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  • Writer's pictureH.D. Lee

What is Personal Development?

A look at personal development inside and out


“I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away”


~ Abraham Maslow


Personal development: what do these two words mean to you? Some people have no idea what it is and do not care, while others invest enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources in it.


Among everything I might write about related to personal development, I chose to take a step back and write about what it actually is because I believe if you are given a good overview, then your awareness will expand. An expanding awareness is key to navigating your journey of personal development.



Personal Development on the Inside


Personal development is your evolving relationship with your inner world.

This evolving relationship is a journey that takes place within the vastness of who you are. While you may not be conscious of it, this journey is both epic and poetic. It is a story narrated by the indelible marks left by your past joys and sorrows, and it is continuously unfolding through the drama (or lack thereof) of your day-to-day life. The yet-to-be told parts of the story take cue from your evolving fears, hopes and dreams, giving direction and meaning to the uncharted course of your life.


Emotions, thoughts, sensations, intuitions, impulses, desires, visions and imaginations are the elemental actors with whom you interact in this journey-story. These fundamental forces of your inner life collide and coalesce in a dance to breath life to your aims, motivations, deliberations, decisions, affirmations, planning, and actions. Personal development is the sum total of your relationship with your inner life and unfolds as a journey-story.


To develop personally by recognizing the dynamics as described above means you are consciously involved in your own inner evolution, choosing the direction toward which it is going, and accepting, coordinating, integrating, as well as synthesizing the various psychological forces into a unified and harmonious whole at the service of something greater than your limited self.



Personal Development on the Outside


Personal development, on the other hand, has a very tangible and visible aspect. This is the journey of growing up and becoming an adult: learning the ways of the world through schooling, relationships, family, and work; seeking material success, acceptance and esteem. Age and life experience guarantee not the success of this journey for it is the volume and intensity of what you pour into it that makes the personal development happen or not.


The tangible and visible aspect of this journey “on the outside”, which is for all to see, is accompanied by the enduring qualities developed as a result of your valor (or lack thereof) and lessons learned and applied. For example: have you mastered the knowledge and skills of your profession? What is your personal, rather than professional, reputation in your chosen field of work beyond your accolades and pedigrees? Do you have friends and relationships that have endured the test of time? Who are you in the most authentic sense possible among your friends and family? How are you as a husband, wife, father, mother, son, or daughter? Your measurable accomplishments in the material world and your less measurable but eminently knowable personal qualities are sign posts for how far along you have come in your development on the outside.


To develop personally by recognizing the dynamics as described above means you are consciously involved in your own evolution in the material dimension, actively pursuing measurable success while defining who you are through the small and big choices you make about your professional, financial, familial, and social life.



Purpose & Your Higher Nature


Your personal development journey-story is guided by purpose which emerges from either your higher or lower nature. Purpose that originate from your higher nature elevate and expand your consciousness. In such a state, and supported by such a purpose, you are more able to deal constructively with the imperfections within and around you. You are more optimistic, hopeful, and resilient. You are less cynical, dogmatic, and controlling toward your self and others.


One of the results of this journey led by a higher purpose is the stabilized perception that there is no separation between your self and that of others’. With persistent practice, you eventually become able to perceive and experience once again all life on the planet as one with who you are. The source and basis of this perception is universal love, compassion, altruism, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness embodied and practiced. These qualities, or energies, are availed to you as you see more fully and clearly into your inner world. Only then are you able to face the obstacles that have obscured the source from which these life giving forces come.


Purpose that bring to light your higher nature are more demanding of you. It brings about challenging circumstances so that you may develop the skills to direct your field of inner perception to your shadow areas as well as the light within. It wants you to become aware of what you have been previously unaware and begin to understand how deeply you are influenced by, and connected to, humanity’s collective history, cultures, societies, and the wider web of life. It calls you to look into the eyes of humanity’s collective trauma as well as our universal potential for good. This profound journey is capable of awakening an equally profound will for the health and wholeness of all.



Purpose & Your Lower Nature


Purpose that is derived from, and guided by, your lower nature leads you to rigidify and narrow your consciousness. The hallmark of this state of awareness and mode of being are characterized by a sense of separation and purposelessness. Feeling alone and recognizing no higher purpose from a Higher Source, something within you, let’s call it “ego”, proceeds to put in place a purpose of its choosing. By following ego’s purpose, you feel a sense of existential angst, a profound lack in general and a lack of self-worth in particular. Furthermore, there is a general fear that resembles a dark and bottomless abyss which is persistent as you allow your ego to take charge. The temptations of lust, anger, greed, pride, envy penetrate your psyche easily, and you involuntarily resort to attack and defense, violent communication, and control and power in relationships at all costs.


Life itself will show you both directly and indirectly the ways by which you have chosen to source your purpose. As a result of the purpose you (or the false you) chooses, your journey-story and the ripple effect you will have on others will indeed be night and day.



Conflict of Purpose


Is it possible that purpose from your higher nature may conflict with one that is driven by your lower nature? Yes, this happens all the time. Personal development is also the continuous checking within yourself to see by which purpose are you guided at the present moment. The continuous presentation of such “crossroads” are opportunities for us to become more awake and aligned to what we know in our hearts to be right so that the dormant courage within may erupt into our lives in a million different colors, allowing us to paint a vision with ever more bold brushstrokes.



The Various Facets of Personal Development


There are many models and maps for how we may develop as human beings. Each one has something valuable to offer. My interests and research in personal development as well as transpersonal psychology have led me to look at the works of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Roberto Assagioli, Bill Plotkin, Ken Wilber, Anthony Robbins, Hillevi Ruumet, and Erik Erikson.


All in all, my current awareness on personal development has led me to identify the following aspects as worthy of my time, effort and attention:

  • Cultivate your relationship with your truths: the good, the bad, and the ugly

  • Develop the different aspects of your persona: refuse to be a one-dimensional person who can be easily categorized by others

  • Develop your communication and conflict resolution skills

  • Take care of your body: develop and strengthen your vitality, health, fitness

  • Strive for the material things without being attached to it

  • Become knowledgeable of your inner world

  • Strive for inner power: the power to influence your self and others

  • Identify your archetypal role in the world: warrior, teacher, healer, fool, etc.

  • Cultivate your sexuality: a sexuality that is free, unabashed, life-giving

  • Cultivate your spirituality: this is your relationship to the Universe and the Mystery of Life

  • Cultivate your relationships: with diverse peoples and with your family, friends, and community.

  • Source your purpose from your higher nature

  • Cultivate your relationship with mother nature

  • Cultivate your relationship with silence and solitude

  • Cultivate your relationship with beauty, both superficial and deep

  • Cultivate your relationship with the Truth with a capital “T”: these are the laws of life, of nature, and of the universe, and the source from which these truths originate.

  • Explore the question of death

  • Explore the question of evil in the world and within you

Each of the above topics merit the reading of several books in order to get into it. Experience through embracing of your life is always the best teacher though. Remember this always for it will carry you a long way.


Personal development is like a marathon in the sense that it does not seem to end while you are in it. Indeed, while there are milestones to be crossed and celebrated, personal development is a never-ending journey. The good news is you do not have to finish the race in order to reap its benefits. You can see encouraging progress in just months. Of course, the longer you stick with it, the more you will be amazed by just what personal development can do for you and your life.


I’d like to give special thanks to my friend Alejandro Negrete, and my teachers Roberto Assagioli, Dorothy Firman, Richard Verboomen, and Bill Plotkin for their presence while I was writing this article.



Photo credits:

Jimmy Chin (of free solo climber Alex Honnold on the side of a cliff)

Qinghill (of the plant growth coming out of a tree stump)

Greg Rosenke (of flying eagle in the sky)

Benjamin Farren (of El Capitan in Yosemite national park USA)

Eyes & Ears Short Film (of stone carver Anna Rubincam)

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