Personal growth is a journey that never ends. The desire to improve ourselves has been embedded in our genes since the day we were born.
We all want to get better in life. This pure desire shapes us into who we want to be at the end of the day—a better parent, an effective leader, or an independent thinker.
The real challenge is that most of us have to start with a blank slate. We don’t have a jumping off point, a system for making progress, and a model to repeat the process.
We either get lost in our heads or our environment because there is just too much noise—both from within our mind and from our surroundings.
Here, I’m going to show you three steps to personal growth. By understanding these, you’ll get a better idea of what self-improvement really is.
And by knowing which stage you’re at, you’ll get to make the best decisions and take the most practical actions to maximize your growth.
Stage 1: Finding Yourself
The first step in personal development is finding yourself.
Most—but not all—people start here when they think about improving their life. It’s almost impossible to get from where you want to be if you don’t know where you want to go.
Similarly, it’s impossible to get started if you’re not clear about where you currently are.
I would break down finding yourself into two parts: 1) Find out who you are and where you are right now and 2) Find out who you want to be and where you want to go.
Clearly, these are easier said than done.
The process of finding who and where you are requires that you ask yourself many difficult questions—which often, you don’t have an answer for right away. But ask yourself you must, because there is no other way.
The irony is that you—and I—could be individually nobody, at the same time, be anyone you want to be. It basically means two things: 1) No one can give you the answers but yourself, and 2) You could change your mind anytime.
We could share similar problems and challenges in life, yet have different identities and motivations. That’s the reason why I couldn’t tell you what your goals should be, and no one should tell you that your goals are not worthy.
The second part—you could change your mind anytime (and you should)—is where the beauty lies. That’s also the reason why finding yourself is never enough because the answers you find are often incorrect or incomplete.
As you progress to later stages, you’ll realize that finding yourself is critical but the smallest element in your personal growth.
Stage 2: Finding the Way
Most people get stuck at finding themselves. People who get past that arrive at the second step: finding the way.
While many people think finding the way is the hardest of all, I believe it’s the simplest and most straightforward.
It only becomes difficult when your lizard brain (emotional and impulsive thinking) gets on top of your logical and rational thinking.
The way to become a writer is obvious: write, but people procrastinate doing the very thing they need to do the most because they think they can’t write.
As a student, you study and learn—yet many students get distracted by less important things around them.
To be an entrepreneur, create a solution to solve a problem people are willing to pay for. But most people got trapped in analysis paralysis before they even get started.
The solution is to repeat the process of finding the way. Instead of trapping yourself in your own head, zoom in closer to the challenge, break down what’s holding you back, and find the way to solve that first.
It could be asking yourself why you do what you do, building supporting habits and networking, or optimizing your environment for better performance.
When you get strategic about your own challenges—instead of emotionally, you will find that most of them are not that different from the obstacles once faced by someone else.
Thus, the easiest method for finding the way is to get people who have been where you are to show you the way.
Stage 3: Finding the Truth
Everyone defines a successful and fulfilling life differently, so you first need to seek and know yourself. There are a thousand ways to accomplish a goal, all you need is to find a way that works for you.
Then here comes the final and the trickiest step in the process of personal growth: finding the truth.
People who are truly successful are highly ambitious and at the same time highly practical.
Elon Musk was ambitious to bring electric cars to the mass market, but he wasn’t naive. He knew it would be hard and he was prepared to make sacrifices until he accomplished his goal.
He knew the market wouldn’t accept the Tesla if it was too expensive and looked dumb, and his wisdom about the reality reflects on Tesla’s master plan. There certainly remain tons of bumps waiting for the Tesla, but without a solid grounding in truth, Tesla would have failed right out of the gate.
Truth is the universal rule that works for both you and me (and everyone else in between), at the same time, it is set in stone and out of your control regardless of what you do.
What makes truth-seeking a challenge is that it is often subtle. But most importantly, it takes great effort to see the realities because as human, we don’t see reality as it is, we see what we think it is. We see things the way we perceive them.
To ground yourself in truth, you need to be transparent and open-minded. Be transparent about what you do and why you do it so others can see through your motivation and avoid misunderstanding.
At the same time, be open-minded to others’ opinions and feedback so that you can adjust your truth—and yourself—to get more right and less wrong.
Choose Your Struggles and Struggle Well
The thing is that you don’t necessarily have to start from step one—you could start from any place. Mastery of one step doesn’t make another any easier. But when you master all three, there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Know Yourself + The Right Way + Truth = Personal Growth
Personal growth is a constant struggle because we might get things wrong:
We fit ourselves into the wrong molds we don’t belong. We pursue a less efficient way to achieve our goals. We believe in a version of reality for years only to find out it’s not true.
We’re going to make a lot of mistakes and experience a lot of pain throughout the process, but those mistakes and pain are what get ourselves closer to the right answers.
So instead of avoiding struggle, choose your struggle, and then struggle well. That’s the way to growth.