People engage in self-development for personal growth, professional potential and perhaps some specific life goals they have in mind. It's an intentional affair to work on yourself, and as much as we convince ourselves our lives should be easier (better/ more successful/ happier/ calmer/ fuller/ simpler etc.) than they are, it requires commitment and willingness to do the work. As soon as we truly engage in self-development
I certainly began my self-development journey with a hunger for depth and meaning in my life. I was in my later 20's and I was beginning to feel frustrated in my professional, and while this was the primary catalyst for investing in my growth and development, I also somehow knew that how I was managing myself was not really healthy, happy or truly supportive of the potential I knew had to be inside me. At the time, I felt like I couldn't work hard enough. I would work more than 9-5 most days, sometimes arriving at work at 7am, sometimes leaving at 8pm or 9pm, sometimes waking up at 5am to "catch up" on what I didn't achieve the day before. I was fixed on being in achiever-mode, addicted to my to-do list and being productive enough. If that wasn't enough, I also took on more projects or work either for better results or to ease the workload of my stressed team. And honestly, this was not yielding the big results. The energy and effort were not match the outcomes. However, all I could interpret from this is that I obviously had not been working hard enough, and so I need to be working even harder. And so the cycle continued. As you might imagine, so grew my frustration.
Until I had had enough.
I was sick of feeling stuck, frustrated and playing the same narrative on repeat.
I needed help.
A conversation with friends on their own self and organisational development journeys triggered my interest in self-development. I knew that the professional path I was on was not my end game. I knew I wanted to feel depth in my work and create meaningful impact in the lives of others - I just didn't know how. And so to cultivate the clarity I needed to figure out my professional calling and the way of being I had to grow into in order to serve that calling, I decided to look for a coach I could work with. I searched many and based on what I could find out about their background and approach online, I narrowed my list down and reached out to connect with two of them. The first one was an Action Coach. While my presenting topic for development was professional, I am so glad I had the interaction I did with this coach to know that the this model and approach was not for me! The second coach was an Integral Coach with affiliations to the Centre for Coaching at UCT's GSB. I reached out and while she was fully booked at the time, I was willing to wait to meet with her to see if we were a fit. I'm so glad I did! Within 2 months, she had an opening and we met for a chemistry session a.k.a. an introductory chat. We both felt a match and could agree on the terms of how we would work together, so I began coaching sessions with her in the weeks following.
What emerged quickly in those initial sessions was not to jump into the practice and exercises of where I wanted to be (what I had expected to be doing), but to become aware of where I was and what has been keeping me there. I had to notice my own patterns and behaviours that contributed to my state of stuck-ness. I had to make the unconscious conscious. I had to meet myself where I was first. I had to witness myself in the state of being I was in.
Here I could begin to notice my thought patterns - what kinds of thinking patterns kept me behaving like a productivity addict. What were those thoughts saying - about the need to be productive and therefore successful - about me, about how I perceive myself, what I believe about the situation and then interrogating how true (ie. factual) or untrue it is. Phew, there was alot of junk swirling in there when I actually listened! But it wasn't all just sitting in my mind.
We explored patterns of emotions, body and somatic expression, how it shows up when I connect with or see myself in relation to others, and even in my spiritual connection and outlooks. This was of course uncomfortable many times, my ego didn't like what it was witnessing. I wanted to judge the behaviour I noticed, and berate myself for thinking or acting a certain way and so reinforce that I wasn't good enough if I was thinking, feeling, acting, relating, connecting, perceiving in these ways. However my coach encouraged me to be a neutral witness in the awareness activities - to observe without judging so that I could just notice what was there.
In building my awareness of my behaviour, I could begin to catch myself in the moment of heading towards behaving a certain way.
This gave depth to my capacity for becoming aware of myself - through seeing the layers of my way of being, I could truly gain perspective. In building my awareness of my behaviour, I could begin to catch myself in the moment of heading towards behaving a certain way - a thought, feeling, reaction. The more I could catch myself, the more I could see it, the more I noticed I had a choice.
Do I choose to entertain/ believe this thought? Or do I consciously choose another one?
Do I react from this same emotion emerging? Or can I choose to take a breath now and find a safe space to work through the strong emotion later?
Do I keep holding my shoulders up, tensing my diaphragm and breathing shallowly? Or I stop, and consciously take a few deep breaths and soften my muscles for 2min?
Do I keep judging this person in relation to me (or vice versa)? Or can I try understand a different perspective on this?
Do I sit in frustration for life dishing me these circumstances? Or could I choose to surrender with an attitude of trust in the universe?
Reflecting on what I risked to go through this process. Guided self-development will generally involve some kind of financial investment, so what if this approach didn't work? What if I couldn't change? What if this was a waste of money? I knew I was willing to take the risk because I was willing do the work that would enable some kind of change, even if I didn't know what.
Another risk was how would the change in me, affect the change in other parts of my life - like my relationships? I had no way of knowing the answer to that, but I knew that if there was any one constant relationship in my life, it was my relationship with myself. I figured if I was changing to better access and live out my potential, then this would hopefully either also affect my relationships for the better, or enable the relationships not serving me to fizzle out in the energy it's taken to maintain them.
While I couldn't know for sure the rewards when starting the journey, I knew how much I wanted the clarity to be able to know and figure out the next steps on my professional path. I knew how I wanted to be able to access both an internal and external state of calm in my day to day life. And I knew I wanted to feel more confident in myself - both in my personal and my professional decision-making.
As I progressed several session in, I realised that in being able to observe myself, I could truly come to know myself better. I could notice my inner processes, I came to understand the internal fears from which I had been (re)acting for so long, and I began feeler freedom with awareness in that I had created space for choice - or rather conscious choice. This was empowering, and really continues to be empowering in my ongoing journey of self-awareness.
Self-development is not a destination, or a goal to become perfect in life and then you stop working on yourself. Somehow many of us have this conditioning to want the quick fixes, the simple solutions, or the low-risk and low-investment with high-reward outcomes. We want to skip the hard work and arrive at our ideas of paradise without much of the journey to get there. This is the ego's desire.
However self-development brings with the ever deepening capacity to be accepting of imperfections, trusting your inner knowing and the right timing, feeling free to be yourself in an ever growing, curious, open, surrendered yet clear state. And building self-awareness is the foundation of this. The willingness to notice the unnoticed, acknowledge the ignored and sit with the discomforts that arise - able to learn from each of these with a growing authenticity and integrity.
On 22 September 2021, I will be launching a new and free offering within my Becoming Series container. Becoming Aware is a self-guided online course I will be opening to invite you with an integral approach to building your self-awareness through gentle reflection and awareness activities through 4 modules. It will be open for a limited time only, so sign up to my newsletter here to get the details.
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Photo by Stephanie Veldman