A paintbrush dripping orange paint.

It’s Time for the Great Self Improvement Reset

The personal growth movement could be so much more.

The room was dim. The lamp on my desk, emitting a yellow hue, didn’t quite have the strength to banish the shadows. The air was hot. The air was always hot. I had a wall unit for AC located in the kitchen. Nowhere near my room. When it was on, little chunks of dirt and debris would blow onto the nearby table. It was the life of a college student.

I laid on my stomach, mindlessly dawdling my legs back and forth. The bed I rested on, my bed, was supported by a cheap metal frame. The entire structure moved whenever I did. It squeaked and rocked with each adjustment. The frame provided no central support, so the mattress sagged in the middle. Gravity pulled it closer to the Earth each day.

On this particular evening, a book splayed open before me. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. A classic. Now look closely. What you are witnessing is the early stages of my personal growth journey.


Oof, that hurts

Before I wrote about things like productivity, motivation, and goal setting, I was a heavy consumer. I read whatever self improvement books I could get my hands on. All the go-to’s. You know the ones. I read and read and read and read. I consumed and applied and tested and experimented. And then, somewhere along the way, I began writing as well. I began to throw my voice into the mix. Not in the same capacity or to the same degree, but in the way a raindrop falls into the ocean. In a way that something small becomes part of something large.

I didn’t know where to begin. So I kept it generic at first. I wrote about all things self improvement. From travel tips to leadership strategies. With time, I got more specific. I found the point where what I wanted to write was met with people who wanted to read it. Namely, ways to be more intentional with your time.

I started writing even more. Writing and sharing. As some articles began to do well, comments inevitably began to trickle in. Good and bad ones.* Bad as in mean. At first, I was sad. My feelings were hurt. Then I was honored. Something I wrote caused someone else to have an emotional reaction. Then, many days later, I became receptive. I thought about the comments. I lifted the hood and looked at what they were saying underneath the veneer of sarcasm and derision.

And I realized, they were right.

*I should point out, roughly 90% of the comments I receive are positive and downright amazing. So, don’t go feeling bad for me. 😉


The Sunday Scaries

I remember one article in particular. It was about ways to have a productive Sunday. In it, I listed different things you could do on a given Sunday to set yourself up for a great week ahead. Seemed innocent enough. And, for most, they saw it that way too. But, of course, not everyone did. Amongst a few unsavory comments, one has stuck with me. It wasn’t mean. More like critical. In it, the person mentioned how they don’t want to be productive on a Sunday. They want to be able to take a leisurely nap, or go for a walk, or do whatever they want to do. Not worry about timetables and efficiency.

It’s comments like that which started to make me wonder more deeply about self improvement. To wonder what the purpose of productivity and the like really is. I had been writing about intentionality for some time at this point, but that didn’t seem to go deep enough.

Then it happened. I don’t remember when or in what context. I wish I did so I could give credit where credit is due. Especially if it came from a book or someone I was speaking with. Either way, I started seeing things differently. I began to see what lied underneath time management, planning, and resilience. I began to think heavily about fulfillment.


A layer below

Somewhere along the line, I realized that self improvement is a tool. It is a means, not the end. The end is fulfillment. It is living a life of purpose. Productivity then isn’t just about doing things faster or more effectively. It’s about what being productive allows you to do. For instance, if you finish your work faster, you’ll have more time to spend with your daughter. Or if you figure out a quicker way to do laundry, you’ll have more time to work on your side business.

Productivity, time management, goal setting, planning, even reading. These things are all tools to help you create a fulfilling life for yourself.

When you realize this, when you understand what lies beneath, you can start to do things differently. Suddenly, goal setting isn’t just about running more, it’s about what running allows you to be. Fulfilled. If running fills you up, then setting goals around running will add more meaning to your life. Goal setting is a means. Fulfillment, meaning, purpose is the end.


Moving forward with your self improvement reset

I started this article by telling a story of me in college. Reading one of the classic self improvement books. It’s been many years since that point. I don’t remember much of it. No matter.* Like anything you learn, you absorb what you can and apply what’s actionable. There are fantastic writers and speakers and authors in the self improvement space. The concept of fulfillment is not mine to claim. There are rows of books written on the subject that were published before I was born.

Yet for all my reading, writing, and thinking, it took me years to fully internalize the idea of fulfillment. That’s time you don’t need to spend. Absorb the lesson now. Take a moment for yourself. Do a reset. Before searching for your next self improvement hack, think of fulfillment. Consider what a meaningful life is for you. Not just in terms of work, but in terms of your relationships with others. In terms of your physical health and mental health. In terms of your finances, home, and community. Write those insights down.

Then use the instruments of self improvement to help you attain that meaningful life. No longer see concepts like productivity and time management as just tools for their own sake. Rather, see them as a means to an end. Use them like you would a hammer or a paintbrush. Use them to build a fulfilling life for yourself. One where you wake up each day with purpose.

*One of my favorite quotes about reading is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

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