If the last year was anything for me it was the year of personal development. Not only was this traditional personal development, which I intentionally set out to do - in the form of books, webinars or online courses (which I indulged in plenty of), but also something I would call personal development by osmosis – the unexpected side effects of life in work and in voluntary organizations. I have decided to do a couple of posts of lessons I learned from both my intentional personal development and my personal development by osmosis.
The intentional personal development came about for a variety of reasons. Although I enjoy much of my daily job, something in the background always bothered me. I dedicated the last few years was to figuring out what was bothering me so much, and what I could do about it. This brings me to lesson number 1 – and perhaps the most important lesson of all - clarity… Identify the problem. On a side note, I think that one of the reasons that I felt disheartened after a number of the courses and webinars, is that I didn’t feel as if I had the answer to whatever problem I thought I was solving when I picked up the book (or my credit card to pay for the online course). I would get to the end, with more questions than I started with, and no answer to the one I thought I had. This led me to realise that quite often, the problem I had wasn’t the problem I thought I had. More on this later, but for now just know that a big first step in doing any intentional personal development for me now is clarity.
For me finding clarity around how I was feeling and being able to put it into words, so that I could work on it is something that only happened recently. And somewhere on the road to finding this out, I discovered personal development. I know that most people have varying views on personal development – some of them based on the persons who are teaching it, some of them due to their pre-determined opinion about what it would involve. I myself was a bit skeptical about it, and a little bit embarrassed, so initially it was my dirty little secret. I remember the very first personal development book that I read, and how I hid it from my flatmate at the time, and was afraid to even admit to reading it! I would pretend I was reading something else!! As the years have gone on, I have read a number of personal development books, and done courses and seminars. Some of them were fantastic, and some of them were not for me, and eventually I could get to the stage where I could take on board what I thought was useful and discard the rest without prejudice. Many of the lessons that I share on the blog came about because of things which I heard or learned along the journey which I could then apply into how I did things, or that put words to something that I had been feeling all along. Here are a few of the lessons I learned during my deliberate personal development.
1. Always seek clarity – As I said above – this is critical for me. It is important when I go into situations that I have clarity on what I am trying to achieve, and just this alone has even changed how I choose what personal development I pursue and take on board now.
2. How to be strong – this was a part of an online course I looked at which asked me to look at my innate strengths and to detail them - not just considering what I was good at but which of those things also made me feel really good. It was great for someone like me who always despised that interview question “what are your strengths” because my mind went entirely blank when I was asked this question and I genuinely couldn’t think of a way to answer it. While I might admit to being good at my day to day job, I wasn’t convinced I was good at anything else. If I am honest, it was a great ego boost to finally feel as if I was good at one (or more) things, because it encouraged me to put myself out there in different ways. My main example is of course this blog, but other examples include getting involved in certain ventures that I would have shied away from in times gone by simply because I felt as if I had nothing to offer. In admitting to myself what my strengths were, I was able to work on them and start to really feel good about what I have to offer. I started to do more teaching and training, and more writing, and I got involved more in working with youth. Finding my strengths was a big part of finding my voice.
3. How to go beyond my strengths – finding out about my strengths also taught me about my weaknesses. Learning about my strengths was crucial for me, to start putting myself out there, but it was not enough to know what I was innately good at. A big part of development also involves knowing my weaknesses and making myself work on them. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, and we were discussing Myers Briggs and other personality tests that we had taken. Both of us spoke about how our profiles had changed over the years. A big part of this for me was forcing myself to become really good at things I wasn’t that comfortable doing, and in some ways this is the opposite to being strong. As it happens – I don’t like walking into a room full of strangers and making connections with them – I would rather be at home on the couch with a good book. But I can do it… And I don’t like public speaking, or being interviewed, or asking for stuff – but I can do it and I have worked towards being competent in these things. I find that there are a few schools of thought when it comes to doing things that we are not good at, and I suppose in the end it depends on what these things are. My sister and I were discussing “networking” (I should tell you – I hate that word, and that concept). She was telling me that she wasn’t very good at it, but she realized that if she wanted to have certain outcomes in the voluntary work that she does, she needed to be better at it, and I agreed. I can’t say I worked on my networking skills, but I will say that I can talk to anyone and it was something that I had to work on. When I first went to the UK for university, one of the first things that someone pointed out to me was that I couldn’t make eye contact and I would find it very hard to speak to and treat my patients if I was unable to look at them and speak to them with confidence. This was something that was completely outside of my “strengths” but it was something that I had to work on very quickly, because before I even started treating patients, I started working in customer service! While I can see the value in delegating the things that I am not that great at, and in using my time to the best of my ability, there were things that I had to learn in order to be effective in some of the things that I am strong at. For example – the technical aspects of putting my my blog were completely outside of my comfort zone, preparing the powerpoint for my lectures was completely outside it. I even learned to create something in excel a few days (yes DAYS) ago. While it is true that it may not have been the best use of my time to learn how to code a website, learning to touch type is still one of the most useful skills I have, and its about high time I figure out how to create an excel spreadsheet.
4. Alignment before action – this is one of the most recent things I learned. I heard this one several times over many months before I finally had a lightbulb moment on how to apply it. It is difficult to explain in one paragraph, so perhaps I will have to write a post on it one of these days. Before I elaborate, I should explain that I used to wake up ridiculously early every morning to “get stuff done” – mostly admin and paperwork – two things which I despise. And I never realized how much time I was wasting “despising” it. Because – when I wake up to do a task that I hate, I spend a lot of time huffing and puffing – yes that is a real thing – and the task would take a long time. The concept of alignment before action which transformed things for me, was to do something that made me feel really good and put me into a good mood before I tackled these tasks. And it could be ANYTHING that made me feel good – even watch an episode of FRIENDS (that always makes me feel really good especially the later episodes). It may seem counterintuitive to spend half an hour watching TV when I have stuff to do. However, this taught me an important lesson – these tasks were NOT taking anywhere near as long as I thought they were and they went more quickly and smoothly when I was in a good mood. I am not going to explain this any further right now, but will definitely be writing about this next month.
5. There can be too much of a good thing – and this last one was the most critical of all. There can definitely be too much of a good thing. That moment when I realized that there were not enough hours in the day to hold down a full time job, as well as meditate, write out my appreciations, do my exercise, have a great morning and evening routine, journal, read, drink green juices, and so on and still have a life– this was the moment that I realized there was such a thing as too much personal development. While personal development is full of “life hacks” sometimes the best thing in life is to listen to your intuition (I wrote a post about this sometime ago) and do the things that work for you, instead of relying on someone else to tell you how to live your “best life”. While I definitely think that there are merits to a lot of personal development “hacks” sometimes it is more important for me to have that extra half hour in bed. While it is true that I could make that afternoon bit of self-care that I scheduled “non-negotiable”, I will give it up if a friend needs me, or I have to pick my nephew up from the nursery because I actually want to do those things! Sometimes the best expert on how to live my best life is me! I loved some of the concepts that I learned about doing personal development, and I have made a lot of positive changes through learning them – but I also learned when to take a pause for the cause, and just go with the flow. And this may be my most important lesson of all!
How do you feel about personal development, and online courses? I would love some feedback.
In the meantime, I am off to watch an episode of friends!!
Big love from a small island
Ps - above is a photo I took recently - one of the things that happens when I blow off my self care to pick up my nephew. There he is running in the surf - always the last boy standing!