Why you should NOT chase self-development

November 27, 2020

You can’t see it to pursue it.

You’ve heard the adage: pursue a butterfly and it eludes you, sit quietly and it alights on your shoulder. It’s much like that with self-development. You scare it off when you frantically chase after it with your huge butterfly net of self-help books, life coaching, motivational podcasts and mindfulness retreats, thinking you see your prize just ahead of you.


Here’s the thing: you can’t see self-development—except in hindsight, after it’s landed on your shoulder. You may say it’s important for you to pursue self-development because it means that you’ll be more confident and creative; you’ll have happier, healthier relationships at home and at work; you’ll be a better decision maker, communicator, leader, parent; you’ll get the job promotion or do better at building your own company; you’ll love life. And you’re right! But those are the results of self-development you’re able to see and enjoy in hindsight, not self-development itself. They’re the returns that settle in your butterfly net once you set it down, wide open. Once you invite self-development into your life.


When you’re looking the other way, it happens.

I remember decades ago listening to a motivational speaker, whose name I can’t recall, explaining that when you stop pursuing a bigger paycheque and instead focus on what it is that you enjoy doing, your paycheque will grow bigger while you’re enjoying the work. I didn’t really understand it—or believe it—at the time when I was indeed focusing on my paycheque.

But, over the span of my 40-year corporate career, it proved to be correct. For many years, motivated by financial stress, my attention was on earning more money with only minimal payoffs. Yet when I moved into management, I found the tasks of managing a work team resonated strongly with my values. I felt stimulated, challenged, and focused, wanting to do a great job no longer primarily for the pay, but instead for the rewards of supporting others and the efficient, effective operation of the organization. Unpursued, substantial salary increases and advancement settled into my net.  That’s a story for another day though, introduced here as an example of a first-hand experience that has led me to write this article while I’m completing my sixty-fifth orbit around the sun.

Happiness is in your response to happenings.

A lot of stuff has happened to me during my trips circling our tiny star. I’ve travelled at various times as a lost soul, a mom, a corporate manager, a life coach, a post-careerist. And what I’ve finally come to understand for real, not just intellectually, is that it’s not the stuff that happens that determines how fun and rewarding those trips are, but how you respond to the stuff happening. Ultimately, in that response is where your opportunity for self-development lies, to create meaning and purpose and happiness on your trips.


I now think of self-development as the enhancement, the strengthening of your ability—your cognitive and emotional muscles—to respond to any and every circumstance life throws at you in a way that fosters your wellbeing and supports your growth into the happy, fulfilled person you have the capacity to be.

It’s not about being nauseatingly, perpetually optimistic in the face of adversity. Nor is it about finding the proverbial pony under a pile of shit. It’s about using the shit as manure to create a lush pasture for the pony you’re getting.  

Way back in my twenties I wrote something about that, which I didn’t really “get” at the time, but vaguely sensed was life defining: happiness isn’t a treasure to be found, it’s a masterpiece to be created. Happiness, I now more comprehendingly write, is the masterpiece to be created through self-development.

Self-development, as the term implies, is a gradual and dynamic process of growing, evolving or becoming. All those things I mentioned earlier—self-help books, life coaching, motivational podcasts, mindfulness retreats—can be highly effective tools of self-development. But if and only if you don’t use them to chase after a preconceived notion of your fully developed—actualized, enlightened, empowered, authentic—self. You can’t see the ultimate creation of yourself, any more than the caterpillar can visualize its butterfly self. This isn’t meant to downplay the importance of goal-setting and visualizing as self-development aids but, again, that is a topic for another day.


It’s a journey, not a chase.

Self-development is a process, a journey towards an unreachable destination of full personal development. It’s about becoming increasingly—not completely—unfcukwithable. I’ll come back to explain that deliberately misspelled word in a moment, but first here’s why I use the words “unreachable” and “increasingly”.

Your development as a human being inevitably occurs whenever you experience a stimulus—an interaction, a circumstance, a situation, a failure, a success, a happening of any sort—whether perceived as negative, positive or neutral, or not perceived at all.

These happenings occur continuously as long as you are alive. As such, while you increasingly develop (evolve, grow, transition) with each and every happening you will not reach your ultimate state of development in this life until the moment of your final breath, your last happening.

The dynamic development that results in the moment of your experiencing a happening can be significant or insignificant, healthy or unhealthy, desirable or undesirable, conscious or unconscious. I believe most people would like to be able to harness the power in that dynamism. To make it work for them to create happiness and fullness of life, to become unfcukwithable instead of being unconsciously shaped and controlled by life’s happenings.

It’s about becoming unfcukwithable – in the peaceful sense.

Back to this misspelled word “unfcukwithable”.  It was misspelled initially for practical reasons because certain social media platforms don’t allow “bad” words. But now I embrace it because the misspelling suggests that no matter how developed, enlightened, or empowered you become, you’ll never be perfect and you’ll still make mistakes.

The word unfcukwithable as used here has nothing to do with becoming so mean or powerful that no one’s going to mess with you and you can do and have whatever you forcibly demand.


If that’s what you’re after then self-development is not for you. And neither are the happiness and fulfillment, meaning and purpose I speak of.

Unfcukwithable in my context is what you become when you’re at peace and in touch with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity or drama can touch you.

In the junk-yard-dog type of unfcukwithable, the reason no one will mess with you is because you instill fear in others. In the peace-inducing type of unfcukwithable, the reason nothing or no one bothers you is because your well-developed self-love (comprised of what I call the “selfies of self-love”: self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-forgiveness, self-belief and more) removes the harm and pain of the “slings and arrows” from others or circumstances. This enables you to calmly take hold of and use those arrows as opportunities to further strengthen and develop your selfies.


Responding to happenings in a beneficial way that enables the emergence and evolution of your better, happier self is not a matter of pursuit, but practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.

I’ve discovered that it requires an openness and invitation to change, the practice of self-awareness, and acceptance of your flawsome (perfectly imperfect) self. It calls for aligning your doing with what it is that makes your heart sing. It means letting go of crippling thinking and beliefs, changing course or backtracking unapologetically as often as necessary, and celebrating milestones along the way of self-development.

I call this the “BU journey”, a developmental process that is distinctive to each person. “BU” is the acronym for “Become Unfcukwithable” and a succinct way of saying “Be yoU”—be your unique, authentic, fully-alive self.

But wait, there’s more… much more.

The rewards of self-development go way beyond the evolution of the increasingly enhanced, empowered, enlightened version of your authentic self.

Although being fully-alive is a pretty rewarding way to trip around the sun in itself, another great (greater?) outcome of you becoming unfcukwithable is you contributing to making this planet a happier, healthier, safer, sustainable vehicle to travel on.

Personal wellness is a prerequisite to effective, gratifying interpersonal relationships. Imagine what might happen in our world if more and more people brought their best, unfcukwithable version of themselves into family, business, political, and international relationships. What if people—no matter their differences—were better able to collaborate and cooperate in solving global societal and environmental issues? What if enough people became unfcukwithable and tipped the axis of the world towards peace, harmony and sustainability?

Change what happens to you into what happens for you, and start the trip.


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