Girl is cutting the branch she's sitting on.
Cover Image © haveltom

The Situational Irony of Personal Growth

Each morning I begin my day with a mantra as I’m getting dressed. Once I complete the whole thing, I kind of have a conversation with myself (don’t judge me). Today I noticed I said something along the lines of, “I hope to keep growing because I have a long way to go,” and then I caught myself… Long way according to whom?

A red ladder leading up to an open cloudy blue sky on a nice day.

Personal Growth Makes Life Easier & Harder

I immediately began wondering when did I get to the point that I didn’t feel good enough?

Not sugarcoating it at all, that’s what I felt like my “long way to go” statement amounted to. Why didn’t I feel like I was “good enough” even though I was actively trying to improve? That is the double-edged sword-like outcome of any process of genuine personal growth: Yes, you are getting better each day – but you may not feel it. And in the end that can be a little demoralizing.

That is irony, right? Accidentally making yourself feel worse although you know you’re trying to be better.

All of it seems like a fun exercise in “expectation vs. reality”. One would easily think that when you embark on a journey of continuous personal growth, you’d feel happy with the new person you’re in the process of becoming (and, to be fair, you do experience a lot of happiness along the way). But then you learn that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as you grow. Not only will you have moments of hardship and struggle that test your resolve and your whole reason(s) for seeking “growth” as a person in the first place, but you’ll find more and more dissatisfaction as you creep along the way in many cases.


Why does personal growth, as this section’s title says, seem to make life easier – yet, at the same time – harder?

I think the answer lies in the process itself.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

As I thought about why I didn’t feel good enough no matter how many objective successes I rattled off, it dawned on me that the sense of “incompletion” (for lack of a better term) comes from my growing knowledge in the realms I’m aiming to improve in. This all gets explained by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, (DKE) wherein “low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.

This is a more technical representation of what happens in the DKE

Dunning Kruger effect presentation template.

And here’s a visual that I think more people may be able to identify with at times…

Dunning Kruger Effect stock illustration.

Hahaha! Believe it or not, I’m being serious.

Once we know what things we weren’t originally aware of, our expectations and perceived gap to “complete understanding or mastery” widen. That alters where we perceive ourselves to be on the road to whatever we’re gunning for, and that causes some people to quit somewhere along the way.

It is a sad fact of life, but one that many people deal with on a regular basis – although they may not have a name for it (now you do). I think this is the root cause of a lot of what makes people unhappy in life. As you’re exposed to more things, your image of “complete” grows and you begin to feel more and more unfinished.

Well, I have thoughts on that.

Now that You Know – What do You Do?

I genuinely feel like any obstacle can be overcome once it’s understood. As you identify a thing and observe the traits, patterns, strengths, and weaknesses of a thing — you’ve got it by the balls (hope that doesn’t offend anyone).

In this case, the biggest thing that can throw off the DKE is all about perception. Whether you’re realizing you’re “not quite there” with a technical skill, a personal matter, or in my case – Life – you really can go back through and rewire how you’re taking stock of how you have pulled accomplishments off up to this point related to whatever you’re feeling “not so 100%” about.

I’ve already written this up in a prior post about self-esteem, but at a high level, here’s a list of methods you could try (more detail – in the context of self-esteem – in that post)…

  1. Words of affirmation: Remind yourself of good vibes through words that encourage you through the storm. I like to tell people, “Life is made up of moments. This moment doesn’t dictate your past, present, or future. Remember to take it minute-by-minute.”
  2. Being objective vs. subjective: I know you feel like a dumb pile of unworthy poop at times, but… are you? Really? I mean… Look at all you’ve done. REMEMBER that.
  3. Turning to family and friends: Some of my best cheerleaders are the people who know me best and have seen how far I’ve come with some things. It’s nice to get reminders from them time-to-time when I’m beating myself up. I am my own worst critic.
  4. Addressing any gaps by pursuing education: So, you don’t know a thing? How about actively going to find out about it? That’s a very direct and undeniably actionable way to bridge the gap that even you have to concede is better than doing nothing.
  5. Avoiding negativity: This includes negativity from yourself. If you catch something bringing you down or you hear yourself using a lot of negative self-speak, consciously pull away from whatever has set you on that path. Take a breather. It is ok to walk away.
  6. Paying attention to what triggers you on Social Media: Sometimes you see people further along than you in different areas of life, which can bring you down a bit. It happens more often than anyone cares to admit. If you notice it — pull away. Very few people present their authentic imperfections on Social Media, anyway.
  7. Considering the context of your life’s journey: Look at where you are now vs. where you were. And accept the fact that YOU ARE WHERE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE. Once you do that, just remember that it’s all a very small sliver in the grand scheme of life, anyway – and relax.

I’m not trying to be a broken record, but I realized that as I was thinking through this situation – I had already kind of thought of my own response to it. Each of those approaches above can do wonders for checking your self-perception, and it’s your very owne perceptions that can determine how you feel about your place in the DKE.

Smile, and realize that you’re further along than where you were. And if you aren’t, consider the possibility that one day you will be.

I beat myself up a lot thinking about my personal values and merits in Life as I’m exposed to more people. As I piled up more successes and failures along the way, it’s easy to lose sight of what my personal end goal is. I am not trying to “finish” – I’m not trying to be “complete” in my life. I am honestly not really sure that one is ever done when it comes to how we live. I just want to be a little further along each day. I strive to be a better person. I strive to learn more. I strive to experience more. I want to waste less time and energy on things that don’t enrich my short time on our beloved cloudy partially-iced over volcanic mudball floating through space.

Anyway, I’m rambling now. I hope this post spoke to someone out there.

Peace, and thanks for reading.


The soundtrack for this post provided by…

Image Credits:
– Cover Image © haveltom (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 1 © Sergey Tinyakov (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 2 © Graphic Grid (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 3 © AKLOKLOR (Shutterstock)

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Created by Alex Volkov