Growing Our Human Potential

Part 1. A Framework for Personal Growth, Self-Discovery, and Enlightenment

I begin my personal growth talks and workshops with a framework I developed based on years of research, understanding and applying personal growth and self-discovery techniques, and then venturing out to discover the meaning of life and how I fit in (enlightenment). The image of the tree is unique in that it provides a framework for topics such as “personal growth”, “self-discovery”, and “enlightenment” which can each have different meanings to different people. The goal is to help guide and inspire those who are at various points in their overall personal development by understanding the different stages and typical progression of these stages, along with the focus and purpose for each. This provides a basic structure particularly for those that want to understand the specifics related to the journey of self-discovery. This is a highlight for many attending my talks since it provides them with ideas, inspiration and guidance.

What is the benefit of this journey? A key question in a world where people want to understand the ROI, or return on investment for our time. The following paragraphs outline the focus and purpose of these stages. More detail will be covered later in this post and in Part 2, 3, and 4.

  1. Personal Growth is to clean out our own house before we can begin to instruct others to clean their house. We all have personal issues, behaviors, and unhealthy beliefs that result in negative consequences in our life and an overall unhappiness. The focus in this stage is to; 1) learn how to go within to identify the root cause of our unhappiness, 2) heal our past, 3) develop our self-esteem and healthy core beliefs, 4) develop a new sense of courage and excitement about our life. These are the basis for learning how to take charge of our life and make more positive choices so that we go from victim to victor! Personal growth creates our sails so that can go from feeling stuck or in a rut to moving forward in our life.
  2. Self-Discovery is a conscious effort to understand who we are in terms of our personality and then venturing deeper to define and refine our attitude, core beliefs and values which drive our behaviors to achieve the consequences we want. It is the recognition that our outcomes (consequences) are a result of our attitude, beliefs and values all being in synch with what we want out of life, and to achieve our full potential. Self-discovery develops at the root our self-awareness, so that we live more consciously, which becomes our rudder directing where we want to go with our life.
  3. Enlightenment is the ultimate calling to understand the meaning of life and how we fit in. A new awareness is achieved further honing our beliefs and values. A sense of personal purpose and vision evolves to guide and pull us forward. We discover our unique gifts. Our desire is to use these gifts in a way that will allow us to self-actualize (Abraham Maslow) in our career and life. Fears give way to our new meaning, Purpose provides new direction, Meaning inspires and motivates us intrinsically, and Joy becomes more normal. We are often inspired to guide and help others using our own gifts providing a sense of unparalleled meaning and satisfaction. Enlightenment allows us to wake up every day with meaning, purpose, love and joy!

There will be those of you that are drawn to these statements and those who are not. If so, continue forward, If not, that is okay, and choose a path that is more characteristic of what you want at this point in your life.

My own life’s purpose has been in large part all about this topic. I began my journey of self-discovery on a conscious level in my early-thirties when I experienced a major wake-up call. The pain buried from my traumatic past had erupted and I found myself alone, unhappy, depressed, scared and unsure what to do. I reached out for help and the rest is history. Ever since then I have been immersed in personal growth, self-discovery and enlightenment, learning more about myself and of life itself. My uniqueness was the call within to overcome and heal my past and then continue to go deeper and deeper within with the quest to understand the meaning of life. It was the hundreds of others I met along the way that helped me begin to see patterns along with the countless books I read. One of my footprints I wish to leave is a way forward for humanity, one individual at a time!

My initial journey was captured in my award-winning book, “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” (Balboa Press, 2014). Since being published I have been asked to speak on a variety of aspects of personal growth & self-discovery. A breakthrough came with the development of frameworks to share with those who are curious and considering a journey of their own. Below is an overview of my overarching framework. Part Two will focus in on the Personal Growth, Part Three covers the Self-Discovery stage. Part Four will focus on Enlightenment.

Using a tree as an analogy to our life, hence the “tree of life”, our ability to achieve our full potential comes from nurturing ourselves from the very seed from which we came from, and developing that seed into a flourishing, resilient, strong and beautiful tree or person, no matter where our seed was planted or the storms the seed had to weather.

Personal Growth – Stage 1

A tree’s growth depends on what lies beneath the surface, its root system. This is analogous to our own subconscious, where we have stored the beliefs and values we developed primarily during our youth, and our mental health which is made up of our self-esteem, self-image, self-awareness and attitude. When we are not provided with the nourishments we need for a healthy self-esteem, such as love, acceptance and nurturing, our root system becomes unhealthy which will affect its ability to provide the tree with the needed nutrients to survive and thrive.

As was the case for me, I entered adulthood riddled with low self-esteem, anger, distrust, and unhealthy beliefs about myself and the world, which would negatively impact my own ability to grow, prosper and be happy. The root cause was the trauma and abuse I experienced during the formative years of my life and the unhealthy beliefs I developed and low self-esteem I harbored. The change began with a choice to get help. I had entered the Personal Growth stage.

The first stage is Personal Growth, the development of our root system, our subconscious, along with a healthy and strong self-esteem, confidence, awareness, while learning to take charge of our life vs. assuming a victim mindset. With the assistance of professionals we take that hard look within to understand what we are doing and why. For those able to endure the challenges we uncover, and develop the courage to make changes, we heal our current root system, provide it with the nutrients we did not receive, and slowly build a new root system or foundation that is develops our resilience so that we are more prepared to weather whatever comes our way, just as a tree must survive storms, droughts, and harsh weather.

Self-Discovery – Stage 2

With our foundation in place, we can now focus on becoming our full potential, developing the strength of our trunk and branches so that we display our beauty and bear our fruits, blossoms or whatever our gifts are, to the world.

There are those who decide to go further with their growth with a focus on becoming our full potential. Once again, we venture back within ourselves to understand our strengths and aspects of self that is holding ourselves back. We decide what kind of tree we want to be, the fruits we want to bare, and how to be our full potential in whatever we choose to be. We learn that our motivation comes from an intrinsic belief in self, and a set of values that fit who we are and want to be. We develop the very core of our being and realize that it is our attitude and beliefs that drive our behavior and ultimately the consequences we experience.

We learn to become our full potential as a human being and choose a path that is consistent with who and what we are. The chosen path influences our life and career decisions. We redefine what happiness and success means and blaze this new path.

These choices are difficult to make and require that we set aside old beliefs and the conditioning we experienced which influenced what these beliefs should be. The trunk of our tree fueled with core beliefs and values, allows us to let go of any limiting beliefs so that we can fully blossom. It is a hard stage since we often leave behind what our life once was as we pursue the most valuable aspect of our life, our path!

Enlightenment – Stage 3

There are those aspiring to go further, with a quest to understand the meaning of life and how they fit into it, their purpose in life, and/or answer life’s deep and profound questions. This is an ultimate quest for growth, which I refer to the stage of self-enlightenment. With each stage, it is harder, because you must go deeper and deeper within, along with confronting the deep and profound questions that make us uncomfortable. We also must leave our comfort zone and safety in numbers as we move out on our own. As you progress through the stages, you will also find that there are fewer and fewer people on a similar journey. The reward is characteristic of those who strive to reach the peak of Mt. Everest, an awareness and feeling that few words can describe, other than those who have been there. We come to know life itself, and confront our mortality, which provides the greatest meaning to life.

The following quote was placed on my desk by a colleague who apparently had recognized what I was pursuing. Upon reading this I burst into tears. This explained this nagging itch to keep growing, but I had no idea what this meant. Indeed, it was the call…

Throughout your life, there is a voice only you can hear. A voice which mythologists label “the call.” A call to the value of your life. The choice of risk and individual bliss over the known and secure. You may choose not to hear your spirit. You may prefer to build a life within the compound, to avoid risk. It is possible to find happiness within a familiar box, a life of comfort and control. Or, you may choose to be open to new experiences, to leave the limits of your conditioning, to hear the call. Then you must act.​ If you never hear it perhaps nothing is lost. If you hear it and ignore it, your life is lost. Jennifer James

I was very fortunate to have spent time with a group who shared in this quest. I ventured across the globe, backpacking and volunteering (“voluntraveling”), listening to people from every walk of life, who shared their own experiences, beliefs and realizations. The depth of their awareness and realizations was amazing and an inspiration for me to stay on this path. There were so many incredible and profound realizations that played havoc with my former beliefs and values. Without an open mind, such a journey would not be possible. I listened countless hours to yogi’s, near-death-experiencers (NDE’rs), Native American Indians, Sangomas (witch doctors), representatives from near every religion, metaphysical guru’s, authors, and mostly people like you and me who woke up to different realities each day, but all shared a similarity, our human condition.

My favorite movies related to this stage are Kevin Costner in “Dances with Wolves” and Bill Murray in an early movie of his, “The Razor’s Edge”. In both cases there were broken individuals through the trials of life, who had landed on this path. Their stories typified the quest of Enlightenment.

I hope that this provided enough information to review the stages related to the journey of personal growth and self-discovery. Next post will focus on Personal Growth another framework that guides an individual on the look within where we learn how to peel away the many layers of self.

Taking Action

  1. How would you rate your overall life at this point? Consider the following factors to evaluate; a) your overall happiness, b) your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being, c) your current goals or lack thereof, d) is your life more characteristic of a victim or a victor?, e) do you want to change? f) are you willing to change?, g) what would be the source of your motivation at this point to change?
  2. Watch one of both of the movies suggested above. Observe the primary character, their initial situation, their pain, and what they did to find their way. Note your reaction to the movie(s). Does this journey intrigue you? What questions do you have?
  3. For those that want to learn more I would suggest reading my book, “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” There are a lot of great exercises in each chapter within Part 1.

About Michael

Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Career Coaching, Leadership, Personal Growth & Self-Discovery. Check out “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” You can also view my latest development book on Leadership, “Leadership From The Inside Out: Building Your Leadership Foundation” which utilizes the concepts covered in this Framework to develop great leaders. Visit my website for more information ( You can contact Michael at

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