The Personal Development Trap

People have always sought to improve the quality of their lives especially when basic needs, such as food, shelter, and safety, were met. One might even argue that even when these needs aren’t met, we still seek to improve our skills in order to have better access to food or move to a safer and more stable environment. It can be argued that development is just one way of self-preservation and evolution of life.  Yet, can this need development go too far? Can it do more harm than good?  The short answer to this is:  Yes! While personal development can be very rewarding it is easy to fall into a trap.  

In 2019, the global personal development market size was valued at 38.28 billion US dollars with an expected 5.1% annual growth increase (grand view research). Instead of relying on data, one can go into any bookstore and pass by the self-help section and find an overwhelming number of dedicated titles. Doing an internet search will result in thousands of other books as well as listings for workshops, courses, groups, talks… etc. As per Forbes, Life coaching as a global industry has been estimated at 2 billion US dollars with a 5.5% yearly growth.

Can we still trust the personal development industry? Yes! For starters, this can be done by being aware (of our own needs and goals rather than being unconscious consumers who subscribe to development without reaping desired benefits. Here are a few points


Whose Life is it anyway?

One major issue with the personal-development movement is that caters to the mainstream. It’s a one size fits all whereas it’s anything but that.  Most of us follow a trend and define success by how others see it rather than how we see it. We do not spend enough time to self-assess and understand what we want and what we lack. We continue to look for answers outside of ourselves without connecting to the inner knowing inside of us.

What does success mean to you? What would you like to learn right now in your life?


Practicing New acquired Information:

We attend workshops and read books but we don’t commit to the work. Needless to say, it is not enough to read a book or watch a Ted Talk. We have to give the newly acquired information a try and put it into practice. Most of us don’t. End result is that we forget what we learned and then chase the next best thing which mainstream recommends.

In addition, a lot of information on personal development is not new.  Most of the time, the given information is recycled from previous works and is packaged in a way that suits the times we are not.

Concentrate on one skill you would like to improve and practice it for a while. If it doesn’t resonate with you then move to the next.   


The Illusion of Perfection

We don’t do enough research on the author or trainer we are following. Every once in a while, we hear of a self-help “guru” who falls from grace following a scandal when their actions don’t match what they are promoting. As a life coach for the past 10 years, the number of people who ask for my credentials can be counted on one hand. You are not offending anyone by getting into the habit of asking any person you seek help from what their credentials are. If they get offended then that might be a red flag.

We are drawn to perfection and seek authors, trainers, and life coaches who seem to lead perfect lives. They give us hope that one day we can be perfect too. But perfection is an illusion. Life is messy and a continuous journey. Selling perfection is a red flag.

Do some homework and a background check before committing to the personal development project.


Consumerism and Trends.

The personal-development market is successful because people get into the habit of being consumerists. We buy things even when we don’t need them. It’s almost like an addiction. Personal- development can be one form of this addiction. It can be a way to fit in with others, procrastinate or avoid looking at other more important issues.  To many people, attending workshops, reading books, and watching programs give them the illusion that they are doing something useful with their time. They are most likely gaining some benefits but it could be even more if they were more focused.

Therefore, it is important to know what we want and to define our goals and values first.


  Assess … Assess … Assess…

A keyword to avoid being sucked into the personal-development trap is to continuously assess. It starts by self-assessing where you are in life and what you would like to achieve. We don’t stop long enough to self-assess, where are we in life, where would I like to be. not what society tells us but what we want to be.  Take stock of your life. Is there anything you would like to add or remove?  What changed after you took on a personal-development project? What did you enjoy about the book or speaker? What didn’t you like about the training?

If you don’t assess, how do you know it worked?


Personal- development offers a wide range of helpful tools. It is a journey that never ends with many different side roads. It can help us be at a place we truly desire and to create a comfortable and meaningful life. It can improve our relationships as well our personal well-being and professional lives.  It can also add more stress to our lives if we blindly follow other people’s journeys.

Enjoyed the topic? Check out the 2011 documentary Kumaré as Hindu/ American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi poses as a “Guru” to demonstrate that anyone can become a guru or teacher, and gain followers. Interestingly, his main teaching was ‘You are your own Guru’. This, however, did not stop people from seeking him out.


As we are welcoming a new year, we tend to make resolutions which can be seen as an act of self-improvement and personal development. Much like everything that has been already said, most of these resolutions don’t work. Our challenge for you is to do something new this year. If you have been heavily investing in personal development, perhaps it’s time to take a break or to. If personal development is not your thing, perhaps you can stick to one project only. Remember to KISS: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.


Image credit: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


As usual, would love to hear about your experience with self-help. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via social media or email.


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