My Approach to Personal Growth
The ability and freedom to actively work on your personal growth is a privilege. For someone to be in a place where they can focus on becoming a better human being, not by accidental experiences or forced acquiring of knowledge, is foreign to most people in the world. The new era of zen folk where middle aged middle-class Western people decide to go on yoga retreats, to go on soul-searching trips to Asia or to meet up in bookcircles, is quite a confusing one. Because their growth is focused on themselves, for their own benefit. While growth might have meant to be a kinder person with better skills to improve one’s own life and the lives of others in the past, it is now a sort of “show off” competition. Your growth isn’t about actual growth but about telling the world how well you are in tune with your own self.
This new approach to personal growth is selfish, individualistic and neo-capitalist at its core. It is about showing off something that you are not actually living. About appropriating other people’s cultures by shaping into easily digestible bits (see mindfulness) and buying your way into a an image of being a good person. Because you have worked so hard on personal growth. The thing is though: all the fancy planners, yoga-retreats or selfies you take with homeless people, don’t turn you into a better person. Feedback from others, really changing the way you approach life and a willingness to face your own weaknesses, is the only way to get anywhere in improving yourself.
My Kind of Personal Growth
But let’s leave the fancy zen-folk world behind for a while. I have never set out a plan to become a better person, nor have I been to yoga-retreats. I despise mindfulness with a passion. And I don’t do good deeds so I get applauded for it. I do them because they feel morally right to me. If I give a homeless person a dollar, or help an old lady over the street,it is not the most altruistic act. I know that it also ignites positive feelings in me. (is there even a possibility of a truly altruistic act?) But I don’t shout it out into the world. Everything comes down to intent: I want to become a good person vs. I want to come across as a good person.
I don’t have the money, the stability nor the headspace to actively plan to become a better person and work on personal growth. Most of my days are about survival, literal survival. So I am not privileged in this area. But I do think about personal growth a lot, because I want to be a good person. I want to be the best version of myself for myself, and for others. So I am more reactive than proactive in this area. Reactive as in adapting to where my mental health is at the moment, to feedback from others and adjusting goals and skillsets based on that.
So I am tossing aside the zen-folk ideas and I focus on intent. I want to be a good person, and the best version of myself, in the context and within the realm of possibilities available to me. A good person is for me someone who is trying their best to be kind to themselves and to others, who is not afraid to face their own short-comings, who wants to acquire more knowledge and skills for their own person growth, and who tries their best to make morally good decisions. Now, you could define morally good in many ways, depending on where you stand ideologically, of course. But for me it is about not hurting any people or animals, or myself.
Feedback and Learning From it
When I said that I am more reactive, I meant that I don’t actively seek out situations that are bound to help me with my personal growth. But I am aware of myself, and my actions, enough, to know when something is a learning opportunity. The best way is of course to receive feedback so I know exactly where I still have room to grow.
Eh, don’t get me wrong. I am like everyone else when I receive feedback. I feel it is a personal attack and I either feel ashamed or angry. It is totally normal to react emotionally at first (in appropriate non-hurtful ways, of course). But then, once I have calmed down, I look at what the feedback actually means and what mistakes I have made. I am not perfect and I actually want to know where my growth areas are. And I have never shied away from learning things or changing my approach. I want to be the best version of myself, after all.
One thing that I have had to work on for a very long time, is self-awareness. I think it is harder for me than it is for others because I have mental illnesses and my own view of myself can change rapidly depending on how I am feeling, who I am, and what bipolar episode I am in. But there are some truths that I have been always trying to hold on to. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I try to utilize that knowledge as much as I can.
Some of my weaknesses I can’t control, others I can work on when I am in the right circumstances. Personal growth isn’t only about working on yourself when others tell you to. It is about being willing to look at yourself and taking stock of what you got, and see how you can shape yourself into someone who you want to be.
I am an empathetic person, but I also have my blindspots. For me, a good person and someone who I would look up to, would be someone who can see the humanness in everyone. Someone who doesn’t deny the feelings or fears of other people. I think I am quite close to being a person like that. And I actually know that it is one of my strengths to look past ideological differences or even actions, and look at how someone feels, and relate to them on that level.
I know a lot of people who think of themselves as empathetic and kind, but they are not. The moment you deny another person’s feelings because they don’t fit your agenda or they make you feel uncomfortable, you don’t show empathy. A good example is when you tell someone that they have hurt you. And their response is: No, I have not! – An empathetic answer would instead be: I am sorry to hear that I have hurt you, that was not my intention at all. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better right now?
But hey, as I said, I have my blindspots too and I am working on them! One of them is something that my husband has pointed out to me on several occasions. I can not stand incel people and the incel movement. It is misogynist, hurtful, dangerous and it has strong links to right wing populism. It is just, I don’t know. Those people are not my people. I had to really try hard to allow myself to see that they have feelings like you and me too.
You might think that would be easy, but if someone’s opinions and actions really irk you, you really want to think of them as less than human. I have gotten better at this. Mostly, because I separate feelings and actions. I will never validate a hurtful action or even thought. But I can always validate the feeling behind it. A feeling is not something you can control, it is the most basic human experience. So yes, incel folk have fears about losing their position in society, they feel threatened by the new postmodern society and they feel lonely.
Being Okay with Changing my Opinion
I’m not religious and I am not very traditional. I like to think of myself as open-minded and non-judgmental. I welcome new experiences and I want to learn from people that are not in my ideological corner. Because I don’t think anyone holds the entire truth on anything. I believe in science and that is why I appreciate the scientific approach of not only proving facts but also disproving them. Science never stops to evolve and paradigm after paradigm have changed the ways we all look at the world.
But I am also a very ideological person. I am socialist and very European leftist. And I am anti-racist. I am vegan because I support animal rights. And I support trauma survivors. I am appalled by homelessness. I hate neo-capitalism. Well, you get the drift. I can be one of those yelly protestors on a good day. Or an angry internet warrior on another. But I am also very aware of the fact that I am blinded by my ideology sometimes, and that that blindness stops me from evolving and learning and growing.
So when there is a cultural war going on, or something major happens politically, I don’t just jump and attack (anymore!). I read up, I talk to different people. I acquire information and check sources. And then I form an opinion. That is why I don’t do cancel culture (because I think it is basically often baseless bullying), and that is why I will never attack people who might hold beliefs I find questionable. I try to see where everyone is coming from, and try to use kindness so people actually try to listen to each other. A good example is the recent trans activism debate that is going on everywhere. I changed my opinion and set my priorities differently. Because I read up and checked sources.
Acquiring New Skills
Acquiring new skills is definitely something that is very focused on your own personal growth, and not at all related to other people as much. I want to acquire new skills so I can improve my quality of life. As I mentioned earlier, I am not in a stable place. And I have had the feedback that I am never going to be okay mentally. It took me a long time to accept that fact. But once I had, I knew that my focus should be on improving my quality of life.
And however much I tried to do that with schedules and routines, forcing myself to go out and do more, it all just eventually crashes and burns. It is the bipolar depression, it is the anxiety and the triggers. It is the not sleeping, the hopelessness and the constant ups and downs. Having mental illness sucks, ya’ll.
But the one way I can improve my quality of life, is to work on my personal growth. And that includes acquiring new knowledge and skills. I constantly read up. I learn new things all the time. It could be something as simple as a new photography trick, a new meal I try out, or a new way to apply make up. These things are also personal growth, and they make me feel better about myself.
How my D/s has helped
Being in a D/s relationship has helped me a lot with my personal growth. I was forced to learn a lot of new things about myself, things I liked and others I disliked. I had to learn new skills, like obedience, and was able to finally embrace parts of myself that I had always denied: kinks, my sluttiness, my sexual needs.
Not only that. My Master is very unfiltered when it comes to feedback, which I appreciate. He also pushes when I would have given up otherwise. And he helps me to understand myself better as he doesn’t allow me to ignore parts of myself I’d rather not want to know about.
Personal growth can mean a lot of things, and it can have practical goals or just general paths that you lay out for yourself. I think it is should be personal though, and has intentions that are positive for oneself, and others. All the yoga retreats in the world are not going to make you a better person, unless you are also willing to face the things about yourself that you feel uncomfortable with. Zen folk tend to ignore that fact when they preach about self-love and personal growth. Self-love is closely linked to personal growth though, just as much as self-acceptance. And there are many areas where I still need to put a lot of effort in. Maybe one day, when I can call myself privileged enough to be in a place where I can do so.