Why pursue personal growth at all?

November 24th, 2004 by Steve Pavlina

This was a comment on the last post that I’d like to address, since it’s a very common issue related to personal growth:

Why improve at all? We are born. We die. Everything else shares the same fate. Then why this struggle to improve? What is the use? Expectations can only lead to misery if we dont achieve. Why not just lead a life of no expecation and see what happens?

That chap Jim achieved first place. Cool! So what next? He will now set his goals to win the Milky Way Speaking Championship? Ok, let us give him the first place there. Then what?

Has anybody here tried to live a life of no goal setting, competition, improvement? Doing things intuitively without expectation. Isnt that peace? Isnt that what we are truly after?

You don’t have to set goals or strive to better yourself. Personal growth is a conscious choice, one that is entirely up to you. This web site aims to help those who have made or who are making that choice. There wouldn’t be much point for a person outside that group to visit this web site at all. For such people I would recommend this site instead, which is the next logical step for those who are done growing and ready for eternal peace.

OK, so that was my ornery side expressing itself a bit… I’ll restate the issue: Is the process of striving to better ourselves in conflict with attaining inner peace?

My answer: Not at all. Both can indeed be found on the same path. One term for this state of being is called living in dharma. When you are in this state, you have found your purpose in life and are living it consciously.

Creating an intention for your future to be different or better in some way than your past doesn’t automatically conflict with being in a state of inner peace. What causes a lack of inner peace is the problem of attachment. When you become so attached to an outcome, trying to control something that isn’t completely within your control, you lose your sense of peace. But when you can create an intention and then remain detached from needing the future to turn out a certain way, you can experience tremendous growth and positive change without losing your sense of inner peace.

I’ll give you a simple example. In creating this web site and making blog entries here, my primary intention is to help people grow. For me this is being in the state of dharma. But at the same time, I also detach myself from needing any particular outcome to manifest. I intend what I want to happen, but I remain open and accepting of all possible outcomes. Some people reading this blog may be greatly helped by it; others may be totally unaffected or may misinterpret what I write. That part is outside my control. If I become overly attached to how others react, I will never be able to experience peace. Believing you need to control what you cannot control is a recipe for stress and overwhelm.

My attitude is that being able to grow year after year is the greatest adventure anyone could ever hope for. Growth certainly involves both pain and pleasure, but the pain only sweetens the pleasure. In the words of Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet:

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

There is nothing inherently wrong with leading a life expecting nothing. That is what you will get though… a life of nothing. If you don’t want anything out of life, then why are you here? Why even bother to get out of bed in the morning?

Many people ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” But life is asking this question of you, “What is the meaning of YOUR life?” This is something we all must answer for ourselves. If we don’t answer it, then the answer we provide is nothing, and we will end up living (really dying) accordingly. My personal answer to this question is that the purpose of my life is to grow and to help others to grow. To me being on this path is equivalent to the state of inner peace. There is no final destination after which I say, “I’m done growing.” It is not some distant final state I’m after but rather the journey itself that is fulfilling to me. If I compete in a contest, it is not the win or loss that matters; it is the process of competing itself that is fun and exciting. If I set a goal to achieve and then move towards it, the final goal condition itself matters little; it’s the whole process that I enjoy so much.

What does it really matter if I end up with millions of dollars or win first place in a contest or build a huge business? In the long run those things are all dust anyway. But the process of doing these things — of slaying the dragons of fear, building new skills, making new insights, touching people along the way, falling down and dusting myself off — now THAT is absolute joy.

The bottom line though is that no one has to grow consciously. Life itself will guarantee growth anyway. How can one live on earth and not learn and grow? Either you grow consciously, or life throws you experiences that force you to grow unconsciously. Until you’re actually dead and buried, growth and change are guaranteed. So my decision is to embrace that fact and flow with the process of growth and change consciously. The alternative is to grow unconsciously. I’ve done both, and I find conscious growing much more enjoyable and fulfilling.


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