Growing Our Human Potential

Part 2. A Framework: Stage 1 – “Personal Growth”

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.


These stages were reviewed in Part 1. They do represent separate and distinct stages. For example, I have met individuals who had a deep understanding of life and their purpose, however, they were relatively clueless to their personal issues.

So what prompts people to begin their personal growth journey? Based on asking this question at the beginning of my talks, the following represents the most common responses. When I meet with clients during the first session I ask a series of questions to understand their motivation, which is usually a “negative consequence” they are experiencing in their life. Something is not right, and these individuals have the courage to own up to this reality (versus hiding this truth, stuffing it, and/or being in denial). The emotional response to this situation is often pain and suffering, which becomes the motivation, to stop the pain and suffering. There are however other reasons that drive people to personal growth. Examples of this include deeper questions and intellectual intrigue with learning different aspects to life. However, the most common reason is to stop the pain and suffering they are experiencing as a result of a current situation.

Questions To Begin

A professional (e.g., therapist, counselor) is often helpful to understand our motivation. This is because we often do not know what is truly bothering us, again a factor that we may be avoiding the truth. Let me share a personal example. Work appeared to be going well. I was recently promoted to a manager role. A few months in my boss met with me to check in. I reiterated the same, that work was going well it appeared. He mentioned to me that he has heard great feedback with the exception that some of my direct reports did not feel as though I was interested in their input. I followed the advice of my boss to utilize a 360-degree assessment tool to obtain anonymous feedback from my team. There were some areas that represented concerns and they were hard to accept at first, but with the support of my boss I accepted their feedback and sought ways to make improvements, which I did and appeared to correct my team’s concerns.

However, there were others areas in their feedback that concerned me. This had to do with a summary from the 360-degree assessment tool, which stated that my overall profile was characteristic of individuals experiencing high stress levels. These did not represent concerns to my boss as it related to my work, so I inquired how I could learn more about my concerns. He suggested that I meet with our Employee Assistance Program counselor, which I did. During the first session, she began to ask questions about my childhood. I wondered why she asked these questions. At the end of the third session, she suggested that I meet with a counselor since she felt that exploring my past would help me understand my current levels of stress. 

Short of the long story here was that in counseling I broke through a wall of denial that was protecting me from the truth of what had actually happened during my childhood. Although tempted to run away to avoid this ugly and overwhelming realization, I chose to stick with counseling since I knew that I needed to deal with this. This was the turning point in my life as I made a decision to confront my past so that I would no longer be victim to the pain and suffering it caused. I would learn how to be a victor and take charge of my life 

Peeling the OnionThe process of personal growth began. The onion is a great analogy to the work within the Personal Growth stage. It is a matter of taking that hard look within to grow our self-awareness of what is behind the good, bad and ugly aspects of our life. Let’s take a brief look at these layers of self.


Our Outer Self: An outer layer protects the more fragile interior of an onion. This would be characteristic of how we portray ourselves to the outside world including our behaviors and consequences we experience. At this point, we operate largely unconscious of why we act like we do. We simply react to the external stimulus around us. We view ourselves as a victim and causing the negative consequences we are experiencing. The work at this point would be to identify our negative and positive consequences we experience along with our own behaviors that lead up to these consequences. We begin to see a cause and effect relationship between our own behaviors and the consequence we are experiencing. We learn that we have choices, which at this point is the choice to take charge of our life. In my case, one of the negative consequences and patterns was struggling with relationships. I blamed this on the women in my life. My counselor helped me get past this victim mindset and begin to see and own up to what I was doing (behaviors) that were contributing to this pattern. It was not easy to see or admit to what I was doing, since it was easier to blame women in this case. 

Our Facades: We all wear masks or create facades of some type or another to cover up our insecurities and fears. These are often learned and developed early on in our development to look cool, tough, sexy, successful, etc., to be accepted and fit in with others. This is the exterior (ego) that we show to others. It is often superficial in nature. Yet our true self comes out when we spend time with others on a regular basis at work and at home. Others begin to see who we truly are. I was able to attract women with my strong physique and giving them what they wanted. Once we moved in together I would show my insecurities due to my low self-esteem and continually seek their approval and love for me, which over time would serve to push them away. The work at this point begins by making a choice to accept responsibility for your actions. It often requires the help of a trained professional to create a safe setting to allow you to begin opening up, and then to help you identify your actions contributing to the situation. Letting down our guard is hard and scary. Our ego worked overtime to create the illusion that we are okay, and now you must take off the masks and facades. This can take several sessions to reach this point, which is a major milestone in your personal growth. 

Perceptions: Behind our facades are the perceptions we formed of self, and of people and life in general. In my case, it was my perception that women were the problem. We have perceptions about most everything in life. These perceptions become our biases and prejudices. The work at this point is to recognize and be honest with self with respect to your perceptions you formed about different aspects of life, particularly those that you struggle with. For example, we have a perception that “work sucks”. These perceptions are the equivalent of filters over our eyes. They filter what we see to be complicit with our biases and perceptions. Based on this perception we see all the difficulties and hardships associated with work which only serve to sustain our perceptions. Perceptions only serve to create self-fulfilling prophecies. If we believe work sucks, and act like work sucks (arrive late, do the minimum amount of work, etc.), then get reprimanded and maybe even fired, we once again conclude that work sucks. The challenge is to become aware of our perceptions which is hard since they have become engrained in our belief system. 

Nurture | Nature:  “Nature” refers to biological/genetic predispositions’ impact on human traits, and “Nurture” describes the influence of learning and other influences from one’s environment. We are who we are today is as a result of many factors. A lot of our makeup comes from “nurture & nature”. Nature refers to our genetics and Nurture refers to our experiences. Our family of origin (particularly our parents), school, what we are continually exposed to (e.g. television) and dynamics surrounding us (e.g. neighborhood), play a key part in our experiences and our early development. The experiences during our childhood can form lasting perceptions about who we are and of life itself. Simply put, when we experience unhealthy conditions; (e.g. trauma, bullying, abuse), we form unhealthy beliefs, values and perceptions.

Nurture had the most significant impact for me. In effect it was the lack of nurture for me! This related to the trauma and abuse I experienced during my childhood and formative years. The outcome from this were the many unhealthy beliefs that formed, emotional scars, low self-esteem and self-image, fears and personal issues. These inhibited my personal growth and development and tainted my view of people and life. Consider the basic needs of a child in order to develop a healthy self-esteem and image. The ideal is that we receive unconditional love along with positive affirmations about who we are. What we know is that this is not the case for most of humanity. Along the way we come to believe that love is conditional and based on pleasing others first. Anger is expressed in ways that tell us to we are bad or wrong, which experienced enough times becomes our basic belief our ourselves. The work here is often with a counselor helping us initially to connect the dots with respect to our negative consequences to our behaviors, perceptions and attitude and ultimately to our past. Then begins the process of healing and building ourselves back up.

Our True Self: through the process of peeling away the many layers of self we come to understand the good, bad and the ugly of who we are. Through the above process we come to understand why this is. Now is the time to learn how to love and accept who we truly are, why we are the way we are, and to develop the needed elements of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being to create a new and healthy foundation for our life, our self-esteem. This is the essence of our work which can take time to develop. Once we are on our feet again, we can consider furthering our development and entering into the Self-Discovery stage.

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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