The personal development stigma

I’m a huge personal development nerd.

My bookshelves are lined with self-help, psychology, leadership, and management books. My favorite conversations involve personal challenges, current issues, and life goals. For the past year, I’ve been trying to work at the intersection of personal development and technology.

Unfortunately, I also feel weird about it.

I’m not particularly proud that I’ve read all my personal development books. It definitely isn’t something that I openly talk about. In general, I get this strange feeling when publicly talking about personal development.

Why is this?

The self help stigma.

There is something uncool about personal development.

If I have to guess, it is because it implies that something is wrong with you.

Bring up your own personal development in company, and you get this strange nod. Internally, they are thinking: why do you need to improve? Is there something wrong with you?

If you bring up personal development with respect to someone else, you risk implying that they aren’t good enough. In general, only close friends talk about the stuff. And even then, not often. (…at least in my personal experience)

The self-help industry doesn’t help.

In fact, it makes it much much worse.

Walk through the bookstore, or browse any self-help on the Internet, and you’ll come up with ridiculous sounding stuff.

  • 3 steps to get your man back!
  • 30 days to a flat belly!
  • How to think your way to your dreams!
  • 10 steps to that promotion!

Does anyone actually believe it? They must.. people must be buying that stuff right?

Personally, I think it sound cheesy. Not only that, it is wrong.

Unfortunately, the reason this is on the shelves, and all over the Internet, is because it works! The industry has become expert marketers and they know what you want to hear: “What you want amazing results in 2 days? Just buy this book!“.

The industry has optimized to grab your attention and convince you to purchase stuff.

I find this very unfortunate. There is so much good stuff to think about with personal development, and the industry ruins its own public perception in the name of profits.

Your turn.

Do you sometimes feel strange about personal development?

Does the industry itself bug you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. This is post number #36 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix.

Walking the fine line between confidence and humility


Confidence is great. We need to believe in ourselves, believe that we are worth something, and believe that we are capable of great things.

Humility is also great. It is important that we be humble, understand our weaknesses, and be empathetic to others.

Managing them both is one of the toughest parts of personal growth. How do we learn to walk that fine line between confidence and humility?

From my memory during childhood, it seems people seem to grow up heavily skewed towards one of these. A simple example of this is with social dynamics in grade school and high school. There are the “cool” kids, who skew towards confidence, and mask their weaknesses. And there are the “not-so-cool” kids who skew towards being humble because they don’t seem to fit in well, and get picked on all of the time.

The tendency for people to skew one of the directions leads to two paths in walking the line between confidence and humility.

Path A: Those who skew towards confidence most likely need to be mentally and emotionally smashed a few times in their lives to learn to be humble. The hard part for these people becomes learning to pick themselves up after getting smashed.

Path B: Those who skew towards humility seems go through a slow progression of learning that they actually have value in the world, and should respect themselves by having confidence. This is difficult, and can easily be set back my tough situations.

Now, it isn’t so simple because we have different sides to us. For example, I started out super confident in my physical abilities with sports, but socially I used to be very awkward.

However, it seems that one of the our sides tends to dominate our perception of ourselves. For me, the social awkwardness dominated. I personally identify with being someone that started out humble, and learned to have confidence. I walked Path B.

Perhaps I have a “grass is always greener” mentality, but I’ve always felt that Path A would be easier. At the very least, you have had confidence before and know what it is like. Learning to have confidence is difficult, and when you first start to have confidence, it seems very fragile. It takes work and time to figure it out. At least it did for me.

How did you learn to walk this line? Do the two paths make sense? And if you took Path A, how was it?

(Photo credit: Flickr user quinn.anya)

P.S. This is post number #29 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul.

Why the popular view of Maslow’s hierarchy is dangerous

Have you seen this picture before?

If you have taken Psychology 101, or studied sociology, human development, or management, you have surely come across it. It is the popular representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory describing basic human needs/motivation.

In my opinion, the theory itself makes some sense. But, I have a huge problem with the popular representation of it as a pyramid. It is incorrect, and fosters dangerous thinking related to self-actualization and personal development.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy states that human needs can be divided into five distinct levels: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

The first four needs are considered deficiency needs (d-needs). An easy way of thinking about these is that if you don’t have one of the needs, you may feel uneasy. These d-needs have ordering effect such that your physiological needs must be sufficiently met before your safety needs, and so on.

The fifth need is self-actualization, and is called a growth need (or b-need for being need). It is different than the d-needs as it represents human growth and potential.

The damn pyramid.

Maslow never drew these five needs into a pyramid.

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that it would be a good idea. It it has stuck! Just do a Google Image search for “Maslow’s hierarchy” and check out all the pyramids.

There are two problems here.

First, it combines the d-needs and b-need as if they are all similar. As you can tell in the simple description above, they aren’t. While the d-needs could be viewed as a layers in a pyramid, the b-need is different and should be represented in a different way.

Second, it places the b-need on top of the d-need. Not only does this imply that it is like the d-needs, it implies that it sits on top of all the needs; as if you needed to satisfy all of the needs before thinking about self-actualization.

You see the problem here?

The danger is that the pyramid seems so intuitive.

Of course, we need food and air before safety. And of course we need that before love. And, so we walk up the pyramid and just accept that it is true. You really only hit the problem at the top, but still, even at the top it is somewhat intuitive. Confidence comes before complete self-actualization, right?

Yet, the pyramid is wrong. And unfortunately, the part that it gets wrong is a critical part of our personal growth.

Self-actualization is not at the top of the pyramid. It isn’t enabled by satisfying the other needs. Quite the contrary: it is what enables you to satisfy many of the needs!

  • Do you need confidence to self-actualize? Or does self-actualization enable confidence?
  • Do you need sexual intimacy to self-actualize? Or does self-actualization enable you to find the proper partner, nurture a relationship, and experience sexual intimacy?
  • Do you need safety in employment to self-actualize? Or does self-actualization enable you to become a person of value that is worth employing?

Obviously, this doesn’t work across all of the needs. For example, you simply need food and air. But in general, self-actualization is the enabler that allows you to strengthen yourself within levels, and move up to the next level of Maslow’s d-needs.

We shouldn’t view self-actualization as the thing at the top. When it is at the top, it becomes something that we put off. It becomes that goal that we might get around to once we satisfy all of our other needs.

And guess what? We’ll never satisfy all of our other needs. Humans have this weird way of always coming up with more needs… especially, the ones who haven’t self-actualized.

We need to view self-actualization as number one. We begin with it, educate ourselves, learn who we are, discover who we can be, and figure out how to improve our lives.  In my opinion, this fundamental shift is the only way we can hope to move the entire world up Maslow’s hierarchy.

So let us begin by fixing that diagram. After that, we should switch our priorities within our communities and education systems. And just maybe, one day the world will become a better place 🙂

P.S. This is post number #28 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul.

Personal development as social good

Hey there, Social Good. I’ve got a huge bone to pick with you.

No, I’m not talking about all that good stuff you do. I’m fully onboard with feeding the children, curing AIDS, fighting sexism and racism, campaigning for sustainable energy, etc.

I’m talking about a big part of the picture that:

  1. I happen to care a whole lot about, and
  2. you seem to forget about (or neglect).

Yes, personal development.

The individual within society.

Social Good, I know you concern yourself with big problems in society. You want to change the world, and I support you there.

But consider this: the fundamental unit of society is the individual human.

The only reason there is a society is because humans are inherently social. We could choose to be alone, but instead, we choose to connect with others. Through these connections, we self organize. We accomplish extraordinary things, build amazing cultures, and create self-perpetuating societies. We also destroy these things.

The caveat to this is that each of us has the ability to affect the world on a daily basis. This isn’t difficult to understand.

Imagine you are having a shitty day. This shit doesn’t just stay with you. If rubs off onto each person you come into contact with. It makes each of their days just a little bit worse. And then they rub their bit of shit onto others that they come into contact with.

Imagine you have a psychological problem and lash out at your child. You become your childs example in the world, and your psychological problem becomes ingrained within them. They naturally perpetuate this within the world.

It happens with every person every day. We come into contact with each other, and the core of our beings affects the world around us.

Personal development and social good.

Society is a construct we have created as social creatures. Social good is anything we do for the betterment of this social construct.

How do we better this social construct?

We could focus on the rules within the construct. We could focus on technology. We could raise awareness of important issues. Or, we could focus on how one group of humans helps can another group of humans. These are all great.

But you know what else we can do? Focus on the individual human!

This is precisely where personal development comes into the picture.

Personal development lies at the very core of social good. If the fundamental unit of society is the individual human, then a society is only as good as the people in it. Each of us becomes a limiting factor to the greatness of the whole.

So, Social Good. Why do you ignore personal development?

Almost all web sites, summits, conferences, etc. that spout your name don’t seem to touch much on personal development.

My theory is that it is because this isn’t a fun topic to think about.

Actually, it is the opposite of fun.

Why focus on your own problems when you can focus on someone else’s?

It is easier to toil away in a lab studying cancer, fly to Africa to feed the children, or research sustainable energy. We feel good about ourselves when we do these things.

It is far more difficult to sit there alone, peer into the depths of our souls, uncover the demons within own psyches, and then wrestle with these demons. This is scary. It isn’t easy to talk about, and may not feel good at all.

Yet, it is critical that each of us develop ourselves. Our society depends on it.

So, here is my memo to you, Social Good. You are a big idea, and have the ability to mobilize people across the globe. Get your shit together, and help out society by supporting and pushing personal development as a social good. Please.

(If you won’t listen to me, MJ said it pretty well also.)

P.S. This is post number #27 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul. Request an invite now for free access to the public beta!

The best motivation for personal development

In theory, personal development sounds good to many people. We all aspire to be some version of great. Why not be the greatest that you can be?

In practice, things can be difficult. Real life challenges get in the way. We have our own interpersonal and intrapersonal challenges. We all have busy lives. We already have our own habits.

Where do we get the motivation to change?

There are extrinsic benefits such as looks, money, power, and respect. There are intrinsic benefits such as mastery, confidence, and control.

You would think that some combination of extrinsic and intrinsic benefits would be good enough for people to change.

For some, it is. If you have great willpower, and want the best for yourself, you will figure out how to make it happen. If you want to make things slightly easier for yourself, Daniel Pink has popularized the notion the intrinsic motivation is often more effective than extrinsic motivation.

Yet, for many, these motivating factors aren’t enough.

You know what is even more powerful?

The prior intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors are focused on the self. What seems to be even more powerful is to focus on those that we care about.

Best friends? Yes, many of us will do things to help our best friends that we wouldn’t do for ourselves.

It gets better with our parents, siblings, and with our spouses. Many would sacrifice large parts of their lives, or die, for their family.

One more step up, and we hit the jackpot: our children. They are our own offspring, are of our own blood, and are made in our image. Many people consider their children their legacy that will live on when they die.

People will will do amazing things to nurture and provide for their children. They will leave their friends and family, to move to a country that is better for their children. They will work multiple jobs for years to help pay for basic necessities, and then help out with the cost of college, if they can.

So where does personal development fit into the picture?

Providing necessities for a child is one thing. Properly nurturing a child is another.

Where does a child learn from in their most formative years? Their parents!

As the old adage says: like father, like son.

When it comes to your personal and psychological problems, you can easily fool yourself. Your friends and family may play it off. Or, they may not feel comfortable enough to seriously confront you with issues that matter.

But, you can’t fool the child. Your words mean nothing. Your actions mean everything. Your actions mirror who you are, and they define the world that your child grows up in.

You can’t help it. Your child can’t help it. It will just happen. You are their example for how to live life, and they are going to learn from you.

If anything, focus on personal development for your children.

Because if you ignore your own shit, you dump it on your children. Then they have double the shit to deal with; they’ve got your shit, as well as their own internal shit.

I know you want the best for your children (for future children). You are already going to raise them and feed them. That is the minimum.

Now make sure to work on yourself so that you’re also a fucking good example for them.

P.S. This is post number #25 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul. Request an invite now for free access to the public beta!

What’s wrong with being average?

It is easy to bash on the idea of “being average”. You hear it in personal development and success literature all of the time.

In theory, it sounds good. Why be ordinary, when you can be extraordinary?

In practice, things are quite different.

What does ‘average’ mean? Is it in your peer group? In your university or company? In your country, or around the world? Average for each of these groups can and will be drastically different. In general, ‘average’ is relative, and it is important to know what you are talking about when you speak averages.

Across any population, there will always be an average. And in many real-world distributions, the majority of the population will end up around the average. Even if you guaranteed “success” to everyone in the world, there would still be an average. It would just be shifted up. In that case, is it so bad to be average? Statistically, most people will fall around an average. Telling everyone not to be average is a little strange.

Average isn’t necessarily good or bad. I am  very near the average height and weight. What does that mean to you?

Average doesn’t encompass your life story. If you were raised by homeless parents, but through hard work got to a position where you made an average American salary, what does that mean? Is it extraordinary or average?

Average doesn’t encompass your ambitions. Two people may have average American jobs. One might be doing it to support his meth habit, and the other is using it as a career stepping stone.

Average seems to simplify and summarize a person down to a simple characteristic: average or un-average. In all actuality, there are so many different sides to a person I don’t even know where to start. What if you are average in most dimensions, but extraordinary in one?

In the end, talking about averages clouds the issue.

Defining a person by averages doesn’t mean anything.

So, what has meaning? Having the self awareness to know what you are, and what you want to be.

Is the average career OK with you? Glad you know what you want. Go for it!

Do you want to be the best damn parent that you can be? Well, forget about the average, and be the best damn parent that you can be.

Repeat this across all aspects of your life, and you’ll be set.

Chances are you will be some kind of average in many aspects in life. Statistically, that is how it works out. You may also be extraordinarily awesome or un-awesome in some aspects of life.

Again, it all doesn’t matter: just know what you are and what you want to be.

P.S. This is post number #17 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul. Request an invite now for free access to the private beta!