As you are reading this blog I can safely assume you are interested in personal growth and ready to create a personal development plan for yourself. There doesn’t need to be anything wrong with you for you to want to keep evolving throughout your life. Long gone are days when reading a self-help book was seen as sad. Having a personal development plan is a sign that you are ambitious and want to live your life to the fullest. It also signals you want to create some structure for the journey because personal growth can get messy.
However, most of us still expect the personal development journey to be smooth and neat. You can imagine yourself sitting on a designer sofa and reading a book, or a personal development blog or listening to a great podcast in the comfort of your new electric car. Quite civilised! You’ll even attend a remote personal development retreat or hire a life coach. That’s the sort of thing smart people do, isn’t it!
There’s an expectation that personal development is a linear process.
If you just put in the work, read the right books and do your affirmations, you’ll keep moving forward and develop into a better you. You think you can control your development, it will be a well planned process and there will be no hazards. Sounds good – right! We can all agree to a neat plan like this, because it will keep us safe.
I don’t believe in personal development.
But I do believe in personal growth!
If your aim is to become the woman you want to be, the woman you already are… If your aim is to align with your soul’s deepest purpose and find your core… How can you possibly get there in such a ‘clean’ and civilised manner? Your dress nice and spotless, journalling as you look out to the ocean? (Like the glammed-up Instagram accounts want you to believe!)
How do you think you can arrive in this new blissful space without falling on your face and hurting yourself along the way? How can you suggest you can simply ‘develop’ into the ‘new you’ from the comfort of your sofa?
I believe many people engage in personal development merely to protect their ego. This is of course totally unconscious. You feel you are doing all the right things: reading all the right books, attending all the right seminars and listening to all the right podcasts. You are ‘hanging out’ with the right crowd and that’s great, but you don’t really have to touch your own core.
Bear with me.
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do all of those brilliant things that broaden your thinking and expand awareness.
If you are aiming for true growth you must give up an illusion of being in control.
Think about a tree that grows next to an old house. At some point it will break through the walls because it is its natural path. It’s its purpose, its true direction. But of course the owner of the house doesn’t want to let go of the old structure it has so carefully built, so she rather cuts the tree than let’s it destroy the house. What would the neighbours say!
But growth is not neat.
Growth is often random. It goes forward in bursts.
Growth happens unexpectedly. It takes you to unimaginable directions.
Growth will break through walls, if you let it.
Growth will break through barriers and may damage and alter the structures around you.
Growth will change things permanently. It’ll take you to embarrassing situations. It’ll expose you to failure and make you vulnerable.
Growth is wild. Growth is scary. Growth is messy.
It’s the growth’s seemingly uncontrollable nature and perceived permanent damage that stops most of us embracing real personal growth. So they retreat back to personal development.
I had my first marriage destroyed by growth. It broke everything into small pieces that seemed permanent at the time. But if I kept up the structures I would have suffocated my growth. Growth has also meant abandoning great sounding jobs or business projects and letting seemingly good contracts fall through. They didn’t serve my path any longer.
Letting myself grow uncontrollably has meant many embarrassing conversations where I’ve made a complete fool of myself only to learn afterwards why I had put myself into those situations. These have resulted in unbelievable learning and destruction of my ego structures. Letting my self grow has meant more fulfilment and a real chance to build a ‘bigger life’.
Embrace growth and create a personal development plan.
Let’s face it, letting go completely and accepting being in a free fall is probably too scary for most of us. You can create a personal development plan to give yourself structure to practise the personal growth ‘muscle’ safely.
The key elements of a personal development plan are:
1. Have a long term vision
Spend time writing down who you are, what are your talents and what difference you want to make in the world. At DrivenWoman we do this with the My Life Pyramid exercise. (You can find summary of the principles here.) Try to capture your long term vision in one sentence.
2. Break it into a short term achievable goal
Working back from your long term vision, write down one achievable goal you can put in place and complete in the next 3 to 6 months. This goal should be based on realistic objectives and the resources you have available right now.
3. Create your life matrix
Your My Life Matrix is a statement for how you want to live, what are the four key life areas you want to embrace and how you want each of them to turn out in the future. (You can find a summary of the principles here.)
4. Write down five actionable steps
This is where it gets interesting. This is where you have to start making choices. You can no longer hide ‘developing’ on your designer sofa, it’s time to commit to taking action. Ask yourself, what are the smallest steps you can take right now without taking too much risk. We help you do this in our regular LifeWorking™ Workshops which you can attend online for free.
5. Take action
Oh yes, until we get out of our comfort zone, stop thinking about it and start doing it, it’s all just our ego’s little secret what could be. No more consuming pretty Instagram images and dreaming of a ‘bigger life‘, when we start taking small steps to big goals it all starts to become real!
This is a process we repeat monthly at DrivenWoman using a personal development template, with incredible results.
Growth is messy and sometimes painful.
Often when I’m in a deep personal growth period in my life I don’t necessarily have an idea what is going on but because I have committed to my personal development plan and regularly write down my vision, goals and actions and keep taking steps it all feels more manageable. And it’s only afterwards when I understand why I had to take those steps and how much I’ve grown.
As my awareness expands the lead time between my unconscious mind and conscious mind gets shorter. And this is a good thing. I’m learning how my ego is still holding onto things and trying to keep the old patterns and structures in place distracting me from my truth. But I’ve accepted that I can’t find deep spiritual and emotional wellbeing if I don’t let go of control sometimes.
Growth simply isn’t linear and neat.
This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in June 2021.