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
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.