Personal development has been a booming industry this past century. But has it had its day?
Personal development is dead. There, I said it.
Perhaps I should’ve said, “Personal development is dead to me.” Although it does seem like something is changing in mass consciousness at the moment.
The development of personal development
In the early 1900s the new thought movement emerged. It was a combination of religious and spiritual ideas with economic success strategies. Books like Think & Grow Rich came out of this era. It gathered momentum and by the 1980s a young man called Tony Robbins sold a trillion tapes on late night TV.
It turns out ideas like ‘personal power’ and ‘creating your own reality’ are very attractive. We spent years of our lives and a large proportion of our pay cheques on becoming the ‘best version’ of ourselves.
Here’s the thing: It worked. Those of us who went ‘all in’ with personal development made more money and achieved our goals.
Are we there yet?
What I started asking myself a few years ago was, “Am I ‘personally developed’ yet?”
If not, how much more goal setting and vision boarding and belief changing until I get there?
So am I saying that all your friends who are training as life coaches right now are wasting their time? Well… they probably are, but lets go a little bit deeper than that.
Classic personal development focuses on training the mind to focus on what you want. It’s about becoming more. Be more. Do more. Have more. All of this is based on what the mind thinks it wants. At a certain stage in life this is useful to surround yourself with.
To realise you can get what you want and to back yourself as an individual is important. We need our egos and personalities to develop – to a point.
So what do you do once you’ve developed a basic level of self-confidence and kick-ass-ness? Where do you go from there when you don’t feel satisfied? Is the answer to move from a seven-figure business to an eight-figure business? Maybe you need a hotter body? Or a hotter partner?
In 20 years of personal development, no coach ever said to me, “What if you’re already enough and you don’t have to do anything?” It’s always been, “OK, so let’s think bigger!” and, “What does the next level look like?”
A shift of perspective
In the last year or so, something different has started to happen. I’ve begun to drop away the need to ‘be more’. It’s not something I’ve learned from a book. I’m simply starting to realise that instead of ‘becoming’ somebody, there’s an absolute magic in stopping trying.
The main glitch in the personal development code is this: It presupposes that ‘bigger’ and ‘more’ are the pathways to fulfilment. If our economics and our ecosystem is telling us anything, it’s that this isn’t the case.
More is the ultimate drug. It has the de-stabilising effect of placing the focus always in the future: “When I get there, I’ll be happy,” and on and on to the next milestone, the next achievement.
I’ve learned a lot of useful things from being around this industry and movement for more than half my life. What it did not teach me is that sometimes to sit still, shut up, and do nothing is the most magical act you can undertake.
Who’s developing who?
Most of us already have enough ego. We have complex identities we’ve built to keep ourselves safe and make ourselves important. And we reinforce these identities through social media and work hard to climb to the top of the pyramid, like good little worker ants. Very few people stop to ask why.
At the heart of most spiritual teachings is the idea of the soul. Or some version of the idea that the ‘personality’ is not the deepest or most important part of us. In some teachings, the persona or the ego is even seen as an obstacle to happiness or full development. In others it’s seen as a useful component but not the whole being. If we get caught up in developing the personality, we can end up giving more and more attention and energy to the part that makes us unhappy.
I’m not of the ‘kill the ego’ school of thought. I think it’s a part of who we are and very useful. But I know that my deepest knowings and yearnings don’t come from my personality. They tend to show up when I let go.
When I’m not attached to any particular outcome – maybe I’m in deep meditation, or making love, or daydreaming – something deeper comes through. No amount of personal development has got me there. It’s just time and space to be.
So, am I saying that no one should go do workshops to empower themselves and become more kick-ass anymore? Of course not. But what I’m seeing is a societal shift away from pure ego and material achievement as the dominant driver. Increasing numbers of people are looking for paths that honour all levels of being. I’m seeing things like witchcraft, tantra, Buddhism and shamanism becoming more popular. There’s a recognition that the spirit might not care about the house, or the car, or the perfect abs, or being famous.
How about you? Are you still developing the personality, or are you ready to start developing the soul?
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