Many high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, and leaders stress the value of personal development. While there are variations on approaches, there is a lot of consensus on the goals: How does a person increase their performance in any area by becoming more responsible, more compassionate, creative, and present? Oddly enough, an emphasis on personal development is either missing or marginalized in traditional schools as it’s typically considered silly and unnecessary. However, rather than minimizing its role, 21st-century education requires personal development as the foundation for student growth and success.
1. Being an Effective Learner
Hard work and studying matter. But they’re no longer sufficient. To deal with the abundant and ubiquitous data and information of our times, learners increasingly require presence, focus, and an optimal mindset. Consider the different results when a student spends two hours on pre-algebra with the mental model “I’m horrible at math” versus the same amount of time on the exact same subject with the mental model “Math is a puzzle that’s fun to figure out.” A core practice in personal development is becoming aware of one’s attitude and mindset around a particular activity, taking full responsibility for it, and then embodying an attitude that’s more effective. Unless students are in control of their mindsets, they’re often resigned to drudgery and struggle to “just get through the classes,” which can color their educational and learning experiences for life.
2. Having Purpose
Getting through secondary school and graduating from college can be challenging. Without purpose, it’s often daunting, meaningless, and uninspiring. Students who have purpose, who have passion, who have a context for their experiences, are more likely to make the most of their time in any school. Developing an authentic purpose necessitates a level of personal responsibility, self-confidence, and self-awareness. When schools neglect to provide students opportunities to develop these characteristics, like anyone else, they are less likely to overcome challenges or connect with their inner fire of motivation. Worse, once structures of accountability disappear upon graduation, many young people are left rudderless, without a developed connection with their inner compass. On the other hand, when educational systems invest in teaching personal development practices, purpose and meaning naturally emerge. Students become increasingly likely to succeed on their educational path and even enjoy the process.
3. Embracing Change
There’s a saying that the only thing that is constant is change. I’d argue that even change is changing. What I mean is that the speed of change is accelerating. Driven by technology and demographics, there will be more disruption and change in 2017 than there was between 2000 and 2005. Successfully navigating change requires years of personal development work. Without ongoing practice, the vast majority of people automatically fear change, with many being prone to intense anxiety. With practice, not only can students learn how to stay centered and proactive during times of rapid change; they can also learn how to embrace it. While most are feeling overwhelmed and reactive, people who have been practicing personal development will create new ways of providing value, will discover new solutions, and will find ways to make a difference in the world.