What is Personal Development?

Maybe it’s having been sick. But when I have lots of time to daydream and drift, I tend to reflect on things in a new way.

And this time one topic that entertained me was “personal development”. It’s just a phrase, right, but it is used to cover a multitude of sins and blessings.

There are “basic life skills”, taught whilst growing up, or remedially. Like how to tie your shoe laces, disagree without violence, and cook at least one brilliant dinner. Or breathing, if that is where your capacity happens to be. And all of us will need support in many of them at the beginning and end of life, as well as at various points in the middle. They are basic in so far as they are about navigating life.

There is the whole hornets nest of “therapy”, which I know is not one thing. But everything that helps to manage or heal from complicated mental or emotional issues. In general, another navigational aid, but to navigate things some of us never have to deal with.

Then there is “enlightenment”. And by that I mean activities that make life lighter. For the sake of argument, I’m starting this range just after therapy, and ending it more or less where the lightness is something that is obviously permanent, even if only in the background. Enlightenment is the healing end of the non-therapeutic spectrum.

And then there is “expression”. Which is simply working with a guide or mentor who allows for light-touch, ongoing reflection and alignment of all of life and work. This is the evolutionary end of the same spectrum.

Somewhere in the mix we have “learning”. This is work with a specialist teacher in a field to acquire skills, concepts or experience. It might include qualification, or it might be way less formal. Learning, by its nature tends to have enlightening and expressive aspects.

And what do they all have in common?

Not one of them actually develops a person. Not one of them makes you a better you. Your value as a person is not defined by what you do.

Sure, you’ll experience wins, and we’ll celebrate them. You’ll experience losses, and we’ll mourn them.

But everything you add to a person during this lifetime will be gently discarded as it ends – the good, the bad and the ugly. All the stuff you work so hard to acquire? Gone. All the stuff spent so much to get rid of? Gone.

It might sound like I’m slating ambition or achievement, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Just if those come off the back of a desire to develop the person, that desire will never be satisfied.

The desire dissolves in falling deeply in love with the whole person, exactly 100% as she stands.

Not despite her flaws, but because of them.

Not except for her most spectacular mistakes, but because of them.

Not when she turns her wobbly (or skinny, or scarred) belly into something representing current superficial beauty standards, but now.

Not when she’s somehow reframed her deepest fears into positives, but when she still cries over them quietly at night.

Not when she’s given up the day job and launched as whatever the latest greatest type of coach is, but when she’s living her life, her way (including a job, or coaching, if that turns out to be her thing).

And then, ambition and achievement shine as expressions of who we are, not a scramble to get to something we are not.

All without an ounce of personal development.

But here’s a puffin, which is cuter.

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