The biggest challenge in personal development is not creating systems—it’s using them. You can know perfectly well that you need to quit your job, change religions, stop eating animals, and move to Mexico, but unless you take action, you’ll never get anywhere. In fact, as you dilly-dally, a whiny voice in your head takes over, telling you to remain complacent. You think that’s the only voice that will talk to you, so you become friends with that voice out of desperation. But it turns out that if you deny friendship with that voice, a far better, intially quieter voice will take over. That voice is your heart. The other voice is a mediocre part of your mind that gets way too much airtime.
When you kill off your naggy voice and listen to your confidant voice, you’re being smart. I’m two-tenths of the way there.
This is a review of Steve Pavlina’s book, Personal Development for Smart People, 2008 October 15. Thanks for the free copy, Steve!
I like the title of this book. If you’re even interested in personal development, you’re way ahead of most people. Most people don’t even give a passing thought to the subject.
What happens to many smart people, is that they run into phony, substanceless personal development. Stuff like “do what you feel” and “be yourself.” Then, they dismiss the whole field as being wimpy hand-holding fluff. Psychology gets dismissed this way, too. Even photography. I’ve heard way too many artistic explanations that make no sense or sound wishy-washy, and I hold little reverence for photography schools or museums.
The problem, of course, with “be yourself,” is that in means nothing to most people. Most people think they are their jobs or their thoughts or their friends or their lives. So if your surroundings are boring, that must mean you’re a boring person. Which isn’t true, of course, because the closest thing to being yourself is being committed to personal growth. Trying to “be yourself” without knowing yourself is like trying to understand Einstein’s theory of general relativity without knowing the speed of light.
Steve Pavlina does not do this. This is a really down-to-Earth, practical piece of work.
If you’ve read his blog extensively as I have, I wouldn’t recommend this book. You pretty much already know all the stuff that’s in it, and in fact you can apply it with just a personally developed mindset.
In fact, I found Steve’s book a chore to read, and I couldn’t even finish it. I just flipped around a lot. It’s like trying to read an English paper. Or anything with an MLA Works Cited page, for that matter. When I read one of Steve’s great articles like How to Get from a 7 to a 10, Overwhelming Force, or 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job, I feel completely engaged and motivated. He pushes against the flow, but you know he’s darn right, and he loved writing those. He completely convinced me to not work in a normal job ever. This book, on the other hand, feels like something he was forced to write. I also think there were several committees involved.
Of course, if you read any of the reviews on Amazon.com or in the blogosphere, you’ll here people saying just the opposite—that this book is completely different and revolutionary. Most books in the personal growth field are garbage anyway, and this is 100 times better than a book by Wayne Dyer or Anthony Robbins. They’re just trying to sell books and DVDs and tapes. I don’t even think they apply or like any of the stuff they write. Pavlina is writing most of these 256 pages from personal experience, but he often paints too broadly and refuses to step on toes. He crucifies organized religion on his blog, but he avoids that in chapter 13 on spirituality. While he encourages his readers to disconnect themselves from the fixed viewpoint of one faith, he has diluted his message to offend fewer people. This can be justified: he’s opening his ideas to a wider audience who may not be ready to be challenged in that manner, but that is misguided because it goes against the principle of truth. I wrote this in my conclusion 17 Lessons from 17 Years: offending others is good, because it means you’re pushing them toward their fears. The only way to conquer fear is to move toward it.
This is unimportant, though. It would be creepy if Steve’s book was entirely perfect, and it is not important to quantify truth anyway. Don’t write for the critics or write for the past. They exist only in your mind.
I like the part about how Steve left his church on page 87: “At age 17, I finally recognized I was being coerced to participate instead of being offered a truly free choice, so I left.” I’m glad I haven’t spent years in the haze—my father has identical reservations and doesn’t believe we can know all the answers. If God is at all personally developed, he’s not going to respect you if you pay lip-service to church. In fact, that’s an insult. Either be a Christian 100% or 0%. Don’t sit on the fence like most people. You can’t fool the creator of the universe.
I like how Steve keeps saying “you are the commander of your life.” You can read that and think you don’t need to read at all, but reading about personal development helps you to think in different ways, which you eventually translate into action. Most people either read way to much while never getting anything done (PD junkies), or take action repeatedly without ever stopping to think. Steve would call these ready-aim-aim-aim and ready-fire-fire-fire types, respectively. The best way is ready-fire-aim-fire-aim, which is really just trial and error. No one else can ever teach you anything, because you’re always actually teaching yourself.
The chapter on courage is the best. I like this part: “People often take circuitous paths to their goals to minimize the risk of rejection . . . The idea is that if they can sniff out a negative response in advance, outright rejection can be avoided” (page 105). I was doing this with a girl over the past month, but it was stupid to lead her on, so I just asked her to be my girlfriend because I like her a lot. That’s the wrong way to start a relationship, and I was rejected, but it’s completely better than doing nothing at all. If I could know the result ahead of time, it would in fact be awful, because I would never build any courage.
The main problem was that I was doing unattractive things (i.e. not leading, being shy, etc.), but I’ll develop those skills through baby steps. As you become courageous, powerful, truthful, loving, etc., you become more attractive toward others. So personal development is exactly the same as pickup artistry.
The other great thing about being rejected is that you can focus on 100% on forging new relationships, rather than wasting energy on people who you’re not even being truthful with. Rather than waiting and hoping for other people to take command, you exercise courage yourself. That’s what Steve’s whole chapter on courage is about. It’s actually what all personal development is about. Instead of waiting for God or other people to do things or create opportunities for you, you create them yourself through unwavering dedication and extraordinary effort. Instead of hoping someone else will sponsor my photography and make me rich / famous / successful, I don’t make wishes at all. Success must come from my own efforts, not the efforts of others.
I wish (ha ha) Steve would have spent more time debunking the concepts of true love and destiny. Those are both empowering when you’re on the right side of them, but for most people they are disempowering. If you believe in destiny, you’re giving up control over your life. You are no longer the captain. Destiny means that you have a destination, and you’ll get there no matter what you do, even if you actively thwart it. Sure, you can redefine destiny in positive terms, i.e. you’ll let no obstacles stand in the way of your dreams, but it’s better to just abandon the concept all together and call the whole thing courage. It’s the same with true love. If you have one true love, doesn’t that mean that if she is eaten by sharks or grows to hate you, you’re ruined for life? Steve’s concept of oneness says no because we’re all people, part of a larger body, connected and the same. But the real solution is that love is a condition of circumstance. True love just means there are a whole lot of circumstances piled up—hopefully ones you’ve both created through courage. That may sound bad, but it’s actually really good because it means there’s an abundance of love. You can both totally find other people if you need do, and that’s great because it eliminates fear. You have no fear of losing each other, so you can live completely in the present moment. That’s true love.
Steve defines truth, love, and power as the three principles of the universe. Three derivative principles are oneness, courage, and authority (respectively), and the consummate of the six is intelligence. It reminds me of photography. You have red, green, and blue as your primary colors. The derivatives are yellow, cyan, and magenta, and the consummate (all combined) is white. Or with subtractive (print) colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow are your primaries, blue, red, and green are your derivatives, and black is the consummate. I could draw a triangle, but I don’t feel like it.
Steve loves to tell this story about how he dropped out of college and became a shoplifter, went to jail for a while, woke up, went back to college and got his 4-year computer science degree in three semesters, then started his computer games business while becoming insanely personal developed on the side. All I’ve got is that I started college last year at 16, and the closest thing I have to shop-lifting is scamming coupons and rebates out of companies. I’m not going to go for my Bachelor’s degree, though. I’m just going to end it after getting my AA degree in computer science this spring. I don’t have a good reason to be in college. On page 235, Steve has a quote by Robert Heinlein which says “religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help.” Just replace “religion” with “college.” That’s why I refuse to go to photography school. It’s all people telling you what to do because they think they know what’s right for you. If you’re really dedicated to your art or subject, you’ll learn it all yourself and you don’t need college at all. Standardized education will just drag you down.
The first part of Pavlina’s book is theory. The second part is applications. He has lists of good habits, like “timeboxing,” batching, no-communication zones, deadlines, etc. One of these lists goes on for many pages (149-157). There’s more lists on pages 124-132, for quizzing yourself about following the principles. I didn’t care for them. The first half is much more interesting. Most people will enjoy the applications more, especially newbies to personal growth. Others will find them totally mundane.
Personal Development for Smart People is a good book, especially if you haven’t read anything of its type. If you can’t afford it, read Steve’s blog, which is even more interesting (to me at least). Right now, he’s doing this experiment where he’s eating no solid foods for three months. He’s grinding up nuts and leaves and grass and bark in a blender and drinking a gallon of that everyday. I thought that would kill you. Fascinating stuff.
Keep learning and growing.