Wanna do some real personal development? It won’t be sexy

Real personal development is often about taking radical action in the areas that we are least oriented towards. We’re so more inclined to add more to the areas that we already are pretty accomplished at, or least pay good attention to. The business person who takes another seminar on building a business. The yoga junkie who takes another course on body movement. The meditator who does another week long silent retreat. Professionally, this is typically a great strategy. Play to your strengths, keep developing them and partner/outsource/team build for complementary strengths. And it often feels good – we like doing things we can do well, we get rewarded by growth and recognition.

Yet for you, the whole you, it may not be the best strategy. You can’t really outsource domains and streams of life. Yes, you can Uber. Yes, you can hire a cleaner. Yes, you can have TaskRabbits or personal assistants on the other side of the world manage tasks for you. But your life, your expression, your patterns, your prejudices, your inner critic, your disconnection, your self-consciousness, your pride, your emotional attunement, your heart expression, your inner support, your presence, the quality of your experience, your contact with yourself and others, these things you cannot outsource. So what works professionally may not work for your whole person development. It may even hold you back.

If we want an integrated live, and a life of freedom, we have to push into the areas which are not obvious to us. I used to be a pretty decent soccer player. I would juggle / do keep-me-ups most days – I enjoyed it and I was good at it. My record was 5000 (five thousand) non-stop – that’s 57 minutes of keeping the ball off the ground. It’s tiring, it takes concentration, and it’s frustrating when you get to several hundred and then you drop and have to try again. But it wasn’t ‘hard’ for me to put attention there, because it was familiar, I could do it, I didn’t know anyone personally who could do more so there was no negative self-comparison, there was no judgement from others.

It’s been much much harder for me to put real attention, real change-how-you-do-your-life attention on my health and slowing down, even though I have been in chronic pain for a decade. It just became normal to be in pain. I would fit into my busy schedule seeing all sorts of people – some of whom I could even explain what they did. Neuromuscular re-patterners, chiropractors, somatic awareness therapists, rolfers, yoga massage therapists, Feldenkrais practitioners, physical therapists, some stuff I can’t even remember the modality, and so on. I was open to seeing anyone and giving it a try as long as I could fit it in my schedule.

Therein lay the problem. The schedule. It’s like stuffing things between a structure which isn’t working. I thought I was making all sorts of compromises – making afternoon appointments by taking time away from work, working standing up, having a special chair, having a height-adjustable desk, stretching, stretching bizarrely in public places, taking walking meetings, never going to coffee shops, having a special seat in my car, sleeping with different pillows, trying sleeping with no pillow, doing hydrotherapy. I was doing a lot more than many would or than I had ever done; and yet, none of it particularly worked.

What has worked? Being willing to say no to all sorts of things so that I have a schedule where if I need to, I can spend HOURS a day on my health. Being willing to start my day with health stuff – walking and swimming – and not really getting to anything that looks remotely productive to 10 or 11am, or maybe later. Maybe having a whole day to take care of myself. Crazy eh? Effectively, taking a stance that if I am not feeling well, why would I go process my email? Not like I was wedded to email – I have had minimalist email practices for years now. But there’s some kind of compulsion in there about how we have to do things, which doesn’t allow us to do the radical thing that may open our life up. And generally our patterns are ever present – just as my pain has been constant even if low-level, if you experience anxiety, it’s probably there most the time. If you are emotionally distant from people, it’s probably there most the time. If you overgive at the expense of receiving, it’s probably there most the time.

I am not out of pain – but I do have times of being almost pain free and remembering how good that feels! People who are ‘on’ all the time don’t remember or value what it’s like to have time. People who always struggle for money may not remember or know what it’s like not to have that worry. People who wedded to their autonomy may not know what it’s like to be in heart-open relationship.

My point is – what’s the big thing or pattern which shows up in your life and what would it be like to give it a LOT of attention? If you don’t know what your big thing is, ask your most perceptive friends and co-workers. The groupthink will usually turn it up.

I wouldn’t expect to build a business on an hour here or there, even though I know how to build a business. But somehow I expected to be able to work my health out on an hour here or there, and it was something I didn’t know how to do.

The sexiness and passion may be in our leading edge of development. The gold, in my experience, is so often in our trailing edges, the burdens we carry around, the crosses we bear, the things we put up with, the things we have gone numb to, the things we have no fucking idea how to change or even where to start.

Real development often isn’t easy. It’s mostly painful, painstaking and paying attention when progress isn’t obvious. It’s often undoing. Catching ourselves having gone back to business as usual and coming back to an unfamiliar script. It often involves unwinding identities, habitual ways of knowing ourselves and dealing with deep fears, insecurities and blindspots. Some people LOVE change. And most of them don’t do real development. They jump around, they pick stuff up, but they rarely stay the course of unwinding the core patterning at the core of their life. I should know, I was one of them.

So here’s to the real crazy ones. Who work hard at opening up territory in themselves that looks like the Wild West. Or the dark cavernous depths of a Pacific Ocean trench. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. Your friends may not understand. You may not make progress. But keep at it, for something deep in you is answering a call and in the fullness of time, you will be rewarded. To all of you doing that, I honor you. To all of you who have something you have a sense you might want to pay more attention to, what could a radical re-orientation of your life look like?


About Jack Butler

Jack Butler is a social entrepreneur, coach, workshop leader and speaker. His latest venture provides full spectrum human development through coaching, programmes and other development resources for leaders and entrepreneurs. He founded Future Foundations (www.future-foundations.co.uk), a leading youth personal development training organization. He is a professional member of the International Enneagram Association and a former fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jack was the IAB 2007 Young Entrepreneur of the Year runner-up and took a double first class degree in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Jack spends his time between London and Brighton in the UK and Boulder, CO and the Bay Area in the US. In his spare time, he enjoys physical challenges (3 Peaks Challenge 2010, Tresco Marathon 2006) and supporting The Simultaneous Policy Organisation (www.simpol.org.uk). He is a Partner in Passion and Purpose of the Grubb Guild, a voracious reader of personal, cultural and spiritual development, and likes to inquire, journal, travel and write.
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