Archives for September 2013

Growth Hurts: What Personal Development Authors Don’t Tell You



I remember when I was a little kid and I’d wake up in the middle of night to these excruciating pains and aches all over my body.

It was as if I was being attacked in the middle of the night by some sort of vengeful ghost.

At the time, it actually felt like my bones were stretching apart and all I wanted was the pain to stop. Little did I know, my body was maturing and  I would come to appreciate this later in life.

The first couple of times I woke up with tears streaming down my face, I climbed down from the top of my bunk bed, and walked through the complete darkness of the house towards my parent’s bedroom where I proceeded to bang on their locked bedroom door. The pounding didn’t cease until one of them woke up and recognized my existence by saying a word.

In their awakened slumber, they would assure me that my body was simply growing and that the pains I felt were perfectly normal. They told me they were called growing pains and then told me to go back to bed.

I listened and walked back to my room, alone, through the dark silence of an empty living room feeling my throbbing legs tread lightly across the carpet. I made it safely back to my room. I climbed back up the tiny ladder, laid my head down on my pillow, and cried myself to sleep.

As I got older, the growing pains stopped. I grew roughly into the shape I am today and found new ways to mature: mentally, emotionally, socially, intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

At some point in our lives we all stop growing, our bodies calm down, our desire to reach new heights drowns in monotony, and we conveniently fall in line with what everyone else is doing.

After settling down within the ranks of the comfortable and convenient, we become extremely hesitant to change our lives.

When growth stops, decay becomes a natural procession.

Content, we settle on wishful thinking, daydreaming, and we rarely work up the nerve to actually transform our lives by any sort of independent motivation.

Outside forces are usually more convincing to our personal growth.

When discomfort strikes and an unbearable drama shakes up our life, we are suddenly motivated to change our current situation. Only after we can no longer bear the torment of being who we are and living how we are living do we strive to change and improve ourselves.

Rude awakenings, unlike the ridiculous concept of attaining enlightened bliss, are often the best motivators.

At some point in our lives most of us, myself included, are introduced to our first personal development book through a friend, or maybe randomly one of these motivational treasures of self- enrichment fall into our hands and help guide us in our growth.

At first, reading these books is massively motivating and encourages us to take charge of our lives, make our own decisions, boosts our self-esteem, and convinces us that we can achieve anything. The last page of a great book leaves us full of optimistic energy and a sense that we can change the world.

What these books forget to mention is that real growth hurts.

Popular authors shy away from the unpopular questions. Nobody wants to talk about how frightening actually facing our fears can be or what it’s like to feel completely alone, depressed, or limited by physical disability (even though you might have the mental will power to take charge, you simply can’t).

Motivational books can be misleading and lie straight to our face. As much as some authors preach about not taking shortcuts, many of their books are the epitome of short sight.

They preach about charity and selflessness, but in reality, who’s actually helping who? Writing occupies an author’s time, gives them something to do, and fulfills their purpose. What they don’t tell you is that you are their purpose. Without you, who’s listening to them? Who’s reading their books?

Authors need repeat customers.

If we could only understand that the majority of people who write nonsensical books about motivational shortcuts are in the business of selling a product, a personal development product, then maybe we would understand that at the end of the day running a better business means a selling a better experience for the consumer. In that case, better business means leaving out all the not-so-enjoyable parts of human development & growth.

Growing pains don’t sell.

Motivational authors seem to have forgotten the most important part of growing up: real growth, actual expansion, hurts like hell.

But they are not in the business of selling painful products or telling you the Truth. They don’t want to scare you; their job is to motivate you to get started.

They are in the business of pumping you up, amping you to buy their next product, to read it, set it down, feel excited, fully alive, and then when that feeling dies down, go and buy another one of their books. Like every addiction, self-help gets us high.

They want you to believe that one book is all you need, one course will fix your life, and you can buy all the secrets of life for $20. Handing out harmless advice is like giving away unfertilized soil, nutrient-bare, and eventually you need to buy more. But when the soil isn’t cheap, and you aren’t growing any crops, it’s time to reconsider who you buy your manure from.

If authors were more honest about what it takes to truly grow, what we really have to go through to become “successful,” or “enlightened,” or find contentment, perhaps we would reconsider reading their disgusting books. Then, we could go back to enjoying the imaginary worlds of video games playing them with our friends and managing tasks that stand so effortlessly before us. Imaginary challenges in imaginary worlds with imaginary pain don’t pose real problems (or provide real growth).

If they told us we would find nothing at end of our long journey, maybe we never would have started walking this way in the first place.

If they told us about the countless headaches, the nausea, the unconscious stress, and the pressures of psychological warfare that occur between self-resistance and creative liberation, metaphysical separation and divine integration, then maybe, just maybe, we would choose going to the movies with our friends, instead of staying home and practicing our meditation.

If they told us we’d be stuck between the turbulence of reading developmental philosophy after developmental philosophy after developmental philosophy for years before ever actually taking the first step, before actually heeding the advice in their books, before realizing and recognizing what we must do, TAKE ACTION, then maybe we wouldn’t buy so many similar books.

But, if we aren’t listening in the first place, if we aren’t paying attention from the start, who’s at fault?

Can we really blame authors when it’s our ignorance that hurts so bad?

If they had told us about the tremendous amount of will power, effort, and energy it takes to change, to create better habits, to find our potential, and to get started, maybe we never would have decided to take Robert Frost’s desolate path to a frozen salvation in the middle of nowhere.

If they had told us that after the first step, acting, we had to climb up Dante’s infernal staircase, would we still desire the path they preach?

Alas, most books are never this honest, confrontational, or direct.

If they were, most of us would never get started, which is all that really matters.

And we probably wouldn’t buy their books.

Out of those courageous few who do begin, the majority will get caught in an endless cycle of literary limbo reading personal development books, one after another. Addicted to metaphorical boosts of confidence and stories about David and Goliath, later they will wonder why they haven’t been successful in their own right.

Someone forgot to tell them: reading, in and of itself, doesn’t create value for others.

The few that realize this will escape a repetitive cycle and begin working towards more troubled waters.

After much despair, maybe, one will succeed.

Be that one.  

No one wants to be a killjoy.

A writer wants to leave the reader full of optimistic energy and inspiration.

No one wants to be a cynic. But in this case somebody has to be the whistleblower.

No one wants to read a book that is already finished upon starting, and is always beginning page after page.

Nobody wants to commit their precious time and attention to what feels like dissolution.

Nobody is ever happy after finding out the truth.

If they told us it was going to hurt like hell, if they told us it would feel like having our fingernails constantly peeled backwards and after all the pain and agony ended we would find nothing, actually nothing, then maybe we wouldn’t have bought, read, or finished that stupid book, told all our friends about it, and given them a copy for their birthday.

Maybe if we were able to pay attention in the first place, we would have noticed an honest author telling us this from the start.

But then, who would we have to blame?

Honesty hurts.


Image Source: quinn anya’s Flickr