How Much Personal Development Is Right For You?

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Personal Development, Psychology

Sometimes I can write posts that my family ‘likes’ on Facebook. But not often. The subjects I write about have many gasping in shock, or even actively ~ and vehemently ~ hurling abuse at me. They say that these experiences should remain private. Open relationships, sexuality, desire (or lack thereof), alcoholism, abortion… it would be better for them if I wrote about these experiences in the third person. If I distanced myself from the experiences, if I disowned the me of the past and present. If I hid.

I know myself. If I hide something then it’s usually because I feel humiliated, afraid or ashamed. It means these things continue to hold power over me. It means I am preventing myself from growing. It’s not about shocking to provoke (although I have of course succumbed to this as well through my own insecurity). Sharing my shame is about releasing my pain, strengthening my integrity and having nothing to hide.

But my personal development is not only about me. It happens as a function of my interaction with others. And so yesterday I spent a large part of the day writing out a spectacular ‘failure’ in order to process it. And as is my absolute rule, I passed it over to the other people involved so that they could review it before publication. They exercised their right to privacy and it was vetoed. Too private to be published.

I understand. It’s not like I haven’t been there. They think, in this case, that others will take the post as an invitation to judge. They’re right.

The Pain of Judgement

Judgement comes from the most unlikely sources, those who have appeared understanding about my open relationship are a classic example. Judgement is disguised as a lot of things. When it’s disguised as concern, it’s called psychological projection.

“She said that?” said my boyfriend incredulously.

“Yeah. And I thought she was our most open minded friend.”

“So I’m pussy-whipped because you have another boyfriend?” he said.

“And I’m the evil bitch who’s tormenting you,” I replied.

“And if she’s saying that behind our backs…what is everyone else saying?” he said.

“Who cares?” I said.

Most people do care. It’s not pleasant to be pitied, scorned and criticized. Of course, just as muscles can be exercised, so your power over the amount of ‘hurt’ you attribute to other people’s opinions, can grow. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to master this, in fact I think your life will be happier on the whole if you care less what others think. But not everyone has the need, capacity or situation to do this and it varies from person to person.

If you are aligned with a purpose and confident in your own decisions then you will be a stronger and happier person for it. That’s a fact (as I always remind myself when I’m faced with the abuse, if a legend like Maya Angelou could stand tall and candidly speak about her difficult experiences as a prostitute and madam, what makes me so different that I can’t speak about or draw lessons from my experiences in public? The fact that I am not a legend? Fuck that).

And yet strength is only a relative measure. Different strengths, frequencies and vibrations have different purposes. Life is for me, about experience, growth and achieving my potential. It is about personal development in of and as an end to itself. It’s what makes me happy. It may not be what makes you happy.  There’s a lot of what others call ‘pain’ in personal development. The act of constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Some say that I seek pain for the expansion and happiness it brings me. I don’t think I do, but I do welcome it when it happens. But for some, the pain involved is simply not worth it. They choose a different way.

I haven’t always been the person who can tell all without shame. In fact during my childhood and most of my 20s I was a compulsive liar simply as a matter of protection. When I started writing, it was anonymously. Ironically I touted myself as the most honest woman on the web (which was obviously a complete lie). When I started telling the truth, it pushed the edges of my fear. I was terrified of being rejected. And sometimes I was.

But even whilst some rejected me, disowned me, there were others who came. People who wanted to share their stories too. People who also wanted to live in the open. They brought yet more lessons. And so those unsupportive relationships were replaced by supportive ones. The people closest to me are unsurprisingly also those who choose to live in transparency. Like me, it is what makes them happy.

The Right to Privacy

Why then do I give a veto right to those involved in my life? Firstly because I believe that everyone has a right to privacy. They have a right to choose their path, their growth and define the amount of vulnerability they are comfortable with even if it is different to mine. I live in a world where I am not oppressed or persecuted for my actions or for my beliefs and neither are my children. Privacy serves our most basic protection mechanism in these cases and I understand why it should be supported. I’m not willing to get anyone killed, or even embarrass them, thanks very much. Every post that’s published on here has been reviewed, negotiated and approved by those involved. To ignore or cross others’ clearly stated personal boundaries is abusive, hence the veto.

But the risk of having a right to privacy is that you fall into the trap of seeking comfort over growth. We all have strategies to make us happy in our lives. Right to privacy is one of them. It is a strategy which enhances our ability to stay inside the comfort zone. But that’s not all it does. Sometimes, the right to privacy simply allows you to live without judgement or persecution inside a situation which brings you the most happiness.

Personal development is not a means to an end for me. It is the end. I intend to live life experimentally until I die. Pushing the boundaries and expanding my awareness. Constant growth and change seems right now to be the way for me to reach my highest potential and my ultimate happiness. But it is not necessarily everyone’s path to happiness nor is it desirable. A rose cannot grow as tall as a redwood, and yet they are both beautiful and they both perfectly fulfill their potential.  Some people are roses. Others are redwoods. None of them better than the other.

Some people reach their highest potential using personal development to reach a point at which any further growth would be counter productive because the people and environment they have summoned into their lives brings them the meaning and happiness that makes their life worthwhile. And as the Dalai Lama once said, the purpose of our lives is to be happy.

But because my happiness strategy involves growth out of experimental living and can be painful, many people shy away from it and from me. It means I move away from people and relationships at a greater pace than many others, as the gaps widen between our paths. The prospect of losing those I care about is highly painful. But not fulfilling my potential would be even more painful. And I guess there’s a lesson in there somewhere…