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Four Areas of Personal Growth

Personal growth is the strategic process of mining your best version. (read about personal growth) The four areas that require intentional effort to truly achieve your best version are;

  1. Competency

  2. Relationship

  3. Character

  4. Awareness

I. Competency

Long time ago, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job at a timber mill. The woodcutter was determined to do his best as he was very proud of his strength. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he would work.

The first day, the woodcutter felled 18 trees. The boss was pleased and congratulated the woodcutter and encouraged him to continue the good work

Motivated by the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring down 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only manage 10 trees. Day after day, he finished with fewer trees.

The woodcutter was worried and thought to himself whether he was losing his strength. He went to the boss with a heavy heart and apologized, saying that he thinks he has lost his strength and he would not be able to deliver his best and he could not understand what was going on, why the sudden drain of strength.

After a small chat with him about his health, his daily practices, his method of woodcutting, the boss asked him “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?”.

The woodcutter was surprised at this question, he felt offended at the question and he replied sternly and with pride, “Sharpen the axe? I have not wasted any time like that, I am focused only on cutting trees”

Competency Equation

Competence is the ability to do something effectively, efficiently and expertly; where Efficiently means with optimal use of resources, Effectively means getting the desired result repeatedly and Expertly means having your uniqueness displayed

Whatever your craft, your talent, or your ability is today, it can definitely get better when you intentionally grow your knowledge through learning, and growing your skill with practice. Getting better at one's craft is the general characteristic of a competent person and they follow this equation;

Competency = Knowledge + (Skill + Talent)^PRACTICE + Context

They gain more Knowledge in the area in which they want to be competent, they practice their skill with discipline and possibly benefit from having a natural talent in it. And finally contextualize their abilities to match the reality they are serving in.

Competency is the most visible and tangible area of personal growth. It gives you results much faster than other areas. Competency accelerates your success. Most people I have met are very mindful of growing their competency, however on the flip side, most people I have met do not think so much about the other areas of growth, and they feel it will automatically happen when they work on their competency. Which is not true!

Sustainable growth is never automatic, it is intentional and disciplined, just like you have to be intentional and disciplined in gaining knowledge and developing a new skill, so should you treat the other areas of growth.

II. Relationship

It is a fact that to succeed in life, we need people. It is difficult to achieve meaningful success without others, definitely no one can be significant without others. Success is what I do for myself and significance is what I do for others' success.

How are you growing your relationships? Growing your connecting abilities to match the context of your life gives great returns; and can avoid the many heartaches and headaches that can be traced back to not growing your connecting abilities.

We take relationships with people for granted, that is, we feel, it would automatically grow, by just talking. Yes, talking is a big part of connecting with others, so is silence! Since no context in life is sterile from people, meaning, in any context you have the opportunity to have a better impact by growing your relationship with the people.

Many people struggle so much at work, home and socially because their connecting ability with others does not evolve with their life context, which is an outcome of not intentionally growing the relationship component of personal growth.

Relationship Killers

A star screwdriver is required to unscrew a star screw, so it is for relationships. You need to change and improve your connecting abilities to match the desired outcome. It can be your parents, your spouse, your siblings, your boss, your friends , your neighbor, it doesn't matter which relationship, each relationship can be nourished if we take the time to work on minimizing the ‘relationship killers’ .

1. Judgments, Assumption & Interpretation (JAI)

Once when I was on the call with my mother, my son was having his dinner next to me. He was stuffing his mouth with noodles, and in between my conversation with my mother, I warn my son of choking.

My mother having heard my conversation with my son, strongly warned me about my son’s “attention grabbing behavior’ and sternly told me to better step up my parenting and deal with the behaviour immediately or else it will be a problem for him growing up.

After listening patiently to what my mother had to say, I responded saying my son may or may not have 'attention grabbing' behavioral problem, I will definitely keep an eye out for it. But in this specific circumstance of eating the noodles, I can guarantee you that he is imitating one of his favorite character Po, from the Kung Fu Panda movies, who loves to stuff his mouth to the maximum while eat dumpling or noodles.

Many of our struggles in life at work and home comes from the fact that we wear our judgements, assumptions and interpretation on our shelves. Stuck in a time period and not having grown in the way we experience people and build meaningful relationships with other. The simplest sentence, Please help me understand you better? can diffuse an intense situation and help in understanding what the other person actually means, but unfortunately in most situations we assume and judge and shout out our point of view.

The need to fit others in our world view, because we feel our worldview is right and the lack of understanding what the other person actually meant but judging, assuming and interpreting, is at the heart of many relationship dramas. Judgments, Interpretations and Assumptions function independently, and in tandem as relationship killers.

2. Offering Solutions & Outpacing

We like solutions to our problems being served up on a platter, but ironically, offering unwarranted solutions to a stated dilemma is indeed a relationship killer . While you might think you’re being helpful, it could be that the other person just wants to be heard and validated in their experience. By immediately offering solutions, you’re not only telling them to move on, you are also implying they are not mature or intelligent enough to make the right decisions on their own.

Slightly different, yet in the same vicinity of offering a solution is outpacing, that is the need to share about what happened to you by saying “If you think that’s bad, wait until you hear what happened to me!”. Even though at times it comes from a place to encourage or even to reassure that there is a solution. In reality that’s not a response anyone wants to hear when they’re venting, expressing, or sharing concerns, feelings, and experiences. ‘I got it worse, or I got it better’ may come from genuine desire to find common ground, but when used prematurely without permission, the sharing sounds like a competition, and it definitely is a Relationship killer.

While your wisdom might be bright and well-earned, reserving your experiences, opinions and allowing them space to consider their own experience they are going through is a much more meaningful way of building a relationship.

3. Apathy & Humor

Apathy is the lack of interest in a person's story, which is definitely a relationship killer, we all know that person, who doesn't care. A person can express apathy by diverting or utilizing logic in response to someone’s concerns, but it can be invalidating. This might make the other person less likely to reach out again the next time they want to express themselves.

They are polar opposite in expression but many of the time the expression of apathy can lead to an unsavory humor that can kill a relationship. I particularly had to grow in this relationship area. Making light of things can be incredibly helpful at the right time. But laughing off something important or serious someone shared with you can make them feel disrespected and undervalued. Know your audience before deploying humor as a means of warm reception.

4. Moral High Throne

Every day, an old lady would travel to a nearby town from her village to trade. One day, a town shopkeeper asked her to sell a pound of rich village butter to him. As requested, the old woman looked for the finest butter she could find in her village. On her next visit to town, she brought the butter to the shopkeeper and sold it to him.

After the women left the shop, the shopkeeper weighed the butter to see if he got what he had paid for. The butter was a few ounces less than a pound.

The angry shopkeeper decided to take the matter to the court. The old lady was questioned for her doings. Perhaps the scale she used for measurement wasn’t accurate.

The old lady claimed to have no instrument for the measurement of the butter. She said- “I have no measuring instrument. I have been buying a pound of loaf of bread from the shopkeeper regularly. I put the loaf of bread on the scale and gave him the same weight in butter.”

Many times we sit on our Moral High Throne, not seeing that we are the problem. Our beliefs about others and conflict go hand-in-hand. when you start to label things as good or bad, you’re at high risk of conflicting with others who have made life choices that are different from yours.

Your opinions are valid but remember they are opinions, just like everyone else has an opinion. When people sit on the moral high throne and interact with others, they are simply trying to impart their beliefs onto others, because they feel they are better and others are not as evolved as them.

Playing the all-knowing moral sage is definitely a relationship killer. When people open up, the last thing they’re looking for is to be shamed for a decision they made or experience they had. Listening with the belief that you have a better moral standing directly impacts your behavior and responses to others. Come down from your moral high throne and find common ground to build meaningful relationships.

5. Journalist

The Nation wants to know!!! Has become a slogan of humor and mockery. Sometimes speaking to people feels like this, even if their intention is to understand all facts, it becomes daunting answering their questions, when all you want is to be heard and validated. Then there are people whose intention behind getting all the information is not for understanding, but for their self gratification that ‘I know everything about you’, we call them noisy. And lastly the worst kind of intention is the desire to know it all so as to spread it all, that is gossiping.

Responding to authentic expression with a barrage of questions will make someone feel unseen, unheard, and unwilling to speak up again whatever your intentions are. Honesty is meant for reflection and validation, not for questioning. Even though some questioning is reasonable and can be validating, be mindful of the amount and the quality of questions you ask. The intention should always be to listen and understand.

III. Character

Character is Who you are on the inside, our true self, which we ourselves may not even be completely aware of. In the story The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, the boy is portrayed as a unruly and naughty boy, but one evening when he saw the the dam created on the river bed to stop the sea from flooding the town had a crack in it, he stayed over night in the freezing cold to hold the crack down till some people had come the next morning in search of him.

The little crack in a dam unattended is critical in the long run, likewise our minor character cracks over time under the right stress environment will bring out the major character flaw, which might lead to broken relationships, loss of career, social isolation, Disrespect, fall from grace, imprisonment, etc.

Character Cracks

It is important to work on your character cracks when the stakes are lower, like when you are starting out in your life and not wait till the stakes are higher, like becoming more visible and successful. The reason many leaders and high profile people collapse at the peak of their influence is because of the unattended minor character cracks. Let's take a look at some of the character cracks that go on to become major character flaws.

1. Dishonesty

I think the most common argument about dishonesty is around ‘White lies' because it is not harming anyone. But the problem is not in the ‘White lie” but when the “ White Lie” becomes your ‘get out of jail’ free card

When I was younger, I remember, overhearing a telephone conversation my father was having with a family friend. I heard my father asking the person on the other side, ‘when will you reach here?’ and once the phone was cut, I heard my father telling my mother, ‘he would be here in 10 minutes’, they immediately smiled and together exclaimed that he might not have even got out of his house. Sure enough he only arrived 30 minutes later, which is about the time required to come from his house to my house.

Now I do not know the truth, whether he was on his way and met with some unexpected situation, which is justifiable, but I have observed him doing the same on many other occasions. Now what as happens is that the white lie of his time keeping will overtime become a character stamp by others, and eventually get transposed into the overall reliability of the person. When in a high stakes situation, he would unconsciously resort to ‘white lie’ to get out, which may be perceived as a lie by others, leading to a reputation that this man is not trustworthy.

2. Pride

Gorelal was a famous sculptor. His sculptures looked like real ones. One day, he saw a dream that after fifteen days, the demon of death would come to take him. Gorelal prepared nine statues of himself and on the fifteenth day, when the demon of death was to come, he took his place among the statues.

The demon could not recognize him and was astonished to see ten Gorelals instead of one. He rushed back to the God of death and told the matter. The God of death got annoyed and set out to take Gorelal himself.

Gorelal was alert and stood motionless. The God of Death initially got perplexed. But he thought for a moment, and then he said, “Gorelal these sculptures would have been perfect but for one mistake”, Gorelal could not tolerate the fault finding in his work. He came out and asked, “Where is the fault ?” God of death caught him and said, ‘‘Here’, you are!”

The dilemma is not whether one should have pride or not, but how much pride is healthy pride? I believe pride is a healthy human trait that bolster self confidence, motivation and self worth. I constantly remind people I help to love oneself, be kind with oneself and be your own cheerleader.

I practice what I preach by at times bragging about my competency in the art of helping people to my wife, and she gives me that look, you megalomaniac!!! I respond with a smile to tell her that she doesn't praise me enough, and the world has yet to recognize me, so it is up to me to be my own cheerleader.

However if I am not mindful and practice restraint, the same harmless and playful bragging has the potency to become an unhealthy pride, especially when it is marred in comparison of one’s exaggerated accomplishments and disregard for others' achievements.

Yes you have to have pride in your craft, your abilities, who you are and what you are contributing to the world. Pride is a subtle character, sometimes even masked as humility. Pride is a dual edge sword with a harmless rubber tip on one end and a destructive, razor-sharp blade on the other. When pride is untamed, with time it grows into a hubristic pride that blinds and distances you from others and reality. Then guess what people will say about you, I always knew he/she was always full of it.

3. Jealousy

Arun, a young boy sitting sadly at the foot of his bed facing the big mirror on the dressing cabinet door suddenly got startled at the mirror asking him ‘why do you look so sad today?" Once the boy settled down from the initial shock and disbelief, Arun started a conversation with the mirror, the boy said with irritation that it's all because of Joe, his best friend. Once again, he got higher marks than I did in the exams. No matter how hard I try, he is always ahead of me. I don't understand why I am always lagging behind."

With a slight grin, the mirror replied, I think you are jealous of Joe. Arun instantaneously revolted back saying an emphatic NO, Joe is my friend. So the mirror said, let us find out by looking at some situation and your feelings associated with it. The boy agreed and the mirror continued

  • When Joe outshines you, you don't like it.

  • When people praise him, you cannot tolerate it.

  • When he suffers a setback, you feel happy.

  • In fact, you even wish for more loss to happen.

  • Whatever he does, you feel compelled to do it better.

  • You keep seeing negative qualities in him, and feel a sense of dislike towards him.

  • You feel like telling others about his negatives.

Arun was stunned with what he had just heard. Everything that the mirror had said was true. The gloomy face, the resentment and irritation are all a result of jealousy. Many times, the unhappiness in our life is not because of what is missing, rather what others have. Isn't that sad.

This character crack of jealousy controls your feelings towards yourself and others, it makes you feel lesser even when you are more, in effect making it difficult to be present in your own life. When jealousy is left unchecked, it becomes a force of nature to be reckoned with, making you do dangerous and unbecoming things. It becomes an addiction and an obsession that drives your important decisions.

4. Greed

Long time ago, there once ruled a King in Phrygia, who was very rich, had a beautiful castle, a wonderful family and everything he needed to live an extremely comfortable life. But still he was not satisfied with what he had. He was constantly thinking of how he could have more.

It so happens, one day The King saw that a god named Silenus was drunk and passed out in his Royal Garden. The king immediately knew this was a good opportunity to find favour in the eyes of Gods, Then he could ask for a reward. So he tended to him and let him rest in his palace.

Upon seeing the kind gesture of the king toward his good friend Silenus, Dionysus, God of grape-harvesting decided to reward the king with a wish.

Dionysus asked the king to wish for something he desired, but the king couldn't think of anything because he had it all, but he still wanted more, so the king said, “I wish everything I touch turns to Gold”. Reluctantly Dionysus granted the wish.

King Midas was overjoyed as he went about the whole day touching everything in his palace and turning it to gold, the more he touched, the more he was leaping with joy, until he was hungry and tried to eat an apple. Alas! The apple had turned to gold.

The statement “Greed is Good” was widely popularized with the movie ‘Wall Street” . Greed is very subtle behaviour in daily transactions for most people, for most part. It is not easy to differentiate between Greed and Need. In many contexts, one man needs maybe another man luxury. The eternal war between Ought, Want & Need is an ever present individual struggle at every stage of life. For many greed sows its seeds in the form of unmet needs, that later, when not tamed becomes an uncontrollable urge to have more and more!

When these little weeds of greed are not weeded out early on while racing to quench your needs and becoming successful, overtime the stakes keep getting higher, finally greed blinds your decision to create a ‘Midas Touch of Gold’ in life.

5. Lust for Power

I recently experienced this with a person I respected dearly, and considered him like big brother to our family, but as we traveled with him longer, we slowly started observing the cracks in his approach to power, and slowly we recognized that his poised nature, humility and soft spokenness came not from a place of service, but from a place of lust for power. It had consumed him, and in the center of our family struggles, he threw us under the bus because we did not align with his climb to power. To this day I am confident many people may never realize his lust for power, but he will continue to operate in the shadows to acquire more power.

It was the rudest awakening for me personally, even though you hear about these things, and you try to keep your guard up to protect yourself, invariably we are social animals willing to be vulnerable to have meaningful fellowship at the expense of getting hurt.

This is common plot device in the political thriller movies, novels, and even if we closely observe national politics you can see kings and kingmakers, and I believe, the lust for power is more hidden in ‘king makers’ than kings. Lust for power can be considered an extension of Greed, but I wanted to make a special note here that Greed is more tangible, like money or land or something else, but Lust for Power is not that easily visible and at times, it takes a very long time to manifest into an obsession and problem. So be mindful of your why.

IV. Awareness

There is a wonderful story about Lord Ganesha and his brother Karthikeya. One day the two brothers decide to race around the world three times and whoever wins gets bragging rights. Karthikeya got onto his peacock and flew the peacock with such grace and velocity! He flew around the world crossing the continents, seas and the frozen poles, once, twice and just as he was retuning from his third trip around the world, Lord Ganesha, who was just watching his brother all this while, quickly went to his parents and walked around them in circles three times, just as his brother landed the peacock and he declared himself the winner!

Both Karthikeya and his parents didn't understand what happened and demanded an explanation from Lord Ganesha, for which he replied saying “Oh brother, You went around THE world, but for me my parents are my world so I went around MY world.”

1. Awareness of Worlds

Awareness is the perception of a situation, the more aware we are of ourselves and the world around us, the better we can leverage it to our advantage. In this witty story, the element of awareness is evident, and many times it is our lack of self awareness that limits our impact on the world. Changing situations bring unexpected surprises that often trigger strong emotions, and it is a scientific fact that human beings don't actually react to reality rather their perceived understanding and awareness of reality.

We need to get awareness of the world that we live in. We are many times unable to differentiate between ‘The World and My World”. Building an awareness to understand that difference is key to growth. Many times we take it for granted that ‘The World’ is right and chase it, all the while feeling like something is missing. That feeling of incompleteness or conflict or struggle is your ‘My World’ trying to assert itself over ‘The World’. Celebration of life is when you are able to design a life around ‘My World’ and not ‘The World’

2. Awareness of Shadows

Human beings are ‘meaning making machines’ and in the allegory of Plato’s Cave this fact of human beings is well illustrated. The premise is that in a Cave, there are three humans prisoned from birth looking onto the inner wall of the cave, where they are unable to turn their heads to the opening of the cave. There is a fire between the prisoner and the mouth of the cave. Occasionally the prisoners can see the shadows on the wall of the inner cave and from these shadows they make meaning of the world.

One prisoner is set free and he gets to venture out of the cave. Immediately he realizes everything that he has understood so far about the world was not true. Likewise, in reality, we are constantly making meaning of the shadows of the world around us, and from these shadows we make up our internal schema, or worldview, based on which we interact with the world. Good or bad!

It is our internal schema or world view that needs addressing and modifying to reach our true self and our best version. By growing awareness about yourself, you learn more about who you are, and what your potential is and what can serve you better in achieving that potential and you will be able to better understand what is holding you back. (read about growth mindsets)

For each personal growth area, there is an associated worldview, or belief system or internal schema that restricts and limits you in seeing the true self or the true world. Only by taking intentional effort to be present in your life, and constantly understanding yourself, can you actually push away the boulder that is hindering your journey to your best version.

For example, if your belief is “I am better than others, so I can do a better job”, then overtime you build a character of ‘Lust for Power’ and ‘Moral High Tower' in your relationship with others. You might even keep growing your competency to prove that you are better. Sadly your success will crumble under the weight of your flawed belief system. However when you reframe that internal schema to ’I am ALSO capable of doing a good job’ your approach to power, to people, competency and situation will positively change to push you even further from success to significance.

Self awareness if the key that holds everything together, it's very simple, if you are not aware of your 'white lies', then you can never change it. Now imagine you realized that you have a white lies behavior problem, and you take effort to work on it. In peacetime, you might actually make many strides, but in war time, when you are under stress, when you are up against it, you might revert to 'white lies' to save yourself, this happens because, the worldview associated to white lie has not been addressed or it has not evolved along with your behavior change.

So take measures to gain more understanding about yourself, your feelings, your behavior and your thoughts by being mindful about your experiences in life. And when you become one with your true self, you transcend into a state of spirituality, were you know yourself, know the world, and know your place in the world, thus becoming your best version to be of value and joy to the world.

Start Your Growth Journey Today

If you are wondering how to start and where to start, it is simple, ask yourself these four questions

  • How can I grow my Competency so I can achieve my desired future?

  • How can I grow my Character, so I can sustain my desired future?

  • How can I grow my Relationship, so I can celebrate with others my desired future?

  • How can I grow my Awareness, so I better understand my desired future?

And each answer, when truly answered will give you an idea or action to get started on the growth journey.

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