If you’re serious about personal development you’ll soon face a challenge: the tension between who you are and who you want to be. Between your current development level and the next one. Between your present and your future status. One of the most interesting challenges of personal development is the approach to the question “I can be better?”.
Keeping Your Identity
I guess every personal development technique will teach you to accept yourself. I don’t think I found any serious self improvement material teaching me to reject myself. Accepting yourself is normal, is one of the fundamental keys to a balanced performance in every area of your life: relationships, career or money.
But if you want to be “better”, you’ll automatically reject your current being in favor of a future one. Or at least this is how it’s happening. Being better than you are today means ditching who you are today. Am I the only one seeing a serious logical conflict here?
How can you be better than you are and not lose your identity? How can you create a better version of yourself, but keep all your features? How can you upgrade your inner operating system but keep all your filesystem intact? This was on my mind for quite some time.
When I first tried to explain this to myself, I came up with this model: you’re not actually changing yourself, you’re getting closer to your real nature. You are born a beautiful person, but somehow, during your life, you get derailed and you spend all your life regaining your initial heavenly innocence. So, becoming better, means in fact becoming more “you”.
But this model couldn’t explain why we experience new stuff in our lives. If our existence will be only a path to our initial point, then how we define novelty? How can we learn? How can we evolve? At this point I confess I had a headache. Trying to explain this logical conflict proved to be much more difficult than I thought.
I had to stop for a while and try a different perspective. Seeing myself as a perfect human being, compromised by some mistakes and then trying to regain my perfection just felt wrong. It was something static. No movement, no excitement. Still as a stone. But stones are dead. And I’m not.
The Comfort Zone
So, after a while, I realized this model was based on something called “comfort zone”. There was this idea of a perfect place for which you should aim and in which you should live. A place with a perfect proportion, with no challenges and no dramas. A place of equilibrium and perpetual happiness. The comfort zone.
But the comfort zone lacks some of the fundamental ingredients of what I call a fulfilled life: enthusiasm, excitement and surprise. Of course, it has security, stability and predictability. The comfort zone is safe. Life isn’t. The comfort zone has lots of achievements, rules to be respected and, as the name says, comfort . But it has no fun. Staying there for too long couldn’t be something somebody would die for. Because, of course, he would be already dead inside.
So, instead of taking the destination as the cornerstone of my model, I switched and tried to find the model within the traveler. It was not the destination which was important all of a sudden, but the desire of the man who wanted to reach there. So, what was the real trigger for being better? What is that thing which can make somebody leave the comfort zone? Again and again?
And then it hit me. Simple and yet so complicated. The only reason somebody will leave the comfort zone is dreaming. Yes, dreaming, that ability of seeing things which are not yet reality. The capacity to first create a new version of yourself in your mind, and then acting to become like that version. Imagination. Creativity. Play.
No Risk It, No Biscuit
But dreaming without action is just… well, just dreaming, It’s nothing but a mental projection. In order to make things happening, you have to take risks. And that was the second ingredient of my model: the ability to take risks. The ability to engage in new activities, without knowing from the beginning the outcome. The ability to not play safe.
When you mix together dreaming and risk something beautiful happens in your life. First, your comfort zone is turned upside down. Second, you’re in the middle of a new world, most of the time completely new, trying to build a better version of yourself. And third, you’re actually living. Of course, if you’re taking too many risks, your face may hit some punches every now and then. Part of the game, I suppose.
Risking your current status in order to reach your dream is what makes you better. Not the next level, which you may or may not reach. You can’t always fulfill all your dreams. But you’re becoming better because you tried. There was some lesson in the process which made you experience something new. It’s not so much about your identity as it is about your life experience. Maybe your identity is just an illusion, and all you got in the end is just the thrill of trying something new with your life.
Making dream reality is one of the best things you can do with your life. Dreaming big and then putting those dreams into real life is what makes you alive. Not the comfort zone. Not shyness or social complacency. Not postponing. Not avoiding. It’s amazing how much energy people are spending just to avoid what they really want..
So, back to the first questions: is it possible to keep your identity and still be better? Well, the answer is a little bit complicated. You can keep your identity but you will lose some features. You will reach a new version, but some incompatibilities may appear. And you know why? Because your dream are sometimes incompatible with other people dreams. You’re dreaming your own life and some of the places you dream about are outside the others reach.
Let me give you a very simple example and hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of this. Suppose you’re dreaming about a new financial status for yourself and for your family. In plain English, you want more money. You take some risks, you engage in some new activities, forget about security and safety and, after a while, your dream is becoming reality. You do have more money.
But what happened in the process is that you lost some of your old friends, or connections or places you use to hang out. They’re now incompatible with your new dream. They’re not good or bad, just incompatible. They’re from another dream.
Getting better will always have that effect on you. Your dream will always be different and you’re going to lose some features in the upgrade process. But you know what? That’s the beauty of it. That’s the thrill. That’s excitement and fun and evolution.
You Can Be Better?
Do youÂ have a dream? Are you ready to take some serious risks in your life?Â Are you prepared to mix that dream with the necessary risks to make it happen?