Personal Growth: It Works

An acquaintance of mine was talking about a guy she knew who had taken a personal-growth course. I seem to recall she was talking about Landmark (a very popular course that many of my friends have taken and benefited from), but actually it doesn’t matter which course it was, because what I’m about to say applies universally to personal growth, spiritual growth, religion, self-improvement paths, books and coursework of all kinds.

“It [the course] must not have worked,” she said, “because he ended up getting a divorce.”

This illustrates a common misconception about personal-growth work: that if a person’s life is anything less than perfect, then they must not be “doing it right,” or the “program isn’t effective.”

First of all, self-evolvement is not some kind of “Get Out of Jail Free” card. “Yippee, I am ENLIGHTENED and I will never have to struggle or suffer again!” Um, yeah — No. This is the same line of reasoning used by people who say things like, “She must not have been a good Christian, because God didn’t answer our prayers to cure her cancer.” (Yes, I actually DID hear of someone saying this, I am not making this up.)

Personal/spiritual growth is about learning how to take responsibility for your life, get comfortable in your own skin, enjoy the everyday moments as well as the “special” ones, become the most authentic possible version of yourself, make the difference you want to make in the world, be in service. It is NOT about suddenly having a perfect life. Whatever “perfect” is — which brings me to my second point.

Second of all: What seems like a bad thing to an outside observer, could be the best thing for the person him/herself. Take the example of the divorce mentioned earlier. Maybe it was time for that relationship to end! Maybe it was a really valuable part of that person’s journey. Maybe maybe maybe … ! We are not in a position to assess the efficacy of a person’s self-evolvement path by observing their external circumstances through our own personal filters.

Oh, and speaking of filters, sometimes our own personal filters are actually themselves a problem, and therefore a worthwhile target for personal-growth work. One woman I met as a fellow participant at a self-improvement course was obsessed with her weight. She was (maybe) carrying a couple of extra pounds. She probably noticed those extra pounds more than anyone else. In fact, maybe she wasn’t really even carrying any extra pounds at all! But she was very focused on her weight. (Something I can relate to, as one who for some years struggled with an eating disorder.)

She looked around the room and said, “If this program works, then why are so many people here overweight?” I was stunned because I just didn’t have that filter (anymore); I just saw a bunch of people who looked healthy, enthusiastic, and ALIVE. And I figured that if any of them had weight goals or other physical-body goals, they were surely working toward them and would be able to achieve them.

Ditto for a question I heard from someone who had a lot of worry around money: “If this program works, why doesn’t everyone in the room have a million dollars?” Well for one thing, maybe, strange as it may sound, not everyone WANTS a million dollars. Or maybe they are working on other things first, things that have higher priority for them. Things no amount of money can buy. Healing old family upsets, for instance. Or empowering their kids to live fully. (Anyway, how do you look around a room and know who has a million dollars and who doesn’t? Is there a special forehead tattoo or something?)

All of which is to say: No matter what world-self goals you are working on as you seek to grow in mind and spirit … Keep Evolving and Carry On, everyone! Enjoy your life and respect your own journey, suffering and all. And don’t let anyone discourage you from your self-evolvement path.