I have been investigating many approaches to personal growth. This is what I do. I experiment with my feelings and actions, and then I try to convey what I discovered in my articles.
Looking at the content available online, it is easy to become confused with the various approaches found out there. Some of the authors focus on developing self-love and putting yourself first no matter what. Others emphasize the importance of letting go of the idea of the separated “self” completely.
Sometimes, all I hear about is eliminating distractions, identifying my true purpose and achieving crystal clarity of my life mission. Other times, I am pointed towards dropping expectations and simply becoming one with the uncontrollable chaos of life, embracing our existence as full catastrophe living of continuous ups and downs that we cannot control anyway.
Is it just me — or do these approaches seem to contradict each other?
Cultivating my personal, internal evolution is one of the most important things in my life. So I have been trying to make sense of all that seemingly contradictory personal growth advice. I like to believe that all human disagreements only stem from two things: the differing effects of our individual conditioning and the discrepancies in our use of language. I also like to believe that the path of authentic growth has a universal element to it; some kind of underlying thread that is true for all humans.
So, I have been trying to move beyond the layer of the language used by all the personal growth content creators. I was on a quest to find at least one common point of reference that would connect all those teachings.
Initially, I suspected that it might have been just a matter of putting more impact on one aspect of growth over another. So, maybe, everyone who’s on the path of personal development cares about eliminating distractions from their life — they just attach different priority to it? But after giving it more thought, I didn’t think that was it. Some teachers and self-help gurus seemed to base their advice on things that others didn’t even mention.
So I was still confused. Being prone to influence as I am, I went through different phases of personal growth, which were dictated by the specificity of the content I got my hands on in that period of time.
When I was first touching upon the spiritual side of my being, I came across Michael Brown’s work and his book The Presence Process. I became keenly interested in emotional work and using breathing as a tool to access and integrate childhood traumas.
Then I discovered Transformational Breathwork®, a method that seemed to offer an almost effortless way to freedom. All I had to do was bring more oxygen into, and charged energy out of my body.
Later on, as I felt closer than ever to living my purpose and to what I should do as a passion-based career (writing), I discovered the whole world of advice on productivity, deep work and achieving authentic success. Benjamin Hardy’s work was the one that probably influenced me the most back then. I invested in morning routines, self-discipline and, in general, focused on adjusting my outer circumstances to my highest benefit.
And let me tell you: all that advice was helpful in its own way. The only problem was that much of it was contradictory. It seemed like I couldn’t listen to Michael Brown telling me to sit with my emotions, while Benjamin Hardy was persuading me to “just do it” no matter how crap I felt. And I really intended to be obedient to all of them simultaneously.
Guess what? This conflict itself was a milestone lesson on my inner journey. Something that I was oblivious to until very recently.
Personal growth contains the word “personal” for a good reason. It is a journey as private as anything in life can get. No matter how wise or experienced a spiritual teacher or self-help guru might appear, they will never be able to put themselves in my shoes completely. Ever.
For this reason, I now choose to treat their advice as valid, but not ultimately “true” signposts on my own journey. The teachings are valuable as long as they honestly share the path someone else walked during their own evolution. But because these are their steps, verbalized and formulated as advice, they can only take me so far. They can serve as a crutch on my journey when I need to support myself in the moments of feeling lost.
But in the end, it is only me who knows what’s best for myself. And the same applies to you. No matter what anybody shares with you about the path they’ve been on, you will always need to follow yours anyway.
After looking for a common thread in all the personal growth content out there, I realised that I have been looking in the wrong place. If I want to find the most important ingredient of personal growth, it is not going to be “out there”.
That’s because personal growth cannot exist in absolute terms, outside the context of my life. It is always a pursuit that happens within an orchestration of my specific body, mind, DNA and personal history. And if I ever want to discover the most important ingredient of personal growth for me, I can only do that by consistently looking at my unique conditioning, behaviour patterns, prevalent feelings — and by asking questions such as:
What would be the one element of my attitude to support me in all of that? What could I treat as my compass telling me when I am falling out of balance? How do I know whether I am developing in the direction that’s best for me?
Currently, my most important ingredient of personal growth is self-compassion. That means the repeatedly infused realisation that I am doing the best I can with what I have. The willingness to forgive myself as many times as it takes and pat myself on the shoulder no matter how many times I fall. Because I’ll always be falling. Because I’ll never be perfect. Because not all of my circumstances, thoughts and feelings are up to me. Just like you, I was born into a conditional world that shaped me in this way and not any other. Remembering that must make me gentle towards myself. No matter how many tears it takes, no matter how difficult it seems.
Self-compassion is what I established as both a life-raft and always available safe space for myself. This is what I know I need in order to grow — and what about you?