6: Who cares about personal development?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of googling ‘personal development’, you will find pages after pages of websites which will make you more confident, outspoken, fearless, achieving, happy and the list goes on. Most of these websites carry listicles which will tell you 30 ways to become happy, 20 ways to find your true love, 15 ways to become successful right now and so forth. There is nothing wrong about these websites, and occasionally I have benefited from some of them. However, the problem lies in their definition of self-growth and the formulaic approach they adopt towards it.

I recently attended the introductory session of self-development program at the insistence of a friend. The program promised to bring about positive, permanent shifts in the quality of life and create power, freedom, full self-expression, and peace of mind for the future. As I entered my session, I was greeted by individuals who looked very confident, had a smile on their faces, and loudly introduced themselves. Everybody had their name tags on and the insistence was on addressing everyone by their names. The fellow participants were a motley bunch of people who were either troubled by life, had been invited by a friend or were curious enough to attend it on their own. There was an enthusiastic home-maker, who wanted to contribute more to her husband’s happiness and improve her relation with her in-laws, a businessman who wanted better relations with his brother, a shy engineer who wanted to become a writer, a master’s student who wanted to pursue his doctorate, a man who was feared by his family because of his anger, a painter who wanted to find his own voice, and others who remained quiet for the rest of the session. As the program began, everybody was encouraged to open up, to see their lives from the suggested point of view. The session leader selected two people who volunteered to for case studies. The session leader had all the answers in his mind, all he needed to do was to fit everyone’s problems in a template and provide answers. By the end of the session, the leader successfully convinced everyone, that all their problems would change with a shift in their perspective, that by joining the program they would all become the strong, confident, expressive people they always wanted to be.

In the midst of all this, nobody questions why do we all want to become a prototype? Every person is unique and that’s what makes us special. An introvert need not share everything with the world, they have other avenues to do so. Not everything is in our control. It is okay to aspire for confidence but it is also okay to not be so. Anxiety and self-doubt are as much necessary as positivity and optimism. Everyone should not be the confident, extrovert which are most visible to us. There are other ways to measure success than what is taught to us. Most importantly, solutions cannot be generic. Everybody lives their own journey, and the path to self-development for each of us cannot be the same.

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