There are few things that I love like the idea of personal development. Even before I learned about the whole movement that goes with it, it was a thing constantly on my mind. How to get better at skillset XY? How to manage your time most effectively? How to prioritize well? How to improve relationships? How to make a living from what you love?
I keep coming back to these questions and I find that effort spent answering them is effort well spent indeed. Just the attempt makes me feel more content.
Having acknowledged that, there is a very weird tendency of the personal development crowd to act like a bunch of stoned hippies. Yes, I’m very excited about actively tackling the big questions in my life too, and yes, that is a very proactive and positive approach to life – but that does not necessarily mean everything is suddenly all rainbows and unicorns.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Just open your average self-help book at the bookstore. Terms like “love,” “confidence,” “responsibility,” “trust” and “harmony” seem to be the only words that the author got served with his alphabet soup. The tone is so over the top Zen, that you cannot help but right away distrust this overabundance of positive vibes; that is, if you are not a stoned hippie yourself.
I’m being harsh here, I know. But reading these books and blogs, it makes you wonder if a movement like psychoanalysis really only took place a little bit more than a hundred years ago. What about the darker aspects of men? His sexual impulses, his aggressive tendencies, his constant need to lie to himself? Just sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not there?
These issues do not go away by you acting like they don’t exist. And these darker aspects of yourself, the (natural) selfishness, your destructive tendencies, your perversions – they will play out, no matter how often you throw the word “love” around.
I understand all too well: It is scary to admit that there is another level to existence besides what you positively envision your life should look like. It adds an element of distrust; if all these unseen, hard to understand forces are at work in my life, how can I ever dream of getting a handle on it? Abandon all personal responsibility? Start therapy?
In truth, this is not so much a dilemma as a signpost. Distrust, both of yourself and others, is not an ugly necessity but the driving force behind real personal development. Trust yourself – less…
A rather trivial example: I like to think of myself as a critical person, someone who is not easily fooled, by whomever. Yet, on a DAILY basis, I catch myself coming up with all kinds of lies, excuses and backwards rationalizing. Didn’t go to training today? Well, I was really busy. Didn’t make any progress with my thesis? Well, I first I have to get that one book. Didn’t talk my friend about our recent fallout? Well, he didn’t call me either, did he?
These examples don’t even nearly do justice to the level of complexity I resort to in order to not face unwanted truths. If my writing was halfway as elaborate as my daily self-lies, there would be a Pulitzer medal on my nightstand already. I sometimes simply stand gaping at myself: How do I manage to delude myself about so many things?
This is not about beating myself up though. In contrast, once you realize you should not trust yourself too far (and others for that matter either, and self-help authors the least); you can finally start to make real progress. As long as you are in denial of your self-lies, of your hidden truths and your personal abysses, you are a lost cause. No amount of painting over it will make them go away. But once acknowledged, there is the true potential for self-development. A foe I know that is there can be taken into account.
Distrust can be a highly productive thing. It can even eventually lead you to a truer form of trust: By distrusting your initial superficial and naive beliefs, you arrive at a much more facetted image of yourself, one that better reflects what you really are. This new image might be a lot less likeable than your naive version of yourself, but it is also a lot more representative and in that sense more reliable, even predictable – hence more trustworthy. Pretty Hegelian, eh? I had a few drinks…
It’s a process; I fear one that never ends. Well, until it is over.
Sweet dreams, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.