In the midst of this growing personal-development industry, I think we would do a profound disservice to ourselves if we neglect problems beyond the ‘personal’. In order to facilitate optimal ‘personal’ growth, we need to consider the ‘interpersonal’ realm. This means calling into question the values at the heart of the industry.
As a fitness trainer and academic social theorist, I stand with a foot on either side of the debate on whether one should invest in the American dream (attaining personal success through hard work), or whether one should remain critical of this capitalist industry that profits off of oppressive class, race, and gender ideals.
Preaching the ideals of both the fitness industry and critical sociology, I have struggled to make sense of how I am able to remain passionate about both, without betraying either one. I have only recently discovered what it is about personal development I have a problem with. Class, race, and gender ideals aside, I am deeply concerned with the high value the personal development genre places on individualism. I see this as a problem that can actually reverse ones ‘development’, creating a sense of disconnect and alienation from others.
Meaningful relationships with others and a sense of community are a large part of personal development that should not be neglected. If taking your own success as a goal in itself is preventing you from having quality relationships with others, you should reconsider your focus.
This is largely why I found so much fulfillment teaching group-fitness classes – particularly aqua-fitness. This sense of contributing to a community of regular attendees motivated me to constantly strive to improve my ability to provide the best experience possible in my classes. My focus on improving the lives of others acted as a fuel for rapidly improvement of my own abilities. I can now say the same is drive fuels my teaching in social theory.
If your personal success is your goal, you are mistaking the means for end in itself. What this means is that your personal development should be a means to an end outside of yourself; for example, working every day to sharpen your individual skills so that you can contribute to a larger cause.
Although I see a narcissistic tendency in a great deal of personal development literature, I think the literature has a great deal to offer if it is approached with the awareness that deep fulfillment is only found when you seek your own improvement for the sake of the improvement of others. To forget this, you may find yourself at the top, but what is that position worth if you find yourself there alone? That is why I advocate for a view of ‘personal’ success that does not stop at the ‘personal’.
This is an introduction to future posts where I will explore this concept of ‘development’ further.