“It is not too uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle

How do you become your best self? How do you live your best life? How do you find success, happiness, meaning, and fulfillment in your life? If you’re like many people, you spend a lot of time searching for the answers outside of yourself.

If you look in the self-help section of a bookstore, you will see thousands of books for sale. Likewise, if you go online and look for information regarding self-help and personal development, you will see thousands of websites offering up information about how to better yourself. It seems many of us have a fascination and curiosity about personal development (I do!). There is an innate drive within all of us to improve ourselves and to live better lives.

With all of the material out there about self-improvement in the world and the subsequent sales from it–and a lot of it is free on the internet!–because of the amount of information we ingest daily, one would hope that war would be eradicated, poverty would cease to exist, parental alienation would be a distant memory, divorce rates would decrease, everyone would have lessened their fears, and depression, anxiety, and obesity would be a problem that used to occur but no longer does. But here’s the thing: First, people have to be open to change. Second, while it is wonderful to have all of the personal development material readily available, there is a step between reading and digesting it, and then actually implementing it in our lives. That missing step is action.

“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Personal development is a process and like all processes, it takes time. And, it takes action. It is one thing to have knowledge about personal development, it is another to act on it or to evolve because of it.

I also believe that we are all doing the best we can in any given moment. If we know better, we can do better, but many people do not actively pursue personal development. Many people are happy with where they are in life and see no reason to change. Or, they are afraid of what change will bring to their lives. And that’s okay; that is part of their process. They may not want to be involved in self-improvement. I honor and respect their way of life.

“Whatever you want is permitted as long as you don’t hurt another physically, spiritually, or emotionally.” ~Don Nenninger

Personal development can be a daunting task. If your ego has anything to say about it, self-improvement would be one of the last things on your list! It’s got a lot to protect there! If you change, some people may not like you anymore. If you change you risk rejection, ridicule, being different, the break-up of a partnership, the loss of a job or a career change, the loss of a life as you knew it, a major life change, the realization that you aren’t perfect or that you made a “mistake.” Whatever story you’ve been telling yourself will need to be altered to fit the new beliefs and thoughts. Whoa! That’s a lot going on there! A potential loss of love, of support, of certainty, of actually owning your part in the process…No wonder people don’t want to change–that doesn’t sound so great when you think about it! But when the pain of not changing begins to gnaw away on your spirit, people are more open to begin or restart their journey then.

school of lifeWhen I was a young adult, I would purchase self-help books thinking that once I read them, I would be different and that some of the pain I was carrying around would be lessened. More often than not, I was not changed by the books. I would read, but I was not at a place in my life where I could take the words from the pages and implement them into my life. I was still blaming others for my pain, namely my parents, and I was not ready to accept that I was the one who was going to have to rescue and heal me–no one else. I did not yet then realize that when we look at life as a victim, we will be forever standing on the threshold of real and lasting happiness. Happiness occurs when you accept that you are 100% responsible for your life. No one makes you happy (no one makes you anything–angry, sad, frustrated–but that’s another article!)–you do! You–and only you–are responsible for your decision to be happy.

Some of my best teachers in the School of Life were the incredible challenges I’ve been through. Adoption, the death of a mother at an early age, the deception and betrayal of a spouse, the death of a sibling at an age where he was just starting out (his first son was born a month after his passing; his death occurred on his baby shower date), parental alienation, abuse–these were life-changers! I could, at any point, have used them as excuses to check out of life. I could have been a victim. I choose not to be. These instances have made me a better human being–a better wife (to the love of my life), a better parent and co-parent, a better family member, a better friend, a better author and coach. They didn’t stop me–they propelled me forward into an amazing life because I took the opportunities to grow and to learn. You can too! If you are going through a hard time, think of it as a class in the School of Life or a bend in the road of personal development. It doesn’t have to be a detour–it can propel you forward in innumerable ways if you stop the struggle and suffering, and use it as a learning opportunity.

When I was in the midst of a separation from my first husband, I went into a store that had rocks for sale with imprinted messages on them (okay, bear with me. I know that sounds really lame!). You know the kind, the ones that say “gratitude,” “love,” and “contentment” on them? I was having a hard time deciding which one to get, so my father chose one that said “trust” on it. I look at that rock each night before I go to bed. It was such a great choice for me in that moment–and it still is. And now, I pass that on to you. TRUST. Trust that life will be good to you no matter what. Trust that whatever happens to you in life, happens for a reason.

Bring your focus onto the present moment and choose happiness. Choose to focus on the good. Trust that life is good.

These challenges you have been through or are going through are just classes in life–if you pass one, you get to progress on to the next (I heard you sigh, didn’t I? Or was that a groan?). Only this time, it will be a little easier because of the lessons you’ll be taking with you, but only if you are open to learning from each opportunity life gives to you. Personal development is the School of Life. We never actually “graduate,” but we progress from class to class, taking with us important lessons. We can share these lessons, we can fight them, we can stagnate or become downtrodden, or we can glide right through them–that’s our choice.

To embark on the journey of personal development–of becoming a fully actualized person–is to become committed to your growth–even though it can be challenging–and recognizing that you are 100% responsible for yourself. You are important, you are valuable, and you are unique. You have certain gifts to give to the world and they cannot be offered when you exist in pain or stay stuck where you are in life. You aren’t a victim. You are an amazing human being.

You are the hero of your life! You are the hero the world (and your world) has been waiting for!

self-improvement and successNow that I’ve answered the question of “Are we there yet?” (you’re never there) it’s time to answer the next question: ”How do you cruise along the long and winding road of personal development?” The answer: You make the choice whether to have a nice trip or a not so nice trip. It’s as simple as that–it is as hard or as easy as you make it. Choose to view life as a personal development school with each new challenge as a learning opportunity. You can stay stuck in the grade level, or you can move on to the next. Some are easier than others. Choose to visualize personal development as a nautilus shell, with each new stage of growth a continuation of knowledge, of building upon our centers. The nautilus builds new chambers as it grows in a spiral pattern, growing ever outward. Your growth is like the nautilus shell–ever outward and expanding.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” ~Thomas Edison

You can improve your life–and the lives of those around you–by continuing along and committing to the path of personal development. Life is short, way too short to be sitting on the sidelines. If you are stuck and are committed to a path of personal development, you would be a great candidate for life coaching. If you’d like to find out more, please contact me so we can discuss how to take your life to the next level–and beyond!

Author's Bio: 

Nicole Nenninger, PsyM, is a life coach and author. She and her husband, Don Nenninger, live in New York and work together in their private practice; counseling and coaching clients from all over the world. Nicole is the author of "Transforming Divorce--How to Get Back on Track and Create a Life You Love," "The Transforming Divorce Workbook," and the co-author of "Open to Love--The Secrets of Loving Relationships."