“Hello. I’m 21 and new to the personal development world. I’ve been checking out websites and not finding what I expected and hoped for. Between the incessant flashing ads, manipulative money-making schemes, and the same be mindful and joyful, here’s how to get everything you want bullshit, it feels like swimming in a shark tank. Honestly, I’m completely discouraged and more distrustful than before I began looking around. Your website however seems to be doing something different. It’s not selling anything, and you can write in for free, so I’m writing to you here. Do you have advice for a young person who wants more from life, or at least to happily survive it, but doesn’t know where to start and feels more and more overwhelmed and angry at the ugly me-first world we live in? Thank you, Damsel in Distress.”
You’re ahead of the curve by just seeing and expressing what you have. Thoreau wrote “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” which is an observation that most people live empty, desperate lives caused by unfulfilling work, lack of enjoyable purpose and meaningful relationships, and misplaced values. Personal development is meant to offer solutions to these problems. But, as you’ve experienced in your foray into that world, in many cases it has succumbed to the same superficial, materialistic, narcissistic values and methods it was originally trying to fix. You’re right to look at that “mass of men” with discouragement and distrust and to search for something beyond it.
You are not alone in feeling increasingly overwhelmed and angry at the “ugly me-first world we live in.” Depression, apathy, addiction, suicide, obesity, and other physical and psychological disorders have all been increasing this century, particularly among adolescents and those in their twenties. The coronavirus pandemic has made all of this significantly worse. The voraciously competitive personal development marketplace (Google offers 4,380,000,000 personal development website pages to choose from) – with its throng of life coaches, happiness mentors, motivation specialists, work/life balance consultants, wellness gurus, better you designers, intuitive masters, and all the rest – has not really helped. Indeed, it frequently induces confusion, dismay and cynicism, which fuel the quiet desperation. This is especially so for perceptive young people who are earnestly searching for, or at least holding out hope for, something they can believe in that provides trustworthy clues for how to sanely negotiate the intensifying complexities of living on this planet.
Having said all that, there are viable pathways, there are good and wise people out there, and there are tried and true solutions. Let’s hone in on your specific question: Where to start? Here are three suggestions that focus on what I believe are the most crucial issues for young people…
Become proficient at functioning as a healthy animal. Get away from the devices and move. That can be anything that feels enlivening and relieving, something you enjoy that encourages and trains you to move with the naturalness of an animal in the wild. Learn and practice the fundamental physical skills: how, when, and what to eat and drink; how to calm stress, and sleep; how to gracefully hold your posture and breathe freely; how to generate energy in simple, active, fun ways, like you did as a child. Being in the light and lushness of nature can be very helpful, so find purposeful, enjoyable activities outdoors, such as hiking, swimming or gardening, or even reading, writing or drawing in a garden or park.
Pull away from cynicism and anguish as best you can. Why? Because you’ll need all the sincere enthusiasm you can gather as your engine for traveling along the road of life ahead. How? Search carefully through the often ugly world to find jewels of beauty wherever you can – identify what truly inspires and touches you, and follow where it leads. A trustworthy colleague talks about that here, but you’ll need to find or create your own jewels. I find them in the natural world, in some forms of art, and in acts of astonishing sincerity, imagination and generosity. Some exceptional artists, musicians and writers can sometimes guide you there, but so can observing spontaneous creations of nature. Perhaps the most beautiful jewels are found in close relationships through meaningful conversations, experiences and projects, surprising laughter, and intimate care.
Build the pillars of a vocation: work that offers a service that has personal meaning and value to you, that exploits your natural talents, and that generates enough income to live on. It can take a while to build all three pillars, through education and experimentation, but be tenacious and opportunities come. Study how those who you respect and admire have crafted their professions. Any good, honest work, competently done with dedication and generosity, can be rewarding and go a long way to regenerate enthusiasm and trust in life and in yourself. You can build something more or change the design later, so don’t worry about that. For now, you just need to start getting the pillars up – something that pays for basic living expenses, that you inject your qualities and virtues into, and that you feel good about yourself at the end of the day…so that you can find some of those jewels of beauty even within yourself.
Actively exploring these three suggestions can take you a long way to acquiring more from life and happily surviving it. If you feel you need more detailed instruction for specific skills, this website is a decent entryway. Know from the start that it will require patient discipline to push through and beyond old habits and the well-advertised temptations of a desperate life. But just a single progressive gesture toward each suggestion every day is all you need. So pace yourself, and keep your courage and faith as you go.