Warning: Personal Development is a Punch in Your Face

(…or “How When You Think You Have Made It, You Are Just Getting Started.”)

Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” must have been longing for an easy life without knowing that things could be better. Most definitely, he (or she) didn’t want to be punched in the face by hearing uncomfortable truths about his path in life.

I have no idea who it was (it could have been Thomas Gray, but his version is more than just “ignorance is bliss,” and could be interpreted to mean the opposite: “where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise”) but it wasn’t a personal development writer, that’s for sure.

The more you learn about yourself and your current condition, the more aware you become of your shortcomings and all the things you still haven’t reached. Both in your personal growth and the world around you.

If it makes you do what you need to do to get where you want to be, all of this is a good thing.

But there should also be a warning label stamped on every personal development book or blog:

Warning: This book/blog/article/tutorial can make you unhappy

When you read The 4-Hour Workweek, at first you got excited, saying to yourself: “Wow, this is so awesome! I must try this right away” The first few days were pure joy, but then came the disillusionment: It’s not even remotely as easy as it sounds.

You realized that before Tim Ferriss was able to achieve the lifestyle of his dream, he worked 60-hour weeks building his business for several years — until he realized that he could leave it behind.

You realized that you couldn’t just go to your boss and tell him you quit.

You realized that you weren’t even close to the goal painted by the book.

But hopefully, you also knew that the goal was not impossible to reach — as long as you were ready to fight for it.

The same pattern is repeated over and over again with every book and blog you read: Reading Scott Ginsberg reminds me of how bad I still am at listening to people. Reading Leo Babauta makes me aware of the fact that my habits still are sloppy as ever. Reading Clay Collins tells me that I haven’t gotten any braver than I was yesterday.

But that’s good.

It’s how I want it to be.

I need to be punched in the face every now and then so that I won’t just conform to my happy but still unfinished state of being, wondering how come I’m not doing all the things I thought I wanted to do, and not being the person I want to be.

As Dren pointed out in the comments to previous post, becoming an expert in many things is no short trip at all. You need to keep learning, for years, only to realize that there is still more for you to learn. That’s where reading personal development blogs and books can help: in showing you that you still have a long way to go.

Unless this is what you’re after:

Take a look at what happened around mid-April. No, not the big fall, that was a Feedburner tracking bug. I’m talking about the rather stable 450-460 RSS readers period from April to August during which the blog subscriber count did not grow at all.

That’s what happened to my blog during the summer.

It’s not what you would have estimated based on the growth before April, is it? But it’s what you would expect to happen if you become too content with your current state. I was simply paying far too little attention to growing and improving the blog.

But this doesn’t apply only to blogging.

The same thing will happen in your personal economy, in your knowledge, and in your health, if you decide that you are good enough, and stop trying to improve.

Personal development will tell you this. It will tell you that you are in a bad shape and need to start running again.

It will hurt, but you will be glad it did — in the long run.

My next fight is to get back on track with my blog growth (you can help by subscribing and/or telling your friends about the blog, see Leo Babauta’s summary of how to help a blogger).

What is yours?

21 thoughts on “Warning: Personal Development is a Punch in Your Face”

  1. Nice post, and again – I completely agree with you. If we don’t keep the self improvement drive running, we will forget where we were heading in the first place, and who we wanted to be.

    Although, you have to admit, some people feel great where they are. Ignorance doesn’t allow them to take a look ahead and see where they can go.

  2. @Jerubei: Yeah. And to those people, who don’t want to be punched in the face, I guess it’s better to stay far away from personal development :)

  3. There are those who are too scared to go ahead and get punched, true. But there are those who’ve reached their goal – some people aim lower and don’t feel the need for self improvement. And there are those who believe they are at the top of everyone and there’s no more room for improvement.

    Jerubeis last blog post..Day 8

  4. Yeah, true. But then again, what they miss (I think) is that the one goal they have reached is not all there is to reach – but instead, they could set their next, higher goal.

    I think in Built to Last, the authors called this kind of big, long-term goal the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). They said that often, when companies reached such a goal, if they didn’t right away set their next goal, they started to lose their passion, velocity, and then slowly degraded so that competition passed them by.

    I know we’re not talking about business, but I think this same idea might be present in personal lives too. What do you think?

  5. A grand point you are making with this post Jarkko!

    There’s one quote from E. Hubbard that says: No one ever gets far unless he accomplishes the impossible at least once a day.

    The ‘impossible’ in this context is the accomplishment of something you didn’t think you are capable of only because you refused to push yourself further from what already know and what you are already familiar with.

    But people *are* able to perform miracles. If they only agreed to step out of their comfort zone.

    Because it is the only way one can grow.

    I believe it’s a shame to miss the opportunity we are given with this life. What I’ve learned for myself is that I don’t need to be No.1; I don’t need to be famous nor rich nor powerful.

    I just want to be the best *I* can be.

    And while that might not be much for some, it sure is the meaning of my life.

  6. I like this post Jarkko (wow, just noticed I’m the top commenter), I’ve read the 4HWW and whilst I did enjoy it, you are right in that people are always looking for the magic-pill, even in a topic like personal development.

    If you want something you have to work for it, whether hard or smart, just put the steps in place.

    I’ll share my RSS stats on the monthly update, I’m pretty happy with growth so far

    Glen Allsopps last blog post..Six Motivational Techniques that Work

  7. @Dren: Well said. Plus performing miracles feels great :)

    @Glen: Yep. It would be easier if there was a magic pill… But on the other hand (that’s what I keep telling myself), it’s probably more interesting this way.

    Looking forward to your monthly stats! I’m sure your blog is going to make it big time!

  8. Hi Jarkko! Boy, just back from vacation and really enjoyed this post. :)

    For me, I am not sure that I am pursuing “personal development” as much as I am trying to pursue happiness…does that make sense? Do we have to develop personally in order to be happy?

    Anyway – great post! Stumbled.

    marks last blog post..Where are you? Why I am on BLOGCATION!

  9. Jarkoo:

    Great! I have read 4HWW book few times and actually implement it. I now make less profit on my business by giving out my profit to others, but I have more free time to do what I want and enjoy life.

    Now I am still working over 8 hours a day building my next project to find my happiness.

    I am glad that Mark is back on track. Looking forward to reading his new post.

    Terence Changs last blog post..Change to fast lane in one year

  10. @Writer Dad: Yeah, it’s not nice to fall all the time. But from time to time, there’s no helping it :)

    @mark: Welcome back! How was your vacation?

    I don’t know if you need to do personal development to pursue happiness. Maybe not. But it could also be that the two are just different words for the same thing… If you use the term personal development in a broader sense, it means learning, embracing your curiosity, building your productivity, even changing your surroundings — and to me that sounds like pursuing happiness. Maybe not for everyone, though…

    @Terence: Good to hear that the 4HWW is working for you — but it’s not the original 4HWW if you work for 8 hours a day, is it? :)

    BTW, how’s your new project going?

    @Nimic: Yeah, he sure does believe in his possibilities to make miracles — and he’s right in doing so :) Great role model.

  11. @David: Yeah, the dream of an easier life is apparently quite easy to sell. After all, we both read the book — must be because of that very same dream ;)

  12. What ever truth or lie you learn or received.

    It just a matter on how the person who received
    to take the truth or lie.

    So it not what you don’t know will not hurt you.

    What you don’t know will hurt you.

    Never stop learning specially the important one.
    Be aware

  13. That RSS graph is a perfect comparison. I know the feeling of excitement and dread that comes from reading personal development info. Fortunately, I gain more than I lose.

    Every once in a while, though, I like to unplug and just let it all go and keep things running in neutral, kind of like how your subscriber plateau. I like to be able to step back to see where I want to go and figure out how to get there, then come at it with more energy and renewed commitment.

    It’s nice to read that I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a bit of a balancing act that’s still worth it. (Fabulous title, by the way!)

    Sara at On Simplicitys last blog post..The Reality Behind the Wedding of Your Dreams

  14. You bring an interesting point. Then comes the question, are you writing to meet dates, or because you have something to say? About six months ago I took a hiatus from blogging. I simply ran out of things to say. I could have written more. Plenty more. I had been at it long enough, that as Leo told me once, there is no shame in revisiting a topic. Following some introspection though I decided that I needed to spend a bit less time talking and processing, and a bit more time doing, so that I had more to process.

    It is about time to start up again. I have a lot to chew on and my blog helps me process.

    Now for the real struggle. Starting again.

    shanes last blog post..Freelance Camp

  15. @Shane: Good to have you back in the blogosphere, man! I sure know the feeling that gets you to take a break to go and find more things to write about.

    Another friendly blogger, Ravi Vora (ravivora.com) did the same, and is now returning to write more – and the best part? It was a safe thing to do: his RSS subscriber count hardly changed at all during those months!

    So, maybe it actually makes sense to take such a break every now and then? Or what would you say?

  16. Excellent post. Reading it made me realize that alot of self-help or self-improvement books don’t say “oh btw be prepared for hard work ahead” They make personal development sound like a walk in the park. And usually it isn’t.

    It’s very tough to change but worth it when it happens.

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