Why Self-Development/Self-Improvement is Overrated
“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”
The self-help industry is worth 10-11 million in the U.S. alone. And the funny thing is, the people most likely to buy a self-help book are those who have bought at least one other in the last 18 months. So, as author Cate Montana asks, “If these books (and related workshops, seminars and retreats) are so damn effective at solving our problems, why the continuing stream of self-help purchases?”
Her reason is that we are tackling “self-help” without knowing what “self” actually is. And the same applies to the often-interchanged cousins of “self-help”: “self-development” and “self-improvement”.
This creates a tendency to collect things: to collect certifications, trips, seminars, yoga retreats, degrees, and online courses, in hopes that it will manifest as something meaningful in your life.
Anything with “self-” followed by a word – self-discovery, self-development, self-leadership, etc. – is a booming industry simply because many people start with the end goal in mind: being some kind of superman or superwoman, or having some super-business or project. They have an idea of what that end goal will look like and they’ve been telling themselves their whole lives that that’s what they want. They aren’t interested in their own personal truth. And if they do happen to know what they really want, often it scares them so much that they don’t pursue it.
Thus many people approach their evolution in the wrong way. Here’s why.
1. People are not making big enough changes to actually chase what they want.
…Staying in bogus jobs, for example, or in a field that doesn’t make them excited or give them a sense of growth. People convince themselves they’re working toward their goal by taking scattered, small steps. They want the comfort of knowing they’re doing at least something. But they aren’t willing to take the risks that matter.
They don’t know how or aren’t willing to put aside space and time for answers to emerge and for exploration to take place. Kudos to you if you are here – You’re in the process of figuring it out. This is a necessary step to effective self-development. Be aware that it can become a maze if you get lost in making tons of little changes without allowing a goal, purpose, or path to emerge.
Often people are afraid of what they might find if they did really choose to explore themselves. Then they would have no excuse but to pursue that thing they really love, even if it involves turning life on its head. For instance, if you’re an engineer, it’s daunting to admit to yourself that you want to become an artist. Your life has to dramatically change to accommodate the dream.
2. People tell themselves what they want because it looks important, not because they actually want it.
Our ego convinces us that yes, we want to be an independent entrepreneur with our own successful business, but is it what we really want? Maybe we want to design websites or clothing, and it doesn’t matter if we are freelance or working under a company as long as we have the outlet to do what makes us happy.
Many times, it’s ego-driven. We identify too much with the end result of something because deep down, we don’t know what we really want. We’re addicted to seeing progress. It feeds our ego, so eventually seeing the fruit of the hard work becomes the main motivation, and what we identify with:
“Oh, I’m a good person now, I volunteer at a charity every weekend. I’ve become something great.” It’s wonderful to volunteer at a charity (and the world needs more volunteers), but make sure you’re doing it for the right reason. There is a difference between actually living your truth and projecting the flimsy cardboard image of a “self-actualized” person to the world.
This tends to happen because a person doesn’t know what gives meaning and energy to their life, so they grab the nearest thing that will get them validation from other people that yes, what you’re doing is important. They can’t fully convince themselves of what they are doing (because the passion, meaning, motivation, etc. is lacking), so they build big things and call on others to convince them too. But that’s not what the journey’s about.
And in the end…
It isn’t about getting or having something (a successful project to flaunt; a high status). It’s about allowing answers to come, allowing your inner self to lead you by the hand through life’s forest of mystery and confusion to build the equilibrium, the sweet spot in your life where all circumstances are aligned, for you to feel happy to live and grow. It’s not your concern what you become in the process. You can’t control that anyway. And it is here in this space of acceptance you will find the true root of transformation.