What I wish I knew before University (1): Personal development

In this first post I list a few points on personal development. In order to make life the ride we deserve we all should start by ourselves, and actually no one, especially no one who does not know you, can really tell you what to do and how to do it. I figured however that a few basic approaches can help us find our path, and whenever I or somebody around me missed one of them (except for point 5), trouble seemed preprogrammed. So here I try to help you lay the foundation of how you can design your life the way you deserve. 

1 – Know yourself

Knowing ourselves starts with simple things such as what kind of food we like and what type of music we enjoy the most, but it expands well beyond that. I came up to realise that if we truly want to make most of our lives and get the best out of what we are given we’d better really get to know ourselves. And the sooner in life the better. While this is a pretty tough job in itself, there are some ways to get valid hints on who we are.

A personality test is always a good start. I highly recommend taking the Myers-Briggs-test, for example from 16personalities.com. Don’t forget to pay attention to the descriptions they provide after the test. A test that might help in determining which jobs might fit you the Keirsey TemperamenSorter, previously used by the US Air Force and big companies and brands such as IBM and Coca Cola, could help. Another one which I found interesting was a Big Five assessment, which appears for example often in an entrepreneurial context.

A famous book career wise is the book Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, which I personally did not find very helpful, but it very famous, so why not have a try? My favourite that kicked my thoughts was Limitless by Laura Gassner Otting. Other ways include living alone for a while (for real) and asking friends you trust for feedback, the latter being the best way if you have someone who really knows you well.


2 – Know your strengths and weaknesses

This somewhat belongs to point one, but I want to emphasise on it. At first glance society usually rewards us for just a basic set of obvious skills: playing an instrument very well, excelling at sports, speaking a multitude of languages, or being good at school and further education. Intelligence then is usually perceived only with regards to success at those. Yet psychology defines multiple types of intelligence, which are for example discussed in this post. It pays off engaging with them and finding out which ones we are good at and which ones we are not. First of all we can capitalise more on our strengths and build upon them. Secondly, we know our weaknesses and can decide whether it is worth it working on them. Thirdly, for some people it might help forgiving themselves for past struggles, knowing that it is not their fault, and appreciating what they got instead. And besides intelligence we all got our personal strengths and weaknesses as well. You might want to ask people close to you what they say about that. 


3 – Which constraints do you set yourself?

This is a really personal one, and it is one that is very subtle and difficult one to tackle in my opinion. I have met many people throughout my life, and for many of them when talking with them I felt that they were setting themselves some limits in their mind. Don’t get me wrong: Not everybody can go to the MIT or Stanford, and neither can everybody play in the national football team. I am talking about simple limits such as “I do not have time for that” or “I do not have enough money for that”. While such limits can really exist, in many cases those are just self-imposed constraints ultimately keeping us from having the life we deserve. Regarding all question relating to self-imposed constraints, I’d refer to one of my favourite books of all time, Limitless by Jim Kwik.


4 – Pick your friends and expand your circle

One of the best ways to grow personally (and to be happy) is by engaging with other people. While others do not simply just give you the joy of company, they are also always a great source of information. Going out there everybody both knows something that you don’t and is better at something than you. We’d better appreciate the people surrounding us and what they bring to the table, such as we get a chance to express ourselves.

Another advice I would give is to continuously expand your circles. If you are like me some of your friends were probably the first people you met at an occasion such as the first day at college, and then you just stuck to them because it was ok. While this is ok at some stages at live I probably stuck to the wrong people and did not realise, because I spent too little time on expanding further. There is no mistake in testing the waters what kind of people you are engaging with and consciously deciding to give a shot for the people who have similar goals and enjoy more of what you do. Never forget to respect everybody though, and again, everybody is a great source of information and joy, so keep the ball on rolling.


5 – Read books

One of the things I greatly underestimated was the power of books, and since starting the habit to read a book a week my life quality just skyrocketed. The trick is not so much that I am enjoying a great story, but instead that I am training my brain to focus better, to keep information better and solely the information I gain from the book. Remember that information is gold, not only in education and career, but also in life itself. If you want to get faster at reading books, I recommend you to try speed reading.


6 – Embrace the moment

(objective) success or more or something different in our lives. While this is not innately a bad or wrong thing, I personally believe that we should always bear in mind that the purpose of live is to simply live it. At some point in time we will all reflect on what happened and what we did, and we will realise that one of the two essential resources we were given is the time we had, and the part of our live that is within our control is simply a string of decisions we made on how to spend our time. On top of that, most of the things are simply how we perceive and interpret them.

I find it hard to believe that in the end we will remember how great we were at doing something, what car we drove or what watch we wore. It is somewhat commonplace, but what remains in the end are simply but the footprints that we have left: The people whose lifes we have touched, the depths of the friendships we forged, the great moments we had with them and the love we gave. It is ok to strive for more, and if we want to gain something we should go for it, but we should never forget to take a stop from time to time to just appreciate what we already have, because this moment too is gone soon enough.

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