Live a life of purpose with life-long personal development
We define success by our priorities. If a person defines success by the amount of money s/he accumulates, for example, then that is what that person will pursue his/her whole life. At the end of that life, however, things are pretty empty. For this reason, most of us define success in a much broader sense. Personal wealth may indeed be a part of it, but if we look at highly successful people, they have far more than that wealth. They have lives of purpose that have been a result of life-long personal development – development that continues still. And they define their success in terms of that development.
Defining Personal Development
In general terms, personal development means a continual striving to reach one’s maximum potential. And that potential is in many categories – professional, interpersonal, spiritual, and emotional. Success in each of these categories requires personal development in very specific ways.
Whether we are a retail salesperson or a brain surgeon, success is defined by two things:
- How good are we at our jobs?
- How can we work harder on ourselves to become better at our jobs and move forward to better and more significant accomplishments?
Professional self-improvement may be achieved in many ways. The retail salesperson may take the initiative to take some online coursework or go back to school to prepare him/herself for a position in management. The brain surgeon will commit to a life of continuing education in order to learn new techniques and procedures and to stay updated on breakthroughs in his/her profession. The point is this: these people are working as hard on themselves as they are at their current jobs.
Professional success only comes when we realize that there is always room for personal growth and development and we make the decision to pursue our maximum potential, whether that is in our current job/career or one that we wish to have in the future.
Humans are social beings by nature. Some of us value lots of friends; some value a few close friends. Most of us value family too. Success in our interpersonal relationships requires several things:
- Being unselfish at times (putting the needs and desires of others ahead of ours)
- Being selfish at times (learning the balance between giving and taking; being able to say “no” when necessary for our own well-being)
- Being honest (expressing our feelings and opinions truthfully)
- Managing conflict (it’s a reality in relationships)
- Becoming a good communicator (organizing our thoughts before speaking; learning to be a good listener)
- Learning to apologize sincerely
If we were all perfect in these skills, of course, there would be no room for personal development. All of our relationships would be productive, satisfying, and mutually beneficial. But we are not perfectly skilled in these areas, and we must continue to learn and grow. Sometimes this growth can be painful as we have to give up some relationships that are not mutually beneficial; sometimes we have to strive to be more honest or selfish. Relationships take work and a willingness to put in that kind of work. It’s easy to become lazy about our relationships and to put them on the “back burners” of our lives. But this means they deteriorate. It also means that we do not reach our full potential in relationship-building.
Many of us grew up going to Sunday school and then to church. Many of us still do and have a personal relationship with our God. Others have grown up attending daily prayers 3-5 times a day and having a relationship with Allah; still others attend services on Friday nights as members of the Jewish faith. Buddhists, Hindus, and New Age spiritualists all have a faith. And they believe in some power or force beyond themselves, whether they call it God, Allah, Yahweh, First Cause, or Universal Mind.
From our spirituality comes many things:
- Recognition of the value of all life
- Personal integrity
- A set of values and principles by which we strive to live
- A sense that we are part of a much larger “picture” in this Universe and perhaps beyond
- An understanding of the temporal nature of this life
- A belief that how we behave in this life has consequences, either here or somewhere else
We do not lead perfect spiritual lives. We are judgmental; we become angry; we treat others poorly sometimes; we lie and we cheat. But spiritual development is not measured so much by our flaws and mistakes. It is measured by our continual striving to be a better person today than we were yesterday. At the end of our lives, our spiritual success is based upon our genuine efforts for growth.
Small children are all “I’d.” This means they want what they want, when they want it, and that immediate gratification is the only goal in the moment. As we grow, we learn that the world is a much larger place and that, in order to function well in this much larger place, we have to develop emotional maturity.
- We learn to defer our gratification
- We learn to control our emotions with rational thought
- We learn to recognize when we are wrong
- We become aware of our biases and try to overcome them
- We are grateful for what we have
- We develop compassion for others and for ourselves
- We know when we need help and ask for it
- We realize that we need to contribute to the larger community by giving of our time, energy, and even money to those in need.
Emotional success is also a lifelong journey. But as we continue to pursue it, our lives become richer and we are willing to take the risks that will bring us success in other facets of our lives.
Bill Gates has grown enormously since the kid he was, dropping out of Harvard to pursue a dream. He is now pursuing dreams of eradicating disease and promoting global education. Mark Zuckerberg who is not yet 30 has grown into an amazing individual who has committed to giving away 90% of his wealth to help others. You don’t have to be a Gates or a Zuckerberg. All you have to do is commit to a life of personal development, never let laziness or procrastination take hold, and stay on your path of reaching maximum potential.