The idea of ongoing learning and personal development is becoming more and more popular in recent years. On a daily basis, we stumble upon advice about what we should do to become the best version of ourselves. Everybody seems to offer the guidelines on how to live and behave in order to reach happiness and sublime goals.
Whether we accept that new imperative of fulfilling all our human potential or not, it is hard to escape noticing
Western society has, in a way, shifted its’ value system towards the highest of human needs- self-actualization (1).
Modern media contributed a lot to spread the word about unconditional human needs and capability of becoming our ideal selves. If we even try to follow one of the recipes we would probably confront various obstacles and inner resistance, since almost none of them are personalized and consider individual circumstances. Most of the solutions are supported by claims of an instant success from those who practiced them, which only increases the pressure and feeling that we are inadequate.
In this “flurry of demands”, barely anyone is able to stop and think if self-fulfillment is really a necessity for today's human being. Can we instead accept the idea that we are a constant work in progress and be satisfied with who we are at this very moment?
Determine the Desired Destination
When we are the source of our thoughts, why wouldn't we firstly listen to them? If we want to work on our potential, shouldn't we be giving it a thorough assessment, to identify who are we now, how satisfied we are with it and who do we truly want to be?
Having those answers in mind we can approach the advice that we encounter with more integrity and with a critical attitude so that we can accept the solutions that agree with us and question the ones that do not.
An American humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proposed that all individuals have a need and an unlimited potential for growth and development (2). Yet, not all our needs have the same importance for us, nor they are all developed at the same time. Each individual is motivated to buy different needs throughout the life and has different ways of fulfilling them.
Maslow is well known for his hierarchy of needs, which places different groups of needs in a pyramid, from the most basic, physiological ones, to self-actualisation. In between, there are safety needs, needs for love and belonging, esteem needs, cognitive needs and aesthetic needs. According to Maslow, we begin at the bottom of the pyramid and advance with every need being met, so we cannot “unlock” the higher one without fulfilling the lower one first.
This theory alone suggests that our progress has a unique course that we set on our own. We cannot just skip to someone else’s level of development without going through our own process, the same way we cannot set our needs and goals according to others’ wishes.
Prepare for a Long Journey
When we understand how our needs evolve with us, we tend to be more patient and considerable towards ourselves. That does not mean that we should not heartfully engage in activities that lead us to something that we want to achieve. It just allows us to accept that we are, after all, human beings and not programmable robots. By being prepared not to take the weight of being obliged to become someone who we think we should be, we can free our energy so it can be directed toward what we want (3).
It also does not mean that we should not think about preparing certain tools to help us sail safe and efficient on our journey. Actually, a good preparation takes the most of the hard work. For some challenges, we prepare our whole life, and they can come or not. For others no one ever taught us to be ready, so we have to put an extra effort to gain them. Keeping in mind where we are, and where we wish to arrive can help us select right skills that we can put into a good use. There is a myriad of methods and approaches to self-development. They differ by the type of skills and traits they refer to.
One of the most mentioned methods is writing a personal growth plan. Some people may not feel comfortable with writing, but by giving it a try we gain a sense of focus, control, and determination. We make our aspiration palpable, more realistic and more probable. It can be seen as a travel itinerary, where we can make some detours if circumstances allow us or make us and if we wish to.
Still, it is good to remember where we are headed, when would we like to get there, as well as knowing how to get there. We need to take the time to find and learn strategies to realize our plans, as aforementioned. It is also valuable to know the obstacles which we can encounter and to find alternative ways around or through them. Also, it is good to envision our opportunities, so that we can be ready to spot and pursue them.
Here is a more detailed instruction on one way to write a personal development plan. It is important to stress that the plan is something we made by ourselves, and to ourselves only we are responsible for following through with it. Since we created it, we can also change it in case circumstances, or our priorities change.
Adapt and Stay Flexible
As we continuously prepare to take the first step of our journey we begin to realize that we already moved from our start line and that the lines of who we are and who we can and want to be are quite blurred, and that they continue to stretch as long as we move.
As Maslow, later on realized, after we satisfy our need for self-actualization we can become too self-indulgent, losing sight of our true goals (4). He noted that people who reach an older age and gain true wisdom, tend to shift their focus to the world around them.
He called this stage of development “self-transcendence”, or “going beyond ourselves”.
It is not an easy place to find, considering how much effort and time just to learn to even listen to ourselves. There are some simple, but not that easy, things that we can do on a daily basis to try to approach that state of mind.
Wearing souvenirs from our journey for everyone to see is a good way of inspiring others to pursue their own path of development. Getting out of our comfort zone and sharing what we learned can be not only very satisfying but also a selfless act of reaching out to others.
Keeping our integrity and staying honest to ourselves while being honest to others and not backing out from them in fear of failure is a good sign of our stability and determination. It means that we are still on the move and continuing progress toward wherever we choose to go next.
We may feel empowered to rise above convenience and tackle those “sublime goals” that a lot of people seem to see as an ultimate life satisfaction. Maybe we will see that being flexible and of service to our environment is something that makes us feel equally fulfilled.Whatever the path we choose we should trace it with our own steps, learn to keep up the desired pace and remember that we are the ones who choose where will the next turn take us.