Why You Should Stop Caring About Personal Growth

I want to tell you a secret.

I don’t have everything figured out.

You might think that because I write about self development, I must have all my eggs in neat little baskets, with ducks lined in immaculately straight rows, filed at attention. But I don’t.

The truth is, I haven’t met a single person that writes about this stuff, teaches, or practices “growing” on a daily basis that does have it all figured out.

It’s actually the reverse. Most of us are trying to teach so that we can learn, ourselves. The best way to immerse yourself in a field and master it, is to teach (or attempt to teach) it. Hands down.

Now that we’ve gotten that evangelical misconception out of the way, I’d like to talk to you about something else. (And trust me, you won’t hear this often on any other personal development blogs or “new age law of attraction” type sites.) What I want to talk about is this: sometimes personal growth, achieving goals, having an “abundance mindset,” and all that stuff doesn’t really matter

The dark side of self development  and Abnormal growth

That’s because devoting yourself to personal development isn’t like other pursuits. It’s not the same thing as playing tennis on the weekends, or collecting stamps. You can pick up and drop hobbies like that easily. Chances are slim that you’ll keep collecting stamps even though you decided you hate stamps.

Personal development, on the other hand, is a different story. Once you get into personal growth, you can’t just opt-out. You can go forward, but you can’t go back.

I’ve thought a lot about the term “growth” over the past few months. And I’ve come to realize that it might not be the best way to describe living to your fullest potential. It’s not really just an issue of semantics; it’s an issue of the way we frame things. If we’re always trying to grow past this moment, we’re never here. If we’re always moving toward the next step, we’re never enjoying right now. Plus, there’s a big difference between conscious growth (becoming who you are) and growth for the sake of growing.

If you’re always seeking to “grow” because it seems like a smart thing to do, you’ve got the wrong idea. Corporations run into this problem all the time. Their goals are so fixed on growth that they fail to see the bigger picture. Things like community, culture, and values are compromised for the sake of their stocks rising a few points. This type of growth is not sustainable (see: housing bubble).

These market projectors get so obsessed with growth that they refer to losses as “negative growth periods.” What the hell is a negative growth period? Delusion, anyone?

In the same way with personal growth — sometimes growing is not important.

  • Sometimes it’s more important to cultivate spontaneity and stillness
  • Sometimes you need to cash out on your growth, take a breath and celebrate your achievements.
  • Sometimes you need a break from growing because you don’t want to experience burnout.
  • Sometimes you need a break simply because you get so preoccupied with growing, that it becomes unconscious. It’s abnormal and not the good kind of growth. After all, cancer grows really well in the right conditions. Not the kind of “growth” we’re looking for.
  • Sometimes you need to pause growth because you realize it’s not just about increase. You realize decrease and hacking away at the inessentials is just as important as exploring, expansion, and pushing the boundaries.

The dangers of personal development is when it stops being about real development. It becomes something you feel you should do because it’s a good idea. That’s precisely why I don’t like the term “self improvement.” Because when you’re too focused on improvement, your vision gets muddled. It’s like some “zen masters” that brag about how long they sit in zazen. How long you sit is not the point. How many self development books you have on your shelf is not the point, either.

It’s more than reading a few tips in a list that make you feel good for the next 10 minutes. It’s more than just “hacking” your life and buying a color coded moleskin notebook.

Uncovering the culprit

It gets dangerous when personal development becomes less about who you are, and turns into something you do just because you’re supposed to improve. Even more so, when you’re trying to “develop” yourself to reach a false image of perfection. This is seriously counter productive, people.

I think the biggest problem is that a lot of the “gung-ho” part of self-development encourages you to be positive. To be disciplined. To take responsibility and make things happen.

That’s great, and I think those are powerful tools when used appropriately, but the problem lies when authenticity is sacrificed for positivity and discipline.

In fact, if you’re like me, you probably often wonder where the line is drawn between “sucking it up” and being authentic. Is it even possible to reconcile the two? After all, what if, to you, being “authentic” means sitting on the couch eating Funyuns all day? Isn’t that valid? While there’s a time and place for serious couch time, if this is you’d consider “being real with yourself,” then you’re probably delusional. In the same way, if you feel that being authentic would mean to always be working, sweating and striving, I think you’re also deluding yourself. Because true happiness is really about balance. Balance between being and becoming. (Notice how “be” is first in “become.” It’s not an accident)

So what does this mean?

We have to get out of our heads

When we’re doing something just because it’s a good idea, or because we think we should “put some time in” to improve, we need to take a step back. We have to ask “Is this just ego driven? Or is this what I really want?” Sometimes it helps to question whether or not we’re just doing something re-actively, because we’ve become habituated to a pattern.

Pursuing personal growth is a powerful thing. But it should be used to uncover and cultivate a more authentic self. When personal development techniques get turned against themselves, that’s when they become counter-productive. What’s supposed to make us happier (pursuing our own evolution), can be the source of our misery when we’re doing it for the wrong (ego-driven) reasons.

Instead of living more authentically, we end up rejecting life as it is, in this moment. And this is the moment in which we have to live.

It’s always this moment. Right here. Right now.

It’s not about becoming something better. It’s about connecting with your deepest, most effortless self.

Cultivating that connection with your authentic self — your heart, really — is what personal growth is really about. It’s about shedding all of the pretenses, the limiting beliefs, and duplicity. Not growing out of who you are or denying your present self.

If personal growth is any kind of “becoming”, it’s becoming more of who you already are. After all, don’t you have to be, before you can become?

Mind like water

So, sometimes it’s better when you stop caring about personal development. Sometimes when you clutch to hard, you suffocate your intentions. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way.

Instead, become like water. If the situation requires you to flow, you flow. If you need to grow or expand to move past an obstacle, you adjust the course.

Be like water. Reflect, but don’t seek to possess. Be still when the situation is appropriate or crash when necessary.

Grow and move, but not for the sake of it.

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59 Comments on "Why You Should Stop Caring About Personal Growth"

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Puleen Patel

While I agree with most of your points, I think the importance is to be able to balance personal growth along with being present in the Now! If one strives for self-improvement at all times, they will never be able to enjoy the present and vice versa.

Glen Allsopp
I love this Jonathan, I only wish you would write more often ;) You’re very true, the main reason I started writing is because I had lots of notes on different areas of my life, and kind of wanted a guidebook and a place to put them all together. Thanks for reminding me about that So, sometimes it’s better when you stop caring about personal development. Sometimes when you clutch to hard, you suffocate your intentions. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way. Well said, I remember Tim Brownson advised me once that I need to start… Read more »

What can grow relentlessly, without stopping or taking a break on its own? Sounds like cancer to me.

Everyone needs a breather… it’s a shame so many of us are conditioned to call it lazy or unmotivated when we take one. You’re quite right.


Hi Jonathan,

I want to commend you once again fro your honesty and clarity. I agree with your outlook on this and think that it’s a truly wonderful gift to sit back, take a breath and just be with what is without the need to change, grow or create. There is a level above all this mind activity and need for more, more, more. There is great truth, beauty and peace in silently observing the moment at hand and being thankful for what is.

nice work


I think this is a great article, hopefully it bursts a few ripe bubbles! :-) Your reference to the housing bubble could be directed at the whole principle of capitalism actually. I don’t think the problem is with growth in these situations per se, more that it is seen as endless linear progressive growth, rather than cyclical growth as can be observed in nature. The other danger of ‘growth’ or ‘self-improvement’ is that it can keep adding more and more to ‘who you are’ – as the article points to, even clever, self-developed stuff, is still not necessarily authentic, its… Read more »
Hi Jonathan, I’m actually writing an e-book about this subject, so I’m glad you raised this issue up. :) I believe personal growth literature often causes more problems than it solves. Glen has pointed out one of the main problems: there are so many subjects in personal growth that we need to know how they fit together and into our own lives. Without making such a connection, personal growth becomes confusing and overwhelming. I came up with a model on how personal growth can be approached in a more holistic, structured way that I call the Personal Growth Map. You… Read more »
Armen Shirvanian
I would say that problems start to arise if a person puts the concept of “personal development” over their actual interest in implementing relevant guidance that is provided. If someone is regularly reading a personal development site like a sitcom, and not implementing any of the guidance on it, the point of the site is completely missed, unless the author of the site wants readers to treat it like a magazine to glance over and forget about. If a personal development site sticks to some values, the plan to actually assist people like a tutor assists students or a mentor… Read more »
Mark Smith

Hi Jonathan, thank you for this article. I really appreciate honesty in online writing, and find it very difficult to do that myself due to the fact that my blog is part of a commercial product website and there are many factors hanging in the balance. In other words, it’s not just all about me.

However, I’m very excited about starting a personal blog in the near future, and one of the most exciting parts about it to me will be the ability to be more forthcoming about my own process.

Well done!


Killer. Maybe you are enlightened? ;)

I’ve been thinking along the same lines, in case you haven’t noticed.


Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for a great article.

I agree that we teach what we need to learn. For me it’s all about balancing the present moment with incremental personal growth and a big dose of luscious living.



Karl Staib - Work Happy Now

No one has it all figured out. So true. There are days that feel like it then BAM. I get knocked down by a big bully of a bad day like today.

Today really wasn’t that bad now that I look back on it on the comfort of my couch. Sometimes we just need a little space and look at it from a relaxed point of view.

It comes down to the fact that we all struggle and each of our talents are different. We just have to enjoy what we have in the here and now.

Tom Maurer | Simple and Spiritual
This is great stuff Jonathan. The whole point of personal development is to improve our experience of life by feeling more awesome. If mindlessly plowing forward in growth is making our experience of life less awesome then why are we doing it? I think when people get started on personal growth and make a few changes they get excited and motivated for more growth. But when they hit a brick wall they can’t stop because the decision to pursue growth has already been made and like you said there is no going back. So they just keep running into that… Read more »

So far, this is my favorite article from your blog. Thank you.

I agree that personal development shouldn’t become a religion or a “should do.” I struggle with my own growth, but once I admitted to myself what I truly wanted out of life, I left “should” at the door. Now, the choices are all mine, just as your choices are all yours.

Do you also follow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s views about choosing to work creatively with the life that comes to you?

Ian | Quantum Learning

Yes! And I wonder if this is more likely to speak to those who have been ‘doing’ personal development for a long time and maybe lost focus on where they’re going and why they’re doing it?

I like the way you draw a distinction between development and growth. Sometimes my development is about expanding my boundaries, sometimes about removing old stuff that’s not serving me any more, sometimes putting new stuff in and sometimes doing nothing at all and just allowing things to settle.

Wendi Gordon

EXCELLENT article, Jonathan. I’m a life coach, and I think you have shared some wonderful pearls of wisdom here. You are so right that, as you wrote, “It’s not about becoming something better. It’s about connecting with your deepest, most effortless self. Cultivating that connection with your authentic self — your heart, really — is what personal growth is really about. It’s about shedding all of the pretenses, the limiting beliefs, and duplicity. Not growing out of who you are or denying your present self.”


From memory Fritz Perls said something like: There is a difference between self-actualisation and self-image-actualisation.

I think becoming still can be a powerful form of growth/becoming. The void can be fertile.


Wonderful refreshing honest article. Thanks :)

The trouble with much of what passes for “personal development” is that it is ego-driven and self-focused. Shouldn’t we be trying to overcome that lesser self and allowing our deeper human/divine reality to emerge and to be of service to those around us? To become a fully rounded human being we cannot just sit and think nice thoughts, we have to engage with the world, embrace service to humankind as our ethic, work to build community. This is what the great souls of history have done. Compared with the lives of those who have sacrificed much to be of service,… Read more »

Great post. Couple of points. I agree with puerhan on the cyclical growth comment. I would ignore the comments asking for more posts. When I see one of your infrequent blog posts I know I am going to have to read it carefully. So carry on the good work!
rgds Rob.


[…] have it all figured out. None of us do. That’s why I enjoy Jonathon’s blog Illuminated Mind. […]


Thanks for writing this Jonathan. It’s one of the best articles on personal growth I’ve read so far. Sometimes we forget that growing is our natural activity, like a tree or puppy grows without having to think too much about it. We humans sometimes take ourselves too seriously!

Jim Littlefield
My experience is that real growth comes from the doing more so than from the complimenting. That’s not to say that contemplation is not an essential step, it is. I must define what results I want and more importantly, why I want them. Then take the next action. It is through the doing and overcoming the internal and external challenges that we see our growth and the progress we’re making. Where personal development comes from understanding AND pursuing the desired result. It could be losing weight, starting a business or writing a book. If we don’t understand our true selves… Read more »

I agree. If you haven’t seen it, read George Leonard’s book Mastery. He talks at length about the importance of practice rather than striving for constant improvement.

Shamelle- TheEnhanceLife

True… Not everyone has this “life” all figured out. Most of what folks share in ebooks, blog posts, book etc are usually what they learn from incidental gleanings.

Each person has their “style” of personal development. Some may be extensively involved in growing, others do grow.. but unknowingly….

Writer Dad

I know it’s tired, but I love love LOVE the mind like water analogy. It is only when feeling so fluid that your mind can truly be free, and you’re correct, there is no way to simply walk away from personal growth. If you try, it will eat you alive.

Nice article. Most of my life I was always busy, always going somewhere to do something yet never getting anything done. My growth was measured in how I met expectations of myself, mostly material and professional goals. My happiness? Well that pretty much was a result of my expectations of others. (unrealistic mostly) Today I try and wear life like a loose garment. I’m always wanting to grow, but at the same time STOP and enjoy the growth. 90% of the time I’m comfortable in my own skin today, when I’m not… that probably means I’m getting ready to grow… Read more »
Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching

Thanks for this post. I’ve come to see “personal growth” as a matter of identifying and releasing anything that gets in the way of my ability to enjoy this moment — almost as a process of de-conditioning myself — and this seems compatible with what you’re saying here.

Marc and Angel Hack Life

I like the way you ended this short piece. Your analogy to water hit the point home for me.

In my mind, the state of ‘flow’ is simply the byproduct of love and interest. When you love something, it intrigues your mind and you begin to unconsciously flow with it… adjusting your trajectory automatically when needed.

Sean C

I agree, much better to be here now then to be in the clouds of hope or history.

One chord your article struck in me is that I despise when people use the word ‘committed’ as in ‘are you committed to your path?’, which is usually followed up with a pitch of some sort. I want to say, YES, I am committed, but on my terms, not yours.

Mark Foo | TheBigDreamer.com

Hi Jonathan,

Although I can’t agree with every point you have mentioned in this post, I do agree with your core messages which are, there’s a big difference between conscious growth (becoming who you are) and growth for the sake of growing, and also you have to sometimes get out of your own way to avoid clutching too hard which can be suffocating.




@ Glen: I would write more often, but then I feel my quality would suffer. Shh, don’t tell anyone. It’s my secret strategy. =]

@ Puerhan: I really couldn’t have said it better than that man. You summed up my thoughts exactly.

@ Haider: I’d like to check out your ebook when it’s out. Definitely keep me updated.


I’m so glad to see this article!

There is so much angst in our culture about self-development and self-improvement…people even chase spirituality to “improve.”

When the constant lurching towards improvement is given up, there is stillness, and in the stillness there is crystal clarity. Intentions rise naturally, and there is no need for discipline or effort. It’s much easier to be still then to learn yet another GTD system.

Yet another great post on the whole area of personal growth. Reminds me of a line I read somewhere: “There is a phenomenon known as social proof. It’s the idea that if everyone is doing something it must be right.” What we miss is ruthless honesty about our own actions and reasoning. We all want to be successful and reach the top of the mountain, only problem is so are all the others… I watched a documentary on Mt. Everest… people were in a traffic jam! to get to the top.. Quite literally a case of to many people on… Read more »

Hi Jonathan, I appreciate that you implement power of less. Your articles provide great value in a thought-provoking way. Information just keeps spinning in my head until I put something into practice, test it out, talk to others about these things..which is great! I do not get this effect from reading a blog post so often. Keep up the great work.

Joe Hughes

I like the idea of “getting out of your own way.” This a good reminder to me to take a step back and ask myself if what I’m doing is contributing to my goals, or is it just “personal development noise.” IT seems that what you’re saying is that personal development / self-improvement should be used as a means to an end, not an end in itself?


Hi Jonathan
I’ve been foolowing your blog for a few months now, and this seemed a good time to say thank you for the real “food for thought” your posts provide me.

Hey Johnathan, This is my first time here. This post is top rate in my opinion. I am here because Yumi, posting over at Intent, suggested this idea and published 5 links. Yours was on the bottom and caught my eye. What I mean is my destiny was to come hear what you had to say and Yumi provided guidance and motive. Teamwork I say! I have a personal list of ten desires for which I desire increase. They are prioritized and using a Deepak Chopra model I have made the list into my primary daily affirmation. The first item… Read more »

P.S. Hey man, don’t just write more, write better. Always top the last post with the next. Then publish them 2 weeks apart. :) Patience is as much personal growth as any other aspect. Then again, do as you please!

Vlad Dolezal
I totally agree that we can learn much better by teaching others. That’s one of the reasons I’m a blogger myself :) Aside from that, I half-agree with your post. I think that you’re right that getting stuck in “growth for growth’s sake” and always focusing on the future is bad. But forgetting about growth or “just being yourself” isn’t the solution either. If you’re a shy timid public speaker, just being yourself won’t help you improve much. Instead, joining a club like Toastmasters where everybody focuses on growth will really make a difference. Also, as the first commenter said:… Read more »

[…] was reading a post at the Illuminated Mind today, and I came across this […]


Growth happens in the present moment. But we only focus on one thing at a time.


“I don’t have everything figured out.” – I really like that you doubt because when I’m reading most blogs about self-development I feel like authors don’t doubt. They present very strong opinions and never admit that they sometimes doubt. And I really like sentence: “Because true happiness is really about balance. Balance between being and becoming.”

LM Aaron
Sometimes people do pursue growth for growth’s sake, but the other flip side of personal development is once a person has one issue “fixed”, he or she may feel as though there are other problems that need to be “fixed” as well. And instead of feeling “more awesome” as one commenter put it, you begin to feel like there’s just a lot of stuff wrong with you. Like, “Oh yeah, I don’t listen enough. Let me fix that, too.” At least that’s been my experience. I’ve pretty much been abusing self-improvement books and I’ve allowed myself to be bullied by… Read more »
Greg at Live Fit
You raise an excellent point, in that growth simply for the sake of growth is a zero-sum game. But I’d have to say I think its a bad idea to stop the pursuit of personal growth. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. The question becomes one of how growth is defined. You use money as an example. We are taught that its a good idea to save cash. But its not a good idea to horde cash. To take that one step further, once very large sums are accumulated, the greatest growth comes from giving. Although I can only understand… Read more »
What seems to be largely missing from the discussion to me is the issue of purpose. If we are not growing for the sake of growing – what are we doing it for? When you are clear about your purpose, then your growth can be more focused, effective and relaxed. Tom Maurer said above that for him personal development is about improving the experience of life by feeling more awesome. Then it becomes clear – any growth that doesn’t help him feel better isn’t good growth for him. For myself, growth is about becoming all God created me to be… Read more »

nice point of view :)


Another two thoughts on this.

The blog’s comments are as illuminating as the postings. Can you supply an rss feed for comments as well as post. That way we can see when someone’s commenting.

The other thing was I was sitting in a meeting in my corporate IT job and thought, what if eveything was alright as it was? what if nothing needed changing? I don’t know whether this is ‘correct’ but I certainly felt a huge wave of relief.

Rgds Rob.


This post is exactly what I needed at this moment.


Reminds me exactly of Steve Pavlina’s book, Personal Development for Smart People, which focuses entirely on what exactly growth consists of. One part of it, is setting goals that make you excited about the present. I think if you don’t try too many things at one time, but are really putting an effort/are doing new things in the things you are doing, all should be good. Good blog.


[…] Mind wrote a post a month ago which was about not being too focused on personal growth.  In the article, he points out that most people are trying to learn what they are teaching to others.  Although it […]

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