Personal Growth vs. Transformation
The model of “personal growth” has been consistent throughout the “empowerment” age: find out what’s wrong, and fix it. Its proponents work to understand and heal the past to create a different future. The idea is that over time your true and authentic being will emerge and take hold. Progress is slow but steady if the plan is followed consistently. All that’s needed to succeed are understanding and discipline. Over time, heath, wealth, and fulfillment will become part of your life.
There’s nothing to say that there’s anything wrong with personal growth. Millions of people’s lives have changed for the better using this model. Just google “personal growth” and you will be inundated with millions and millions of sites touting advice for the journey to empowerment and fulfillment.
“Transformation” is often grouped in the same world as “personal growth,” however there are key distinctions between the two concepts. Transformation is the opportunity to invent something completely new, be it a conversation, a commitment, or an action, in order to create an unprecedented and extraordinary future. It does not rely on the past to dictate what should come next, but instead hinges on the idea that you decide your own fate.
To truly see how each of these methods can bring you closer to your ultimate goals, it’s important to understand some of the more detailed distinctions between them.
- Personal Growth: Life is a given. Transformation: Life is created.
From a personal growth standpoint, I have to take a look at what “is” and figure out what to do with it. Then I spend my energy managing what life presents to me. This perpetuates the “more, better, different” mentality… perhaps I can make more money, live in a better neighborhood, and have a different lifestyle. At best, I am taking what already exists in my life and modifying it to give me a more pleasurable experience. The down side is, if it doesn’t work out, then I fall victim to my circumstances (I get fired, the real estate market tanks, I fall into debt.) Personal growth would tell me to take action to change the scenario. However, I’m limited in what my choices are, because I can only interact with what I already have.
Transformation asserts that life is created, and furthermore, that I am the creator. I am aware that I have created what is in my life, and therefore have the choice to create something new. Instead of looking to the past to dictate what my future will look like, I look to my vision, and declare it to be so.
2. Personal Growth: The truth. Transformation: A conversation.
If life is a given (personal growth) then it follows that what exists, is the “truth.” The “truth” is that there is something wrong with you, and once you figure out what that is, we can fix you. The truth is a static, unbending fact of life, and it must be dealt with as such. This limits your potential because if “who I am” (smart, clumsy, funny, anxious) is the truth, then all the possible scenarios in my life must fall in line accordingly. For example, if truth dictates that I have to be assertive, ruthless, and cunning to be rich, and I’m not any of those things, then it follows that I will not be rich.
On the most basic level, language is what separates us from all other animals – our ability to think, reason, and communicate with each other, often for the purpose of creating action. Dhammapada said, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” These thoughts manifest themselves as conversations, otherwise known as beliefs or assumptions. Every single thought, decision, or interaction that we have is driven by the underlying assumptions from which we live our lives.
If life is created (transformation) out of the conversations we have with ourselves and each other, then by inventing new conversations, we in turn create a new life.
3. Personal Growth: Incremental. Transformation: Quantum leap.
In the personal growth world, each step relies on the previous one. Slowly but surely, I will get to my destination. I measure my progress by the results that I get, and base further action on that progress.
If personal growth is a gradual progression towards your goal, then transformation is conversely, a quantum leap – or a “sudden and significant change.” One moment, I am stuck and nothing is working. The next, I have momentum, and everything is working. Where I leap to is not in relation to where I was in the past, but where I am committed to be in the future.
4. Personal Growth: Based on feelings. Transformation: Based on committed action.
Personal growth manipulates your feelings in an effort to pump you up and have you be more confident and self-assured. If you are feeling bad, you figure out why and work on resolving that. Once you’re feeling good again, you can move forward. This methodology directly relates how good you feel to how successful you are.
The only thing that changes our world is committed action. And when I am focused on committed action, my feelings won’t influence the outcome. What happens, happens, but once it’s happened I can freely get committed to whatever’s next.
It is not necessary to have all the “how to” answers before taking action. Being in an open space of learning will reveal options not previously available.
5. Personal Growth: Possible. Transformation: Impossible.
Personal growth conversations begin with taking a look at what the biggest possibility for creation is for someone. What is possible only exists in the realm of what’s already known – the truth. Using this truth we can see what has been created thus far, in order to predict the future. Pushing the limits of what is possible will move someone out of their comfort zone and create results that are more, better, and different from before. Sometimes, those results are spectacular.
Who I am when I am creating these spectacular results is an inflated version of who I was before. In that paradigm, I am still limited in what I can create.
Alternatively, when something is impossible for me, it means that I can’t get there from where I am now. Who I have been up until now is not the person who can accomplish this impossible goal. Therefore, I will have to completely redesign who I am. Once I make that quantum leap, the impossible idea becomes accessible through my transformation.
6. Personal Growth: Reasonable. Transformation: Unreasonable.
Our culture tells us to be realistic. Set goals you can accomplish. Take it one step at a time. Be reasonable. Once again, personal growth encourages us to look just outside of our comfort zone to create something more, better, and different than what we had before. Being reasonable points us to the past to see what worked before, and improve upon that. We do what’s logical and predictable. The results can be spectacular, but logical and predictable nonetheless.
Creating the impossible will require me to be outrageously unreasonable. The future is uncertain, because it is unprecedented. That leaves it open to be created from nothing. I can’t use reason to determine actions that will create an unprecedented future. When I am unreasonable, I create new conversations with new results.
7. Personal Growth: Content. Transformation: Context.
Personal growth works by altering the content, or physical things, in our lives. Let’s say I want to lose 50 lbs. Ok, that’s straightforward enough. I’ll eat healthy food and exercise regularly. Eventually, if I stick with this plan, which demands discipline and effort, I’ll lose the weight. I may even keep it off for a while. Studies show, however, that the majority of people who lose weight gain it back again. That’s because all that’s changed is the content (I’ll eat less and exercise more.)
Context is the way of being that spurs my actions. Simply put, if I am a healthy person, I will take healthy actions. Coming from an unhealthy place, even if I eat less and exercise more, there has been no fundamental shift in my thinking, and so I’m sure to return to my old ways eventually. One example is a friend of mine who successfully shifted her eating habits to lose weight. She said, “When I started, I was eating less of the food that wasn’t good for me. Now I don’t even eat those foods anymore.”
8. Personal Growth: It’s personal. Transformation: It’s not personal.
“It’s personal” means that the most important element in the mix is me. It then follows that if I’m the most important element, then when things happen (good bad or indifferent) then they are happening to me. Since I’m separate from everyone else, what I do only matters in my own little universe. I can see the impact that it has on others but only as it relates to me.
“It’s not personal” means that I am part of a greater whole. I am not separate, I am distinct. When things happen (good, bad or indifferent) they affect not only me, but also my extended community, and even the whole world. I take responsibility for my part and yet know that I am not isolated.
9. Personal Growth: Consume. Transformation: Sustainable.
The personal growth culture is based on a consumption model. The idea is that the more we consume the better we will feel, the more the economy will chug along, and hey, you can’t take it with you when you die. Since it’s personal, I’ll consume what’s mine because it’s there for the taking. This is driven by a scarcity mentality.
Sustainability is taking care of each other and our world in a way that allows the future to be brighter than the present. We are creating systems that are based in abundance and the ability to be renewed. In the world of transformation, it means that we are able to access these systems at a later time and create abundance.
The world we live in is structured on a format based on survival. In fact, the survival mentality is so deeply ingrained in our way of life that we don’t even know that it’s there. Like a fish in the ocean, we don’t take notice of our environment unless we’re taken out of the water.
Contrasted with this is the vision of millions of people for an existence created out of abundance. It is our impossible future. As we uncover and redesign the conversations out of which we live our life, we have an opening to transform ourselves and our world and make that vision a reality.