“That’s an issue I’m working on.”
“I’m a work in progress.”
“I do a lot of work on myself.”
Sometimes these are statements of responsibility. Sometimes they’re excuses. How do you tell the difference?
Popularity of any anything tends to dilute. I’m reminded of the Devil Wears Prada Scene where we’re taught how trends from high fashion trickle down into the mainstream over time. Or how the once sophisticated idea that “perception is reality,” originally taught by the Buddha 2500 years ago is oversimplified today in marketing, and more recently in politics with the dubious addition to our lexicon, “alternative fact.”
Since the human potential movement in the 1950s, personal growth has gained more and more popularity, observable by the widening of self-help sections in bookstores; in fact, there are now entire stores dedicated to the genre. But as with anything, there are those who are serious, and those who adopt “working on themselves” as a trendy self-image without really doing the work.
How can you tell the difference? Might you not be taking as much responsibility as you think? Here are five distinctions that can help.
Five Ways To Recognize Serious Inner Work
- A serious person is able to doubt they’re doing everything they can to change, and always looks for new perspectives.
- An unserious person defends the belief that they’re working on themselves and the idea they’re taking all the responsibility they can (which no one can really know).
Serious people know real change is difficult and want the support of anything and everything that will help. They know wisdom can come from anywhere at any time and orient toward Life as a whole as their teacher in this way. They take responsibility for listening to everything. Unserious people mired in victimhood carefully select who and what they’ll listen to avoid real change while they pretend to be working on themselves.
- A serious person is emotionally passionate, upset, and remorseful when they exhibit a pattern they’re trying to change.
- An unserious person is emotionally flat and doesn’t feel the impact of their actions when they exhibit a pattern they claim they’re trying to change.
When a person serious about their own growth exhibits a pattern they want to change, they’re upset about it. “Crap, I did it again!” This shows up as disappointment and frustration with themselves. They don’t immediately go to self-acceptance because in responsibility they’re feeling the impact they have on themselves and others.
An unserious person uses self-acceptance to not take responsibility and tries to get other people to “accept them the way they are” even though they’ve already said they didn’t want to be that way. Serious people want compassion for why the issue is there in context, but they don’t accept their own behavior or expect anyone else to. They accept the consequences of their actions whereas unserious people play victim to consequences and try to wriggle out of them.
- A serious person has their issue on their mind constantly so it doesn’t take them long to see when they’re caught in a pattern and to own it, even if they don’t see it right away.
- An unserious person isn’t actively working on themselves even though they say they are, and makes excuses, blames others, and often projects their issues onto others indefinitely.
Serious people respect the immense capacity we all have to lie to ourselves and are hungry to discover blind spots, no matter how painful they may be. Unserious people think they know themselves more than they do and don’t have the strength to bear looking at their own shadows.
- Serious people get help from authorities they acknowledge are more intelligent, skilled, and/or aware than they are because they know how easy it is to fool themselves and their peers.
- Unserious people don’t get help from external authorities because they’re not truly interested in discovering their blind spots and are threatened by the idea that someone else could be more intelligent, skilled and/or aware than they are.
Is it true you can change yourself? Yes, up to a point. It’s also true that you can live with blind spots forever if you don’t sometimes get help from an authority figure you can’t bullshit and/or isn’t afraid to tell you the truth.
It’s very common for people who pretend they’re change-oriented to never hire an authority to help them. I’ve also worked with many people who hire me to support their personal growth self-image and remain uncoachable for years. Having a coach, after all, has become a fashionable thing, and you don’t have to be serious to have one.
- Serious people take observable actions to counter their old patterns and challenge themselves.
- Unserious people talk about changing but don’t walk their talk.
Actions speak louder than words. Unserious people miss opportunities to challenge themselves while serious people seize them. Serious people see their lives as an ongoing experiment where they can test new principles and ways of being. Unserious people want to stay comfortable more than anything else and don’t take risks with new behaviors.
Responsibility Applied: What do you do with this?
If you’re a manager working with an employee who isn’t changing, ask yourself how serious they are. Question their personal responsibility. It’s quite common for people to not even realize they’re not serious. Calling someone on their lack of responsibility does either of two things: 1) they give up, revealing how unserious they were all along or 2) they find a new, productive commitment. Shake the fence and find out on which side they land. Developing people, or trying to develop yourself, when the commitment is unclear, is a waste of time and energy.
If you’re engaged in your own growth, ask yourself how serious you are. Remember only an unserious person doesn’t have room to doubt their seriousness. Ask people close to you for their honest reflection on this subject. This takes real courage and responsibility.
Are you looking for a group of leaders and managers who are serious about their growth? That’s what the Clear and Open Community is all about. Learn more about becoming a member. Want to start for a dollar? Email me about how serious you are and we’ll see.