Personal development. Working on oneself. Personal Growth. It seems like everywhere I go I hear these phrases. They are meant to be helpful. To inspire us to be better. To encourage us to reach our full potential. But for a long time, they just made me mad. I hated the idea of someone (or something) telling me I needed to be better. They didn’t know me, what I’d achieved and who I truly was. So how dare they tell me to work on myself? This was my mentality for too long and luckily it didn’t work out so well.
The idea of ‘personal growth’ first landed on my radar when I was 24. I was eating Thai food and complaining to a friend about a failed relationship. After listening patiently and smiling often, she began asking me some questions. What’s important to you in a woman? Why do you feel jealous? What do you want in life? I couldn’t believe it. I had just bared my soul and her response was some philosophical bullshit that nobody has an answer to? Like too-many men, I insisted I was happy with myself. I explained how I was smart, confident, and already knew myself. Luckily she persisted, reminding me how I’d just told her I struggle with jealousy and don’t have faith in love. We kept talking and I slowly realized the damage my parents’ divorce had caused. As we left the restaurant she suggested I spend some time ‘working on myself’. That perhaps the issue was not my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, but my relationship with myself. And perhaps the way to solve it was by looking inward.
Having that realization kicked my ass in gear. Oh wait, no it didn’t. I continued telling myself, and the world, that everything was fine – an attitude that is far too common among men of all ages. I was terrified of what I might find if I began diving deeper. If this ‘inner demon’ was on the surface, the ones further down must be bigger and scarier. If I let them loose, I’d have to deal with them. And we all know what that entails – sleepless nights, confusion, self-doubt, and maybe even depression. That’s some scary shit, especially when it was so easy to distract myself with the comfort of bars and friends. So, that’s what I did. I smothered those thoughts and put on my ‘man face’. But what I didn’t know was that those demons needed to breath, and they were coming out whether I liked it or not.
Three years later they succeeded, triggered by another failed relationship. Luckily, this time I’d had enough. After wrestling with the same insecurities and questions I’d struggled with years before, I realized this was about me. I reached out to that same friend and asked for help. And I learned that, looking inward actually isn’t that scary. In fact, its freaking liberating! I began exploring the tough questions – What do I want in a partner? Where does the jealousy come from? etc. I learned that by simply dedicating time to explore these questions, the answers revealed themselves quite quickly. The combination of short meditations and daily journaling allowed me to make more progress answering these tough questions than I had made after years of letting my brain mull over them in my free time. So, what took me so long?
The truth is I was scared to work on myself. Scared of what I might find and scared of seeming weak. And I justified not working on myself by hoping these problems would just go away. Finally, I realized we have to work at everything in life. If I want to be a better football player or business owner, I have to work at it. So, if I want to tackle those inner demons, I have to work at that too. Although it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it sure as hell isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s something to be proud of. It’s being proactive, instead of reactive. It’s being empowered, instead of a victim. It’s recognizing that your life and is in your hands and if you don’t step up, nobody else will.
Have I figured everything out? Of course not. But I do know that every one of us has great potential and it’s up to each of us to put in the time, energy, and grit to realize it. And I hope we all step up to the challenge, because the world needs each of us at our best.