Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: How do I become who I really want to be. Follow me on Quora.
“To desire is to obtain to aspire is to achieve.”
—James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
I never thought much about success through and after college. I was a smart and ambitious kid and generally got to where I wanted to go (Stanford University for college). I started to think more about it in my 30’s. My career had stalled and many of my friends were breaking out and achieving extraordinary success in their fields. I started to think about success more when I took time off to launch my own start up. And as my start up stalled, I started to doubt myself and my abilities, and my confidence started to erode.
Soon the financial crisis of 2008 hit like a tsunami, and I was as ill prepared as possible. I’d struggled with my start up path for too long and had burned through all my savings. I’d been out of the work force long enough that it put me in no man’s land for experience and relevance to potential employers. It was a very serious low point. I was in my mid 30’s with a Stanford degree and struggling to pay rent every month with no job or job prospects and a dizzying amount of debt.
The only true crisis is the one you don’t learn from. My situation pushed me further to read and explore every potential angle on personal development and success to help dig my way out of it. I heard that Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx, had read through as much as she could in the personal development space before she succeeded. She found a particular affinity to Wayne Dyer. So I started reading Wayne Dyer. At the time, it seemed that everyone was talking about attracting success, so I read the Law of Attraction and that led me to the book it was based, James Allen’s masterpiece, As a Man Thinketh.
Slowly my life started to turn around. I finally got a job and started to build back my career. I continued to devour books on personal development; each I read led me to more and more. Over the past five years, that accumulated knowledge has lead to huge personal and entrepreneurial success. I founded my own business and continue to run it as one of the most successful in the space. Throughout all this, from being flat broke (I was actually in debt $250K at one point), to starting and running a successful business, I have learned, grown and improved. I have not, however, become a different person.
One of the big problems with the personal development space is that it emphasizes “transformations,” suggesting that change and improvement necessitate some sort of full transformation, from where you are to where you want to be, from who you currently are to who you want to be. It implies a change so radical that you transform into someone else. Another commonly used metaphor is that of a metamorphosis. The visualization is that you start as a caterpillar and come out as a butterfly.
This is what many of the “leaders” in personal development promise. And this is also what so many of people seeking success, change and improvement are seeking. The promise of becoming someone else, because they have grown to hate who they are.
You’re not someone with a bad habit, goal of losing weight or desire to improve yourself; you are someone you are wholly critical of and someone you don’t want to be. You imagine the new you will be free of bad habits, will achieve everything you want easily, and will be someone you accept and love wholly. That sounds so much easier than the truth of change, which is incremental.
The model of “transformation” is one of the things that can make personal change so difficult in the same way that striving for perfection can handicap achievement. If perfection or full transformation is the goal, then it may feel so unachievable that one may never begin or cannot acknowledge progress as achievement in the path since the only real achievement is complete transformation and anything short of that is failure.
Change doesn’t start with finding all your flaws and imaging a you without them. Personal change isn’t the magic that happens after the caterpillar enters the cocoon. Personal change is a focus on learning and improving and changing habits. It’s small incremental goals and improvements. It’s setting achievable milestones and celebrating them. And most fundamentally it’s learning to accept and love oneself.
Loving oneself doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of yourself you want to improve on or habits you want to get rid of. It’s recognizing at your core, you are worthy of your own love and appreciation. It’s being compassionate for yourself instead of being critical and/or berating yourself.
When you don’t love yourself, you become critical and resentful of who you are. This can lead to self destructive behavior. It can also lead to failure on the path to personal change because your goal goes beyond improving habits to actually becoming someone else. You hate the old self; you love who you imagine you’ll become.
People fail to start because the concept of “transformation” is too overwhelming. They see change as all or none. How we frame transformation creates these difficulties. We believe we must leave behind our old self to become our new self. The old self is tired, worn, ugly, overweight, not successful and unloveable. The new self will be fit, attractive, loved, successful, charismatic and complete. In reality, we are always the same self. You won’t ever become a different person and the thought that you can and should, is often what can hold you back from improving.
So start by reframing the question. Instead of “How do I become who I really want to be?,” ask “How do I achieve my goals?” and “How do I embody the qualities and characteristics I most admire?”
To answer these questions, here are some important steps you can take:
- Learn. The personal development space is arguably one of the oldest forms of thought and analysis. There’s more written about it than anyone can consume in a lifetime. So get reading. Start with the big names: Dale Carnegie, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra among many others.
- Learn to love youself. We live in a world where the media and social media project imagines of people who are happier, richer, younger, more successful, better looking and skinnier than us. These images start to erode at us, and can cause us to not feel content with who we are and what we’ve achieved. And this leads to us not loving ourselves, our current circumstances and lives. These images of others don’t inspire success and motivate us, more often then inspire envy and hatred of ourselves. Start loving yourself. Everyday. Catch yourself when you start to spiral down the path of self-disparagement, and take a moment to appreciate something about yourself instead. Cultivate that feeling.
- Cultivate awareness. Our thoughts drive our action. Focus on thinking the right thoughts. The right thoughts can sow the right mindset and move your whole person forward on the path you desire. Practice mindfulness and meditation. This is one of the best ways to become aware and then help to steer your thoughts.
- Celebrate progress as success. Celebrate your achievements along the path, however small. Many small improvements can lead to significant change in your life. Too often, everything is not enough, and eventually we become not enough.
- Practice gratitude. This is one of the easiest things you can do that can have the most dramatic effect on your life. Start a gratitude journal and jot down a few things every day you’re grateful for. Catch yourself when you’re thinking any negative thoughts and redirect your thoughts to something you’re grateful for.
- Avoid perfection. The saying is: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good; but it can be extended to: don’t let perfect be the enemy of done. Perfection can be one of the biggest obstacles in the path of personal development. If you can only imagine the perfect you, you will always fail in achieving it.