How To Master the 3 Big Phases of Personal Growth
#2: Feeling like a fraud.
“The only constant in life is change.” — Heraclitus
When I was a kid, I loved playing outside and rolling around in the mud. But as I got older, the dirt on my clothes gave way to the handheld console I played Pokémon on. I grew once, and so did you.
When I was in high school, I was scrawny. But I started to lift dumbbells and eat more, gaining muscle and weight. I grew again, and so did you.
When I went to university, I only cared about partying and making money once I had my degree. But today, I’ve found something I’m passionate about despite the mediocre pay. I grew once more, and so did you.
Throughout your life, you constantly experience growth and change. While most of your character is formed at young age, you continue to grow and change for the rest of your life. Work out more, work at the office less, get a dog, or move to a new city. Transitions are imminent to life — so why is it sometimes so hard to change for the better?
The act itself is super simple. Pick a salad instead of fries. Communicate boundaries instead of having people walk all over you. Step out of your comfort zone and approach someone instead of hiding. Exercise after work instead of plopping down on the couch. What makes growth difficult isn’t what you have to do, but the obstacles you face on the way.
You’re uncertain and worry if you can do it — or if it makes sense in the first place. You wonder if it’s worth the struggle. You face rejection from others because you dare to be different. You feel like a fraud — isn’t it too late to change anyway?
If you don’t prepare for these obstacles, they’ll keep you stuck. Without growth, you’ll never become the person you want. But prepare for the challenges you’ll encounter and you’ll put yourself in a much better position to beat them. Here are the three phases of personal growth and how you can overcome the hurdles you’ll face in each of them.
Phase 1: Choosing a Better Life for Yourself
Personal growth starts with a choice. You wake up dead-tired and stressed out for the fourth week in a row and decide that this has to end. You stare into the mirror and see that the only thing that makes your body beach-ready are your whale-esque looks, so you decide to lose weight.
Or in my case, you wake up realizing that what you’re doing with your life doesn’t make you happy, so it’s time for a major correction of course.
Personal growth starts with a choice.
During this phase, you often feel uncertain or stressed out. You know that something has to change, but you don’t know how. Then you think of everything you’d have to give up for it to happen — late-night snacking, a secure job, or watching YouTube into the wee hours. Thinking about letting go of these familiarities can be enough to make you shudder with discomfort.
In my early twenties, I was really into fitness and bodybuilding. I tracked calories daily and weighed everything I ate, including the ketchup I dipped my chicken into. It was a great time but I realized this couldn’t go on forever — my obsession wasn’t making me happy and took too much time and fun out of my life. I chose to change.
But with this choice came the inevitable thoughts and worries. Should I really give this up? What will happen to my precious chiseled body? Am I just being lazy? What if I’m wrong and mess up my progress in the gym? Nevertheless, I chose to be more relaxed about my diet and training and reduced my effort by 10%, increasing fun and happiness by 100%. Totally worth it.
Humans aren’t rational in their decision-making. You attach more weight to negative information than to positive one and are subject to a bunch of other cognitive biases. This means that often uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity aren’t an option but the default. Don’t get discouraged — it’s a natural part of the process.
How to get through:
In this first phase, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by clearing up the murky waters.
- Do some proper research on how you can grow and improve.
- Write down and weigh the pros and cons.
- Think about short-, mid-, and long-term consequences.
- Talk to people who have already made the change you stand in front of.
- Then, make a decision and stick with it.
Growth always means leaving your comfort zone, and as such, it’s uncomfortable. Not because you’re doing something wrong, but because you’re doing something different.
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash
Phase 2: Feeling like a Fraud
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
— Thomas Edison
Once you commit to grow, you take steps in the new direction — you eat healthier, apply for different jobs, or stop seeing your toxic friends. You feel great — but with this feeling comes the realization that you should’ve done this way earlier.
You feel like a fraud. You face an internal conflict otherwise known as cognitive dissonance — you know that what you’ve been doing wasn’t right. You feel like you’ve wasted your time and ask yourself how you could be so stupid. Wasn’t the need for change obvious all the time?
For the last five years, I’ve studied business at two of Europe’s most prized universities. I took all the courses necessary to climb the corporate ladder and poured hundreds of hours into good grades, exquisite essays, and picture-perfect presentations. Yet, I felt like it was all for naught.
I realized what should’ve been obvious long before — the corporate 9–5 cycle wasn’t for me. I decided to start my own business and once I did, I had to resist the urge to slap myself in the face with a rolling pin. Why the fuck didn’t I do this earlier? All the wasted time. My life could be so much better if I just… Stop.
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re a human and you’ll always make mistakes. I’ve been running around with an orange mohawk for years. The thought still hurts my eyes, but that’s life. If what you did in the past seems stupid, that’s a good sign — it means you’ve moved forward and outgrown your old self.
How to get through:
One of the most life-changing concepts I learned from my business studies is sunk cost. In economics, this is an investment that didn’t pay off and you therefore no longer pursue. Realize that not everything you do is a worthwhile investment of your time, energy, and money. Big business sometimes bets on the wrong horses, and you do too — shit happens. See it from a different perspective — at least you’ve found out what you don’t want.
Your life unfolds in chapters and phases. Your interests and values, personality and passions, dreams and struggles — they constantly evolve. If something was perfect for you two years ago that doesn’t mean it still is today. Keep the good memories, build traction, and move towards the next chapter.
Phase 3: Facing Rejection and Pressure
When you grow, people around you will notice. It’ll be subtle at first, but you’ll face questions about why you choose your pillow instead of partying, eat fruits instead of fries, and ditch casual sex for intimate connections. And while some people will support and encourage you, others will try to hold you back.
You’ve built most of your relationships based on how you’ve lived your life so far. When I weighed my ketchup, I was mostly friends with equally obsessed gym rats and meatheads. But when you grow, old values clash with new ones, and that causes friction.
I started drinking early in my life. By the time I hit 16, I got smashed two to three times a month, often to the point of throwing up and passing out. That’s what living in a small German village is like — there’s nothing to do except drink. At 21, I radically cut alcohol. After lots of heavy drinking for years, it bored me. A full day hungover wasn’t worth a few hours of mediocre fun anymore. Now, try to stay sober at a university party with everyone around you drinking.
I can’t count how many times people called me a bore, a loser, and a bunch of other names. I became an outsider to the group of amateur alcoholics, sticking out like a sore thumb. But I stuck with my decision.
When your behavior doesn’t fit in anymore, most people will either try to get you back into old patterns or reject you for being different. Don’t get angry with them — this us vs. them thinking is hardwired into the human brain.
How to get through:
Changing yourself usually means changing your social environment as well. You’ll find out which relationship is built on something deeper than common interests or weekend activities. Real friends will encourage your endeavors — let go of the ones who don’t.
Trust in yourself. Rebuild your social circle with people who support and accept you for who you are and strive to be. You’ll feel more at peace with yourself and the ones around you, and they’ll propel you to new heights.
The Only Thing That’s Left to Do
Personal growth isn’t easy — but it’s simple. Determine a new direction and goals and commit to taking the action to get there. Then it’s just a matter of getting through the three phases.
Make a clear decision and stick with it. Accept that no matter your past, at one point it’s time for a new chapter. Trust yourself and stick to people who support you.
You will feel uncomfortable — growth requires you to get out of your comfort zone by definition. You’ll face uncertainty, feel like an idiot for not acting earlier, and get pressured and rejected by others. But it’s worth it.
When you grow, you move from a less desirable state into a more desirable one. You adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of life. You grow. With every step away from old paths and onto new ones, you get closer to the life you dream of.
Now you know the three phases of personal growth and what will happen if you dare to be different. All that’s left is the slogan of a famous sports apparel brand: Just do it.
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