When we think of self-development and personal growth, we often think about people who teach it and what their lives look like now…
The Tony Robbins and Brene Browns of the world, preaching their findings to wanting ears. These people who have millions of dollars, a family life to envy. People who are really living a dream that still feels so far out of reach for those of us on the outside, our noses smashed against the glass of their star-studded Instagram feeds.
And when we start trying, when we actually put forth some effort toward changing our ordinaries and making something out of our lives…we end up stuck.
Why do they seem so happy even though they’re doing the same things we’re learning from them? Why does it genuinely just fucking suck to do? Isn’t it supposed to be making our lives better, not worse?…
What are we doing wrong?
I’m a good 5-6 years into my development journey and guess what…it still sucks sometimes. But I’ve figured out why. And by understanding that why, I’ve been able to reduce the suckage significantly because sometimes, all you need is recognition to trigger a different perspective. That’s what I’ll be talking about…
What they never tell you about self-development and its growing pains
I call it “growing pains” because there are a few parallels between physical growth and emotional/mental growth.
For starters…when you’re a child growing up, you outgrow a few things, like toys and jeans and shoes for the physical, and for the mental, it’s things like hobbies, toxic habits, and people you end up outgrowing. But as you grow, there are actual pains that come along with it. Whether it’s an ache in your lengthening legs, or something more emotional. Not every moment will be easy and painless, and oftentimes, these periods come in seasons.
What people tell you about self-development growth are the things you outgrow, but not what that growth feels like
One late night, right before bed as I was trying to fall asleep with my mind racing (like always lol), I kept running through why I was having a hard time emotionally.
I had recently been through a rough time with a guy (ugh), and we had a very necessary hour-long conversation after he had done things to hurt me emotionally. During the conversation, I found myself feeling outside of my body a little bit, almost like I was simply watching it unfold.
The Bella from a few years ago—even a single year ago—would have sounded so differently, much more angry and emotionally charged…
But the Bella on that call was calm, clear. She stood up for herself and spoke her truth and that was…weird as fuck.
As I was lying in bed falling asleep, I felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t a physical discomfort but something just felt…off. And as I let my thoughts go and my inner monologue take over, I actually wrote down what it was saying about this era of growth for myself—about this very realization nobody actually tells you about self-development:
“There will come a time in your journey of self growth where you don’t recognize yourself. You feel like a stranger to yourself. THIS is growth. You are evolving before your eyes. Do not hide away from this, but lean in. Get to know the new you, appreciate it in the moment, because if you’re doing life right, you’ll feel this way again and again over the years. It will feel easy to pull back to the self you know, the one whose thoughts are predictable—albeit worse—than they are with your new self.
Because we find comfort in the normal, even if that normal is uncomfortable.
You have to embrace discomfort in your identity to truly become who you are—who you’re striving to be.“
Feeling like a stranger to yourself can cause…issues
Think about a time you were around people you didn’t know at all, strangers.
Depending on your personality type, you may have been fine, even talkative. Or, you may have been like me, quiet and on the outside. Perhaps hiding in a corner, observing.
Now imagine one person finds you, and comes in closer. They invade your personal space, and in fact, they start saying things to you, talking to you as if they’ve known you your whole life but in reality…you have no fucking clue who they are.
What’s your reaction?
No matter if you’re the first type or second, you likely try to back up rapidly, and even say something like, “uh, what the hell dude?”
Because when strangers are in our personal space, telling us things, our reaction isn’t to let them get as close as possible, but to put distance between us because it’s uncomfortable.
Now, imagine that stranger is yourself—and you can’t. get. away.
Is that a bit of an exagerration? Sure, yeah. It’s not an outside stranger approaching you, getting too close, and making you feel unsafe.
It could be even scarier because instead of someone on the outside you can move and get away from…
There is no escaping yourself.
And with something like this…you may be tempted to try. Because again, we find comfort in the normal, even if that normal is uncomfortable.
Meaning, it can be easier to fall back into old habits when you feel isolated from your very self. The old you is predictable. You’ve lived with that person forever, you know them, the way they think and act and what they like.
This new you will face challenges you’ve never encountered and it will be scary. Fight the urge to divert back to your old habits and thought-patterns. It’s okay to recognize that, “shit…this feels really weird but…in maybe a good way?”
And that’s just one method of handling something like this so you DON’T go backwards—reminding yourself that not all uncomfortable feelings are bad.
How to get through this specific hardship of self-growth
I’m not just here to tell you the what. I want to actually help you with the how (which to be honest, is a huge pet peeve whenever I read books/blogs about self-development…I mean I GET IT THIS IS WHAT SHOULD BE DONE…but then HOW?!).
It’s not easy. No self-development is easy. If it is, I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong.
Here are a few things I do to get through the times where I’ve experienced growth to the level that I feel weird inside my own skin:
1. Do this “outside-perspective” exercise
One time, I was having a hard time with my identity (mostly because of this very topic on self-development—though I didn’t realize it at the time) and I started feeling like I didn’t know who I was.
So I decided to make a list.
I started with with, “I’m the type of person who…” and then I simply listed all of the real things I have done.
Here’s an example of this exercise:
I’m the type of person who…
- moved across the country twice in a single year
- has a job & income I never imagined possible in my lifetime, let alone at 26-years-old
- listens to and reads books about bettering myself all the time
- would rather sit in the uncomfortable truth than to be ignorantly comfortable
- prioritizes mental health even though it’s the hardest thing for me
- eats mostly real, nutritious foods
- journals almost every single morning
- is a leader at work and for my siblings
This is just an example of a few things about my life that truly represent me.
Sometimes, I don’t feel like that person. I still feel like the 17-year-old high schooler who was angry all the time, worked too much, didn’t talk about her feelings, and distanced herself from those trying to get close.
But when I actually write those things out, I recognize the truth of who I am.
If you’re having a hard time, start with something that makes you proud of how far you’ve come. It can be very, very small. When I first started, it was simply, “I’m the type of person who shares my ideas in work meetings” because that was a monumental step for me.
2. Talk to a friend about this specifically
The reason the above exercise works so well is because it forces you out of your head. You get to see who you are with facts, written down on the outside.
Talking to a friend about how you feel about this stuff can do the same thing, especially if you’re an external processor. So ask a friend if they have a minute, mention you’ve been working on yourself (they should already know, because support systems are vital), and tell them what’s on your mind—that you feel like a stranger to yourself because of how you handled a certain situation (or whatever triggered those feelings to bubble to the surface).
Most of the time, they’ll sit there and tell you, “I see you as that new person, you’re not a stranger to me.”
That alone can make a huge difference. It can bring that stranger-you close enough to metaphorically hug.
3. Remember that it’s a passing phase
These feelings are temporary. You won’t always feel like a stranger, and in fact, the amount of times you feel like a stranger to yourself will diminish with time.
The more you grow into the self you want to be, the more you’ll learn to understand this discomfort as growth. You’ll learn to embrace it, and even acknowledge it as a sign you’re getting better.
Self-development is hard. It has growing pains that are unique to each of us as well. This specific one is difficult, because none of us wants to feel like we’re alone inside our own minds. But recognizing it, and learning to understand and cope with it, are a huge part of the self-improvement process.
Ultimately, it will help you Own Your Ordinary and grow in to bigger and better things.