The Journey


I begin my talks and workshops with the framework shown above. I developed this based on years of research and application of this knowledge which identified three distinct stages related to our own personal growth as it related to our life. The stages include; Personal Growth, Self-Discovery, and Enlightenment. The image of a tree provides a great analogy to each of these stages. Similar to a tree, we need the proper "roots" and footing to stabilize our life through the many challenges we experience, along with access to "nutrients" for our Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual self. Without these, the tree will not prosper and prematurely die. The trunk is symbolic of who we are and what we stand for, our core values, belief system, integrity level, and strength. Without these we can easily succumb to infestations of negativity, depression, and unhappiness. Our branches, leaves, and what we bear (fruit or flowers) demonstrate our inner and external beauty and gifts we offer the world. Without these we are prone to wilt and wither away. The tree requires a connection to sunlight which is analogous to the greater life beyond, our faith and beliefs, to provide us with the motivation to grow and prosper, while bringing meaning and purpose to our life,

Having a framework provides a structure for personal growth as it relates to our life. We cannot grow without first having firm footing (roots) along with obtaining the needed sustenance (nutirents from the soil) to keep us alive and healthy in order to provide for continued growth (e.g., self-esteem, self-confidence). Our ability to remain upright and resilient (trunk), and able to endure the storms and challenges (wind, drought, famine, infestations) we experience in life (hardships, loss, change). With healthy roots and a strong and resilient trunk, we can then bear our fruit, flowers, seeds, which represent our gifts and abilities that we offer to the world. A strong connection to our faith, beliefs, core values provides the fuel and motivation we need to pursue our life's purpose, making the journey and adventure of life worthwhile. Let's examine the three stages of growth.

Stage 1 - Personal Growth

Click Here To View PERSONAL GROWTH Summary
A tree’s life and continued growth depends on what lies beneath the surface, its root system. Life depends on our ability to achieve the basic needs of survival (food, water, shelter, safety), while our growth depends on our ability to function with the healthy mental, emotional, physical, and spritual aspects of our self. Beneath these aspects lies our subconscious, where we collect all our experiences in life which are filtered by our perceptions which then create healthy or unhealthy beliefs. So much of what we believe and value as an adult was formed during our youth. Our roots were either programmed to grow and prosper based on experiences that provided love, encouragement, positive affirmations, and support forming healthy beliefs about who we are and about life itself, or programmed to be self-limiting based on negative experiences (abuse, neglect, negative affirmations, and hate), forming unhealthy beliefs. Our basic psychology, our self-esteem, self-image, self-awareness, confidence, beliefs, values, etc. is largely formed and influenced by these experiences. We venture out into life as a young adult either programmed to succeed or fail. 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 (ourselves) with the needed nutrients to survive and thrive. The good news is that no matter what our past was, we can learn to reprogram ourselves by changing our unhealhy beliefs into healthy beliefs. Such 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 for this was the trauma and abuse I experienced during the formative years of my life and the unhealthy beliefs I developed followed by a low self-esteem and self-image. Was it any surprise that my life was riddled with stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and negative consequences. It was not until years later that I was able to make the connection between my past and the negative consequences I was experiencing. The change began with a choice to get help, a decision to no longer be a victim and instead to learn how to take charge of my life. I had entered the Personal Growth stage.

The first stage is Personal Growth, the development of our root system and subconscious, no matter how tainted they were to form healthy beliefs, a strong self-esteem and image, along with the needed confidence, courage, and awareness, to take charge of our life. With the assistance of professionals (therapists, counselors and other trained practitioners), we learn to take that hard look within to connect the dots between our negative consequences and our own behaviors, attitude, beliefs, and perceptions. The critical work up front relates to making these connections along with a decision to take charge and responsibility of our life and let go of our victim mindset. It takes courage to confront our past, understand what happened, and relate this to our life today. We learn to let go and heal our past, while reforming our beliefs about self into more positive ones using tools such as affirmations and journaling. We make changes to our new and improved root system, by providing it with the nutrients we did not receive. Slowly we build a new root system or foundation so that we feel better about the person we see in the mirror, and learn to stand on our own two feet with new courage and strength to pursue the basic endeavors we need in life to take charge of our life.

See below on this page for more about Personal Growth.

Stage 2 - Self Discovery

Click Here To View SELF DISCOVERY Summary
Personal Growth built a new foundation so that we can now discover more about who we are with the purpose to be more of our potential in order to grow and prosper in our life. This requires another choice. Some are satisfied with being a productive and happier person as a result of their Personal Growth. This choice, the choice of "Self-Discovery", involves a realization that we can be so much more, a desire to discover who we are, and to further develop the needed attitude, beliefs, core values, and capabilities, to become more of our potential, while defining what this potential looks like.

Examples of this include; athletes who want to excel and become professional athletes or win a gold medal, workers who follow an amibition to become a senior leader (e.g, CEO), individuals who want to escape poverty and obtain the needed education and experience to break out of their current economic status, people like Martin Luther King who develop new levels of courage and belief to pursue their dreams, or others, like myself, that have an innate desire or thirst to grow with a goal to become their full potential or to discover more about who and what they are.

In the latter example, our focus is on discovering our potential first, and then using this awareness and understanding to pursue new paths. For example, based on my innate desire to grow and learn more about myself, I took advantage of any opportunity to learn about me. This included personality assessments, courses, workshops, books, counseling, journaling, travel, and more. Each action was like taking a picture of myself from a different vantage point. Over time, the collection of these images created a collage. From this I was able to see the many aspects of self (e.g., personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, likes, dislikes, definitions of success and happiness, our core values & beliefs, etc.) that produced a new understanding of who I am. From this I would contemplate different ideas, objectives, roles, interests, to pursue new directions in my life.

Whatever your objective is in this stage, the key is to understand the importance of first developing a healthy self-esteem and self-image, along with courage, which is why we must first complete the Personal Growth stage before we enter the stage of Self-Discovery.

In the Self-Discovery stage we define what being our full potential looks like and then choose a path that is consistent with who and what we are or choose our desired potential and follow with our development to achieve this goal. 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 we were intially taught we should be.

Stage 3 - Enlightenment

Click Here To View ENLIGHTENMENT Summary
I made major strides with my Personal Growth, having healed my past and dealt with many of the issues and unhealthy beliefs that were behind so many of the negative consequences and pain & suffering that I was experiencing. This was followed by a period of Self Discovery where I used many methods to learn more about my personality, preferences, strengths & weaknesses, values, beliefs, and more to identify those aspects that I wanted to keep, and those that I wanted to and could change (e.g., definitions of success and happiness). This was used to reconsider choices for my professional and personal life and in a way that was consistent with the person I discovered.

Many would have been elated with this level of growth, and it was indeed amazing. But why was there a nagging feeling within me that kept me up at night? This innate desire to grow was not yet satisfied. I conducted more self-discovery, but it no longer satisfied me.

The answer would come nearly a year later when a colleague placed "The Call" on my desk.Upon reading this I burst into tears. "This is it" I told her. "This is what I have been searching for" I added. She smiled and told me that she somehow knew this when she gave it to me. This explained this nagging itch to keep growing, but I had no idea what this meant. Indeed, it was the call. I read it over and over, focusing on the line, "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."

There are those that aspire to go even further, with a quest to understand the meaning of life and our part in it. It is so cliche to state "the meaning of life" and was often considered to be a joke since no one of course would ever achieve this knowing. However, I could no longer convince myself that this was a joke any longer. It was a thirst, a need. This point in time generated a million questions along with the sincere belief that I was crazy. I had achieved a very good status in life as would be judged by what I was taught. Why would I consider leaving this behind? One of the most intense internal struggles emerged. It was indeed a "choice of risk and individual bliss over the known and secure".

Growth is indeed a double-edged sword. On one side we grow to become more of what we want to be, discover who we truly are, and find greater levels of happiness. The farther we go, the more we learn that the other edge is a departure from the mainstream. Ignorance can indeed be bliss until you are bit by this thirst to go deeper and deeper within. We venture onto a new path in life, called "The Road Less Traveled." And on this path we find ourselves more and more alone, which hurts since we all have a basic need to belong and to be loved. The path to Enlightenment is as sharp as the razor's edge (a line from what became a favorite movie relating to this journey, The Razor's Edge with Bill Murray).

What is this stage of Enlightenment about? It is a quest to answer the deepest and most profound questions there are about life and why we are here. For many, these questions are answered within organized religions, and that may suffice. This was initially a part of my journey where I investigated many religions, but it was not enough for me. I left each discussion with more questions than answers. I was inspired by the story of Siddhartha, the Buddha, who investigated many belief systems but ultimately it was his solo journey of meditation under the tree for an extended time that provided him with his truth. When I learned about Native American Indians, they too had a tradition called the "Vision Quest" where individuals left the tribe to come to their own truth. I labelled my own journey, "A Modern-Day Vision Quest".

How do you achieve Enlightenment? There are many paths one can take to achieve enlightenment, there is no one way, only your way. There are those that experience sudden events, "spirtual awakenings", that result in major epiphanies. An example of this are near-death experiences (NDE's). I was fortunate to have a dear friend who was pronounced dead yet came to life once in the hospital. He eventually talked about an amazing experience as he confronted "The Light" and returned with unbeleivable stories and intuitive abilities. You would have had to know Tom prior to realize the difference this experience had with him.

Enlightenment often occurs over time and a result of many experiences that ultimately have the impact of a spiritual awakening, but over time. These are referred to as "Gradual Spiritual Awakenings". This was characteristic of my own awakening. I could have written off any one event as silly or nonsensical, but it was the culmination of experiences that provided me with the evidence I needed to conclude that life indeed had meaning.

There are many methods that can be used to stimulate new beliefs or awareness. A popular one is meditation, where we learn to accept the brain for what it is while we focus on something other than our thoughts such as our breath. We tend to live in our brains, yet have experiences at times with epiphanies when we are focused on something other than our thoughts (e.g., taking a shower and enjoying the warmth of the water, when we all of a sudden get the answer to a work problem, etc.).

What happens when you achieve Enlightenment? The first response to this, and in my own opinion, is that Enlightenment is not a destination, only a continued journey. There are a couple of expressions that relate to this. My favorite is: "What do you do before enlightenment? Chop wood and carry water. What do you do after enlightenment? Chop wood and carry water." There is a great scene in the movie, The Razor's Edge, where Bill Murray's character experiences enlightenment. The realization he had was that this does not get you any special treatment of a "get out of jail card" with respect to avoiding life itself. You simple learn to return to life and carry on the needed duties to sustain yourself, just as everyone else does. What is different however, is the level of your awareness. You see things differently and often become more secluded.

What you also discover, is that there are many levels of Enlightenment. It is a process that I believe ever ends. Growth is one of the fundamental aspects of life across the universe. With growth comes change, and with change comes the opportunity to learn how to experience new things. New challenges arise that promote further growth. And so on.

A characteristic of many I have met that experienced Enlightenment is the interest in serving others. One of the tenets learned is that we indeed are all one, and that the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. So our objective is to be present and with love, to help others. It is not an interest in telling others what to do, but instead to be there for others and in a way that may inspire their own growth. It is NOT intended to be a badge of honor that somehow makes us any better than others, but instead a ray of light that promotes in our own suttle ways, the growth of others.

There are many individuals who have had an awakening and become teachers or gurus on this topic. People in search of their own awakening often seek these individuals out to listen to their stories, guidance, teachings, etc. Just be aware that "false prophets" exist to prey on these individuals. It is important to develop an ability to discern. I was a natural skeptic with an open mind. It would take time for me to form a connection with someone before I could trust them.

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.

More About the Personal Growth Stage

Click Here To View More About PERSONAL GROWTH
For our purposes, Personal Growth refers to growth that we make relating to overcoming the limiting beliefs and self-esteem/self-image/self-awareness.

We all have personal issues, behaviors, and unhealthy beliefs that result in negative consequences in our life, unhappiness, and limit our becoming our full potential. The focus in this stage is to; 1) learn how to go within to identify the root cause of our negative consequences and unhappiness, 2) heal our past or the situations that may have led to our unhealthy beliefs, 3) develop our self-esteem and healthy core beliefs, and, 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 we can go from feeling stuck or in a rut to moving forward in our life.

What prompts individuals 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 Onion The 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.

More About the Self Discovery Stage

Click Here To View More About SELF DISCOVERY
A Bit More on Self-Discovery

There are multiple levels or layers to self. The outermost layer is what we are most aware of. This is what we know about ourselves, or typically this is limited to what we see. Similar to the analogy of an iceberg (see image), we are conscious (portion of iceberg above the water), of only about 10% of who and what we really are. What lies beneath the surface represents our subconscious, or largely unaware of, which represents our beliefs, values, biases, prejudices, etc. This accounts for 90% of self, which is largely hidden from us, and requires a conscious effort to learn about our hidden self. It is what lies beneath the surface, our subconscious, that plays a major role in our behaviors and consequences. Hence the value of self-discovery is to undertand this connection so that we can change our unhealthy patterns, negative consequences, into more healthy beliefs and positive consequences. We are the cause of our own unhappiness which is so difficult to initially grasp!

The process of self-discovery begins as we are motivated to begin peeling away the layers and delve into our subconscious. This is no easy task, which is why I stated that one must be motivated to do so. It is about taking that hard look within so that you can understand our behaviors and actions along with why we choose them. The key word here is choice (see my Post on the topic of Choice) We come to realize our tendency to react to situations and why this is. The outcome of this work is that we become more conscious and self-aware, thereby learning to make better choices that are more consistent with our goals and desires. We shift from being a victim to a victor, thereby taking charge of our life! These are both aspects of self that one would develop during the “Personal Growth” stage as I outline in the image below.

Developed by Michael McGinnis With a stronger self-esteem and image there are those that choose to embark deeper within which is characteristic of “Self-Discovery”. The motivation is to figure out who and what we are so that we can be better aligned with what we choose to do in our life. The quest is to be happy, which itself comes under scrutiny as we redefine what happiness and success means to us. We want to discover more of our potential and become this potential in order to feel greater levels of meaning and purpose in our life. There are a couple of quotes and a movie that express the motivation behind pursuing our Self-Discovery.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I’ve got held up for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW For many life is characterized by the grind, rut, routine that develop into feelings of unhappiness, anger, frustration, and stress. We have come to settle with what is expected from us in life. We fall prey to becoming a victim “complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” The routines feel like a ball and chains we come to wear. Yes, aspects of our life such as our job, raising a family do become routines and can feel like a chore, but with a shift in values, beliefs, and attitude, we not only learn to accept what we must do, but we also redefine these aspects into something meaningful, something that we are grateful for, and find ways to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be in each of these areas. Let me share personal examples of this transition.

Rather than feeling that work was a chore, I changed how I viewed work and then sought ways to make the most of it. In my case as a training leader, I wanted to learn everything I could about this trade. I wanted to be the best manager along with changing the perception towards training as a strategic resource versus something employees had to do. I created annual development plans to learn new competencies to help me perform more effectively and efficiently. I challenged my team to do the same and to turn every problem into an opportunity for innovation and success. The results led to being nationally recognized for my contributions along with promotions within my company. But it was the feeling within me that was the greatest reward, that I was living up to my full potential and improving upon this every year.

My role as a parent also felt like a chore and routine. When I came to realize that being a great Dad and raising my children was one of my core values, I sought out ways to make the most out of this time. I came to see the sacrifice so often needed as a parent not as something that depleted the helium in my balloon, but instead as the most powerful investment I can make with my children, a choice that I made to have.

“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.”

A strong self-esteem & self-confidence were developed during the Personal Growth stage. Here we learn to develop greater levels of courage and taking risk, essential to the stage of Self-Discovery. Characteristic of this stage is an innate desire to find greater meaning and purpose within your life. Although we all feel this way at times, these individuals take action, often requiring risk and adventure. It is easy to accept our unhappiness, realizing that we are just like so many others we know. It is difficult to blaze a new path.

It was in my thirties that I first felt this call. A colleague placed Jennifer’s quote (above) on my desk. I was in tears when I read this since this revealed to me what I was struggling with inside. Following a series of events and encounters, I hung up my corporate title and role for a backpack to volunteer and travel around the world. It went against everything I was taught was important and that which made sense. The result was that my life had changed forever as I discovered so much about myself and of life itself on my many journeys. The quote from Michael Crichton best sums up this experience.

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am. There is no mystery about why this should be so. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes — with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

We are creatures of comfort and like routine, because it feels safe and comfortable, yet it is characteristic of all human beings to want to grow, which means being pushed out of our comfort zone. Earlier I referrenced the key word of “CHOICE”. In order to grow we must make the choice to grow or to live unhappily ever after. During my travels as mentioned above, I lived in an uncomfort zone confronting new languages, cultures, customs, food, death, dying, dwellings, crime, people, and events. The epitome of this was my rafting experience on the class 5 Zambeze River in Zimbabwe. After falling out of the raft I ran out of air as I was tossed and turned under the class 5 rapid. I was then caught in a whirlpool after surfacing and then confronted with a crocodile after I finally reached the shore. It was coming to grips with my own potential death that I had my own Near-Life Experience! Following a number of incredibly challenging experiences I had discovered so much about life, including how fortunate I was to remain alive. I came to value life along with the attitude of gratitude. These experiences had significant impacts on the choices I made once I returned back to my no longer “normal” life!

The movie, Dances with Wolves, provides a great story of Self-Discovery. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) leaves an unfullfilling life to venture out to the far reaches of what was known at that time. There he settled in to sparse surroundings and a journal where he began to reshape his life beginning with developing new values and beliefs. The result was that his values had changed. The mark of a great value and belief is that you are willing to die for this, which was the case for him. These people are more likely to confront death more easily knowing that they lived life on purpose and according their their values!

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. Life happens, including the good, bad and the ugly, but it is our beliefs, values and self-awareness that guides us proactively through these times. With these, we react based on our fears, unhealthy beliefs, bias, prejudice, etc.

As I started my own journey of self-discovery, I realized that I was a victim of society, my family, education, etc., whom I allowed (my choice) to define who and what I should be, define what was important, what happiness and success is, my appearance, etc. Never was I encouraged to consider my own definition of success and happiness. I would be judged based on how well I lived up to society and my parents definitions. My perception of self was based on large part on how well I would live up to everyone else’s perceptions versus my own.

Self-Discovery is addressing the questions, “Who Am I?”, “Who Do I Want To Be?”, What Does Happiness & Success Mean To Me?”, “What Do I Stand For?”, “What Do I Value?”, “What Does Being My Full Potential Look Like?”

As I share in a post on the topic of “Key Concepts To Know and Apply To Your Journey of Self-Discovery”, one of these concepts is the ABC Model (see Post on this topic). It states that it is ultimately our beliefs and values that drive our behaviors which results in the consequences we experience in life. So if we are experiencing negative consequences, the first place to start is not by blaming others, but instead to take that hard look within and understand how I am contributing to these consequences.

So how do we begin to understand our values and determine what we want them to be? I share in my book an exercise I use to help people identify and prioritize their values. This is a very introspective and difficult activity. It can begin the discovery process of understanding what we currently value and ultimately what we want to value. The goal of self-discovery is to define what we truly value, not just in our heads as a thinking activity, but mostly how we feel which understands how these values are aligned with our hearts. Once discovered, these values and beliefs are motivating, engaging, and serve as a new rudder in our life, helping us to determine how best to navigate life’s exciting yet challenging waters. The trick is discovering those that are most aligned with who we are and want to be. Then the challenge is making them an active part of our life. A great example of doing this is Benjamin Franklin and his Thirteen Virtues. Benjamin would review these each evening to assess how he did and where he could improve.

I must state again that it is critical that one has done their foundational work, “Personal Growth” (see Tree of Life image above) with respect to their initial recovery and identifying the unhealthy beliefs that they had once formed. We must be aware of how our beliefs were tainted so not carry forward these issues. It is best to have a clear head and open heart. We must have the self-awareness to understand what our former beliefs were and why before we consider what we want to become. We have all been conditioned to some degree.

The development of new beliefs and values often requires experimentation. Some are born with a strong conviction to what their life is about. For most of us, it requires a process of discovery. We are often limited and bounded to some degree by our responsibilities (e.g. work and family). This search is more difficult because of these responsibilities. Traditional societies often provided a means for an individual to conduct their self-discovery. The American Indians used the “Vision Quest” where their sons would leave the tribe and not return until they understood who they were. An example of this was portrayed in the movie, Dances with Wolves, when the character Dunbar left the civilization that he was accustomed to due to his trauma and found solstice in isolation. There was a point of revelation which is where the Chief said to him, You are no longer Dunbar, you are now “Dances with Wolves”. Their Indian name often came from their experience (vision) that gave them this new clarity. My own journey of self-discovery is featured in the video, “A Modern Day Vision Quest – A Personal Search to Discover Self and the Meaning of Life”.