On personal development

Image: Oisin Conolly

The problem with a lot of personal development is that it makes a promise it can’t ever keep.

It tells us that happiness is simple — IF we do these 3 things (or 7, or 17 — funny how it’s always a prime number). It tells us that if we plug our lives into some equation — shazam! We’ll be happy. Or fulfilled. Or attractive. Or we’ll gain a huge following. Or we’ll be rich. Whatever the promise is…

I don’t want to hate too hard on these people. There’s a lot of hating going on right now, and I don’t want to add fuel to the already raging fire.

All I can say is, through writing my way through life this past year, and dipping my toes in this genre myself, I’ve learned many things, but one thing stands out the most (largely, thanks to reading this guy)…

The key is not ‘winning’ some inner-struggle against ourselves so that our life can begin. It’s about getting out of our heads so we can live now, as fully as possible, with our past, our memories, our fears, our foibles, our insecurities, our sadness, and all the other unavoidable, extraneous bullshit we gather on this dusty road of life.

I’m not saying we’re doomed to a life of pain and suffering. I’m saying that psychological distress is a thing. It’s life. If we put off fulfillment and peace for the day that it all goes away (like, after I do those 13 things some random dude told me to do on the internet), I’m afraid that we’re going to be waiting a very long time (while buying a metric shit-ton of self-help books).

A lot of personal development gets us to fight a war. Sure, maybe it’s a well-intentioned war, like most wars, but a war nonetheless.

When we peruse the self-help isle of the internet, we see a lot of different ways to fight this ‘war’ against unhappiness and strife. There’s all kinds of shiny weapons and guides and mp3’s to help us ‘win’ this ‘battle’.

But what we must realize is that this battle was never meant to be won. It was never even meant to be fought.

The kind of personal development I’m interested in (and I try to write) is the kind that reminds us that we can put down the weapons and shiny objects and just… start living. Sure, the battle might be raging on in the background. But when we peace-out, it no longer involves us.

We can start picking flowers. Eating cheese sticks. Telling fart jokes. Engaging with our lives more rather than being stuck in our head trying to fight them. And eventually, we might look up to notice the battlefield has transformed to something less threatening. Something more like this thing we call life. Not some life-or-death contrived metadrama.

Is this easy? Not really. This is why I write what I do. To help myself (yep, it’s true — no shame in this at all) and others get there. My reward is contributing towards the world I want to live in. A world inhabited, not with people who are constantly in a happier-than-thou pissing contest, nor with people who can’t live with themselves. But with people who are peaceful and fully alive in spite of the shit they may trudge through on a daily basis.

I have high hopes for personal development. Sure, there’s some devious douchebags out there bastardizing the genre. Always will be. But I think what we’re seeing is the emergence of people who really live the stuff they write. Who sincerely want to see the world change for the better.

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