring out…


+1! On everything. :)


I love this post, very insightful, well written and without any B.S.

Jennifer Louden

YES! A lovely, if scary, aspect of growing up is learning that self-improvement is something to be left behind. It’s hard to talk about this stage of development and you did an excellent job!


Maybe we are lying to ourselves – but then, maybe noticing the difference between the two is an integral part of real growth and cannot be avoided so easily.
Many people will never think about the difference or pay attention to it. But if they do, they´ll probably do it in retrospective – as in hindsight you often get more clarity about what you did, and only then are able to draw your conclusions. Thus, fake growth may be a necessary evil to identify by us, so we can then correct our course, rest at heart and truly trust ourselves.

chavi bhargava
chavi bhargava

So many times we mistake the fake for the real and it is because we are not centered within and we seek false validation.

This brought to my mind many of the times that I have been after fake growth.

Thank you

Miche | Serenity Hacker

Hi Jonathan, I’ve been reading you for a long time now, since you had the other blog design, since before you were featured on zenhabits. I don’t remember how I found you (google somehow, I think, but I really don’t remember). I have to say that this is now my favorite post by far. You’ve really captured something so true here, and you’ve done it really eloquently, in a way that’s easy to understand. It’s inspired, deep yet simply put, and rings of truth. It’s one of those posts that I’ll remember for a long time, a real keeper. Thank… Read more »


Wow. This is a truly outstanding piece of writing. It’s so true on so many different levels that it’s amazing you actually managed to think it out and put it together. Thank you, Jonathan…. Really thought provoking.


A very good piece Jonathan, and one that resonates strongly with me. When you are post kids, post career, like me, you have the advantage of being able to reflect on life’s lessons, rather than reacting to them. It is easier to see the subtle illusion of ‘growth’. When I was surrounded by the kids/career/bigger/better community of similar minded people it was easy to get swept along. I’m still find that it is easy to slip into the ways of ‘false growth’. Much of the language in the media and the ideas of personal development have built in implications about… Read more »


Is there an end to seeking?


For me the litmus test for self development versus growth is to consider if my reason is internal or external. If I were to achieve this goal and no one knew would it still hold meaning to me, would I fundamentally feel different about myself. When we allow self developement to become tainted by the ego, we quickly becomes slaves to a new master.

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

Jonathan: I love this post, probably because it agrees with my strong-held belief that there is no such thing as “self-improvement.” The idea of “personal development” is almost completely a misguided effort. The “self” is already “complete” as you say. There is no such thing as self-improvement — there are only degrees of self-discovery. Something that is already in its highest form cannot be “improved.” One’s only task to “improve,” therefore, is to discover one’s self and do a better job of acting from core values — as the authentic self. Thanks, as always, for provoking thought. Keep up the… Read more »


Love this post. You nailed it. So much of our energy is spent trying to fix ourselves, and we never really do. Much of the focus of my new book (The Leap) is that you should rather try to find your way to a job that leverages your strengths and passions every day. I even created a free tool to help do that (at

you do grow by moving forward, successful or not. But grow toward a job that is meant for you!

Rick Smith
The Leap

Nathalie Lussier

I’ve noticed myself getting caught up in this so many times too!

Lately I’ve been learning new forms of “real” growth, mainly by focusing on being in the moment. I used to think being in the moment was a little kooky, but then again, I’m a kooky kinda gal. I think I really didn’t understand how to actually do it. Now that I’ve experienced it, it’s totally transformed the way I live and work.

Love the distinctions you made in this post.

raisia Rojas

this is like what Eckhart Tolle discussed in the Power of Now. makes sense. :) we’re enough, we just need to see that.


“Real growth is about embracing that power and doing it fearlessly.” This entire post is beautiful, especially how you reference resumes and adding bullet points to it. I use to feel this way at one point of time, especially with my education. After a Bachelor’s, I wanted to go back for my MBA. Not only did I do that, I thought I would grow even more by graduating with a 4.0 in the graduate program. Now, here I am, unemployed. Growth is certainly not about the achievements, but about accepting life for what it is. THANKS!!!


This is one of the truest things I’ve ever read on the internet.
It’s so easy to try to ‘grow’ and then beat yourself up because you haven’t ‘grown’ enough!
I’m going to print this out to remind myself not to do exactly that.
Thank you.

Ibrahim |

Excellent point here. It’s important to realize the difference between accomplishing goals and the statistics that show “growth” or “development.”

If we aren’t working towards something of value, increased numbers and statistics don’t mean a thing.

Oleg Mokhov

Hey Jonathan, Real growth comes with a reason. One that makes sense and is important to you. Inauthentic growth is the chasing of status. Take your example of early rising. For some, it’s some supposed “rite of passage” you mentioned. Inauthentic, since they don’t really care about it. It’s not important – they just think it’ll make them look better in front of others. For me, I’m getting up earlier every day not to impress anyone or delude myself into some “ideal” version of myself. I simply love starting the day with the sun. Waking up to a sunrise feels… Read more »


Hi Oleg, Your comment complements an already well written post. I think as long as we have an internal “Why” for an action and we don’t feel the need to justify it to anyone else including our ego, that action is pure and authentic. Your example of waking up early really resonates with me because in my mind waking up late is a crime and I feel guilty if I sleep past 9:00 AM. So my intention for waking up early has been not to enjoy the morning sun but to avoid the guilt that follows waking up late. Also,… Read more »


Wow. Best. Post. Ever. Thank you for putting words to this phenomenon. It couldn’t have come at a better time.


Right on. This post reminds me much of what is articulated in Dan Millman’s book, ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior.’ (I love spreading the word about books I love and this is one of those. Read it if you haven’t). And also, as stated above, a lot of the teachings that Eckhart Tolle preaches resonate through this post. Some may think it’s new age mumbo-jumbo, but both of these people capture the essence of growth and enlightenment and so do you Jonathan. As you say, ‘we are already whole.’ Any deviation from this is purely ego-driven. Striving for money, fame,… Read more »


It took me awhile to process this post. At first, I was thinking, “Damn, this guy’s an idiot. What the hell is real growth supposed to be if just about everything is ‘fake growth’?” But then I realized the beauty of it all when the puzzle piece (your post) finally clicked into my reality: “fake growth”, as you put it, is egoic growth, and “real growth” is allowing your core self come out in a blaze of glory and passion. That’s what life is all about, and I think that’s what people lose when they go through all this productivity… Read more »


Thanks for this. One way I have of putting something similar is that: health is a kind of self-forgetfulness.

One quibble: I’m not sure that we kill the patterns, I think that we understand, include and transcend them. But this might be just small minded carping.

thanks for a really great post.

Nathan Hangen

For years I tried to set goals for things that I thought I wanted but really didn’t. Oh how that cost me. Now that I’ve learned to identify what really makes me happy, most of it has nothing to do with the goals I’ve let go. I like this, thanks for the reminder.

Nea | Self Improvement Saga

This is my first time visiting your site and I absolutely loved the post. I couldn’t agree with you more about the differences between real growth and what the ego leads us to seek as growth. Great work!

Tomas Stonkus

There are always going to be people that lie to themselves. Most people know that they lie to themselves. Although, I do agree with the concept of fake growth and what you are trying to convey through it. Yet, I am not sure how much of it is necessary. Labels do not mean much by themselves. People are savvy enough to see through BS and through fake growth. Human beings are great at detecting in congruences in others. That is why I do not think that fake growth is a mistake. It is not. People who are interested in actual… Read more »

Alex Hudish

So great I found this article BEFORE going over my head with fake growth. Well done, sir.

Just Be
Just Be

Resembles many things that one can learn from Buddhism:


What a great way to look at things. This article made me realize that I need to sit down and make a list of what things I need to stop pursuing and what things I’m passionate about because of who I am.
I love that line
“Real growth has nothing to do with fixing anything. It’s about expanding what already is.”
thats an easy thing to forget.

Ian | Quantum Learning

The previous comments already said it .. great post! I especially like it because you managed to get the point across without preaching. Perhaps that’s because you reveal your own vulnerability in the pursuit of growth .. and how often it’s not really about growth at all. ‘Healing’ is on your list of real growth. I was pondering this over the last days and wondering if it’s really growth. Maybe I’m just being picky (not for the first time!) but I see healing as about the past, about moving on from previous painful experiences. I don’t deny that it may… Read more »


I think after being blogging for nearly 2 years (for me), I’ve kinda didn’t really revealed much about myself to anyone. I didn’t want to make it like a sounding cymbals and adding to the noise in the self-development and growth arena. This being a post that’s personal to you (as you’ve mentioned in Twitter :-) ) and that you mentioned that Growth is about healing and accepting things as it is., I’ve decided to write out from the heart a rather important and personal post, by revealing an undiluted version of my story in my blog — it had… Read more »


[…] of a post I recently read from @johnathanmead on his site Illuminated Mind. His post, about the “Number One  Self Development Mistake…” many of us make hit on so many points that I had discovered about myself in my search for […]

Sharalyn Hartwell, National Gen Y Examiner

So many great comments, there isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t already been said. But, I will say this: Jonathan, this is fantastic and certainly makes you think. I’ve never been one to get swept up in the tides of self-help book revolutions/fads or one to really discuss the changes I see in my life; however, I can still see phases of my life where I wasn’t really growing, it was all pretty superficial. Then, upon reflection, it seems that my periods of greatest “real” growth occurred when I wasn’t seeking it, when I wasn’t really trying, often… Read more »


A wonderful analysis. True. Most of the times, we try to cheat ourselves or rather cheat ourselves. At the end of the day, before we go to bed, we look ourselves in the mirror, with no make ups. The bare skin on our face. We know what we look like. That’s reality. But still when the morning dawns, we get back to put on our false coatings and walk on our streets as beauty peagents. We are cheating ourselves in many ways as you rightly said, just to satisfy our ego.


This excellent post has resonated strongly with my situation and it has answered one question I’ve been asking for a while. I am a survivor of sexual abuses in my childhood and teenage years. Therapy sessions have helped me to heal, untangle some issues and be kinder to myself. For me, that’s an improvement. However, there is one question that bothers me… that is “How have those events improved myself and my life?” For a while i’ve been annoyed with the saying “everything happens for a reason.” I believe that this doesn’t apply to my past abuses. There’s nothing good… Read more »

Markus Mindaugas

“Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise.” – Marcus Aurelius

As you have illustrated, real growth is beautiful

Marc and Angel Hack Life

Well stated.

Reminds me of my favorite novel, Siddhartha.


I am new to your blog and haven’t read you before, but i really enjoyed this one. Thanks! What I was wondering is how or when is the best way to achieve real growth according to you? We have this blog about long term travelling and we have come to the conclusion that going away for a longer period of time, uprooting oneself from the every day musts is an ideal way of creating just growth. Real growth i believe. Coming back from a long journey you have turned into your new self without really thinking about it. You have… Read more »


This is awesome. I think it’s easy for someone who just starts reading about personal development to get swept up and lose perspective. It’s good to know that there are grounded people offering advice from such a broad view.

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