“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.” Oscar Wilde
My husband and I own lots of personal development books. If you scanned our bookshelves, you’d find lots of titles about goals, fulfilling your potential, happiness and success. We get teased for our collection. People call it “self-help” with disdain. Others joke that our books make them feel like underachievers.
I get it. People like to make fun of personal development (PD) or self-help. It conjures up images of gurus leading people to run across fire or chop wood blocks in half to achieve personal empowerment. Some picture PD as people repeating positive affirmations to mirrors or weeping in the self-help aisle of Barnes and Noble. There’s some woo woo in PD that can give it a bad rap.
It never surprises me when people say they don’t like self-help and they won’t be voraciously reading the books anytime soon. What kills me is that good PD (and there’s a ton of it!) covers fundamental principles that are life-changing. It kills me that people would rather proudly declare that they don’t need those books and wear that sentiment as a badge of honor, than be open to information that could take their lives to a whole new level of happiness and fulfillment. Information like …
Fix yourself first. If you don’t work, nothing else will. I venture to say that more people ignore their issues than tackle them head on. Many people get stuck in their lives at the same point with the same problem, instead of taking a hard look at the underlying internal issue causing the problems. The foundation of PD is to fix YOU first. Get unstuck. People think they have a food problem, a job problem, a relationship problem, but it’s really just a YOU problem—we are all at the source of our problems. We are the common denominator. When you change, everything externally about your life changes too.
Figure out the kind of life you want to have first, then build your life around it. Instead of searching for a job and letting it dictate where you live … Instead of starting life where you end up after high school or college … first decide what kind of life you want to live. What kind of lifestyle do you want? I love the sun and wanted to live in places where it’s sunny most of the time—that’s why I’ve spent most of my adult years in Texas and now North Carolina. Sun makes me happy. I also love to be around people and hustle and bustle, so I live in walking distance to restaurants, shops and a movie theater. I have a sister who is the opposite, the quieter and the more rural, the better for her. It sounds like such a basic tip, but I’ve met lots of people who complain about where they live and can easily list what they don’t like about it, but they act like they can’t move. Life can change with just one decision.
Learn from the success of others so you don’t waste time. I love this principle. Most likely, what you want to do with your life someone has already achieved. Find out how they did it so you can learn their tips and strategies. Learn where they made mistakes so you don’t waste time making the same ones. What sounds like copying is more about being smart with your time. You don’t have to stumble where others have stumbled if you take the time to study them. Personal development legend Jim Rohn once said it would be great if failures gave seminars because then you would know exactly what not to do. Same goes for people who are successful, you can figure out what to do by studying them. As Jim Rohn said, “If you want to make money, study the acquisition of wealth. If you want to be happy, study people who are happy. Only by continuous learning do you open the doors of success.”
Choose to live positively. I know people right now who hate their jobs. HATE. They’d quit if they could. They get out of bed with that sinking feeling in their stomachs. They say things like, “It’s a job, right? I’m not supposed to like it.” And I’ve met people who hate a different aspect of their lives and they live with it, justifying it with sentences like: “Life is supposed to be hard,” or “Life is to be endured” as if suffering is noble. You can sell yourself on negative beliefs, or you can wake up and ask yourself what your life would look like if it was amazing—and then get busy making it so.
PD can be gained from the real stories in your life, not from mirrors and mantras. You can get your PD in all sorts of ways. If you still can’t stomach the self-help aisle of the bookstore, read biographies or find mentors who are more successful than you. Take a course, interview a grandparent, start a deep conversation with a friend or write in a journal. Or when you encounter adversity, ask yourself what you can learn from it. When you are especially happy, notice it, and ask yourself how you can get more of those moments. When you actively work to increase your self-awareness, you will be flooded with moments of clarity and ideas. You just may start listening to that quiet voice inside your head that knows what you need to do.
Being against personal development is like being against growth. Having an interest in it doesn’t mean your life is in tatters. Applying personal development is about living fearlessly—facing problems internally so you can watch everything improve externally. Sometimes immersing yourself in PD just means you want to take your already kick-ass-self up a notch—and do it expediently—so you can get busy loving (your kick-ass) life.
“When you are through learning, you are through.” Paul J. Meyer