5 surprising things about personal growth I wish I knew 5 years ago

I guess I have always been interested in personal development and productivity.

In high school, I had been testing different note taking and time management methods, although not very intentionally. I decided to study abroad when I was 17, and it was really the first time I had to be independent. It was like re-planting a flower from a glasshouse to a ground exposed to cruel weather. I thought I lacked many life skills. I was confused. I vividly remembered reading this book called “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps”, hoping to gain some insights and be more independent.

Being an adult is so hard.

One thing I have observed is that some people only get older, but not wiser. <insert blog post> They mature physically, not but psychologically.

And I have reached this conclusion: if there’s one thing that qualifies you as an adult, it would be the fact that you are willing to TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY OF YOUR LIFE.

What does that even mean?

It means that:

1 You have goals in life

You recognised there are many things to pursue in life apart from money, status and fame. You have some more worthwhile goals in mind that are aligned with your values. You may or may not have figured out how to achieve them yet, but you are willing to try.

2 You are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals

Some of your goals are against the social norm. You might be a creative stuck in a corporate job, or a math genius being told study medicine. Whatever it is, if you are in a situation where what you want is not what the society tells you to go after, and you decide to do it anyway – congratulations, that’s the first step to own your life.

3 You are not blaming anyone, or anything

You are not blaming the society, environment or your parents for making you who you are today, but knowing you have 100% control in life. You can change, and you are the one to initiate that change.

It takes so much courage to change your mindset and take up the responsibility to make pivotal changes. You are winning as long as you don’t quit.

It is difficult.

No wonder not many people do it – it is much easier to blame the weather, the government, the neighbours or the kids. Why do people use phrases like “well, I have no choice” or “it is what it is” all the time? It is easier to avoid responsibility. After all, having to face your inner voices, your deep desires and the gap between where you are now and where you want to be is difficult.

Hence we have the awkward period in life called “quarter-life crisis”. We finished proper education and we are being thrown to the “real world”. We thought we were young and we had choices. Then we started getting confused. We were paralysed by this thing called life. It was kind of a point where people either thrive or sink. Now as I’m more than half way through my 20s, I sum up 5 things I wish I knew about personal growth when I was 20.

1/ Happiness is a journey, not an end goal

Have you ever felt unmotivated or dissatisfied all the time? I was like that during my quarter-life crisis. It was a period in which you knew what you hated but didn’t know what you really wanted. At that time, I thought to myself, once I figured out what I really wanted to do, once I quitted my corporate job, once I started making more music, my life would change and I would be happy.

I was wrong.

I quickly recognised it was the hedonic treadmill – the endless chase of happiness, thinking acquiring more money, status and material processions in life would make life complete.

Happiness lies in the journey itself.

Happiness lies in the journey of going after a worthwhile goal, understanding that you will be stronger and more resilient as you face obstacles and challenges. It is knowing that you are providing values to the world.

Landing yourself your dream job won’t keep you happy for a long time. So is buying your dream car, climbing the corporate ladder… If you would now pause for a second and imagined all the desires coming true, how would you feel? Delighted, pleased, excited… maybe. But for how long? It hit me hard when I realised even getting a music therapist license wasn’t going to satisfy my in the long term. In fact, it might only be the beginning of what I really wanted to achieve. At that point, I knew a change was on the way. It was always a mindset problem. 

To fully experience joy, happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment in life, gratitude is key. It is about being aware of things in life, acknowledging them and being contented with your current environment, status and things you own. It might not be where you want to be yet, but the mindset is to appreciate it – and more important of all, to measure the gain, not the gap. If you constantly compare where you are now against where you want to be, you will never be satisfied. You will think what you have done is never enough. That traps you in the constant dissatisfaction. Instead, look back and see how far you have come. You will be surprised how many milestones you have achieved. From there, you develop a sense of achievement and confidence, which pushes you forward towards your ideal. And in this journey of pursuing worthwhile goals, you are happy, motivated and contented.

2/ Build your knowledge forest

One rule for personal growth: be a lifelong learner. The best part of life isn’t just about learning, but also to unlearn – everything you thought you knew might not be the way it was. The world is so big, but we only have that much time to take it in. That’s why we want to be selective <insert selective ignorance post> when it comes to what kind of information to take in, who to hang out with etc. Basically it is about how to spend our time wisely and efficiently in order to build a comprehensive worldview. Tune into what really matters to you.

Expanding your knowledge is like building a forest. In order to extend the branches faster and link scattered ideas under a system, we should all have a place to store, record and curate everything. Unsurprisingly, Notion has been the app I’m using to build my second brain. As I began to take notes more frequently, I started to regret not doing this more often since Uni or even when I was in high school. It would be interesting to see how I evolve as I experience different things in life. It would also be beneficial to grasp the ideas as you write notes in your own words. This is something I wish I started doing earlier.

3/ Learn in public, show your work

2 things that limit one’s potential: perfectionism and ego. For a long time, social media has evolved to the place where you only show your best life. Remember that “felt cute, might delete later” caption on Instagram before? We want compliments, likes and attention all the time. If that selfie didn’t look good, if that meal I made didn’t look fancy, if I didn’t have a fun weekend, why bother posting? Then we start comparing to other people’s “best lives” to our “reality”.

I have fallen into this trap many times – as a lifelong learner, I’m always trying something new. Practising a new piece of music? I never post online until it’s up to my standard – which never happened, since you’re bound to be nervous and you make mistakes in front of the camera. Taking up a new hobby? You have no idea how much courage it took me to post my first ever latte art attempt on Instagram.

When you learn in private, there is only so far you can go. You might be consuming content all the time – searching all the tips and hacks, watching more tutorials without actually taking any action. You might even start comparing the experts’ standards to your current stage. Now that is the quickest way to kill your dream and enthusiasm.

Our ego is another thing – why would we want to learn in public? It’s embarrassing! My followers really know how to play the guitar, why would I be posting my daily practice online? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, experts are once beginners. They have made all the mistakes you are making before they got to this level. And this is the magic of learning in public and showing your work: people might come ask for your advice or to give you some. By posting your work, you are essentially inviting your friends and audience to take a front row seat in your journey. They are your best cheerleaders. You are building a community and accountability.

So, leverage the power of the Internet. Accept the fact that your first 100 attempts are going to suck anyway, so you might just get through it quickly. You should cringe when you look back at your early work later on – it means growth and improvement. It is a muscle to train and strengthen. It is the fastest way to learn and improve.

Don’t be afraid to hit “post”.

4/ Invest time like you would invest money

When you were young, you thought you were invincible. You thought you had the upper hand since you had all the time in the world. But before you knew it, you realised you have wasted too much time. Your 20s is the best period to learn, explore and try new things. Now as I’m more than half way through my 20s, there are 2 concepts I wish I knew earlier when it comes to mindset about time.

1 Delayed gratification

We crave for instant feedbacks, results and pleasure. The fastest food delivery or internet speed, the best productivity hack, or the fastest way to lose 30 pounds… The problem about instant gratification is that it often isn’t sustainable, and it does more harm in the long run.

Imagine someone who gives into temptation and opt for more convenience in life – ready meals, taxi and other shortcuts; and someone who continuously choose health over convenience – home cooking, more walking etc. It might not seem very different in the short term, but the key here is consistency – what you choose over and over again becomes your behaviours, habits and routines. It becomes your reality. And it makes all the differences.

I wish I knew about the investment concept earlier. Similar to planting a tree, you won’t throw a seed in the soil today, water it and check tomorrow to see if it’s grown to a tree. We know the best things in life often require patience, resilience and persistence. As the old Chinese proverb saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Invest your time in maintaining your physical and mental health. Train up your muscles – your brain included – and you will be thankful in 10 years’ time. You won’t go to the gym for an hour today and check if you’ve got 6 packs yet. The process may be dull and painful. But this is the magic of delated gratification: investing time in personal development, whether it be training, learning essential soft skills or strengthening relationships, will make you a better, stronger, more energetic person.

2 Compound effect

Another big concept about investment is the compounding effect. What you invest in today will generate you more earnings in a long term. What seems small today will eventually roll into big rewards. Invest 2 minutes of your day to some push-ups. Invest 10 minutes every day to read a book or listen to a podcast. Invest an hour a week to prepare all your meals. All these baby steps are going to make a huge difference. Your choices and behaviours matter. <insert my baby step blog post>.

5/ Hell yes or no

As Derek Sivers suggested in his book “Hell Yeah or No”, it is important to set boundaries. If things don’t really excite you, just reject them. Never settle for less. We are all tempted to say yes to everything in the beginning, but soon enough our energy and attention will be spread thin. You don’t exist to please everyone. Life is too short to do so.

If you haven’t found out what you truly care for or want to do, ask yourself: what would you be doing if money wasn’t a concern? Find a couple of things you care about, and map out pathways to do them more. Life’s supposed to be fun and full of surprises. I wish I applied this hell yeah or no concept sooner in my life.

Final Thoughts

If there is one message you take away with in this blog post, it would be to just start now. Train up your self-awareness, start taking baby steps now. Your future self will thank you.

Ready to start your personal development journey? Here’s your opportunity to work with me. Door’s now open for a 10-week curriculum on a 3-phase process I developed to live a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life. We will go through the phases of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-actualisation in the coming 10 weeks to set you up for success. Start now. You will thank yourself later. Sign up here: https://findyourforte.carrd.co