The dark side of personal growth and transformation


I’ve always been a bit of a “personal growth junkie.” It’s what draws me to the work of coaching. And of course, I have a coach. He constantly invites me into a larger, more powerful version of myself. He challenges the ways I limit myself. Coaching helps me live more fully into my potential. All great, right?

That’s the light side of personal growth, the pretty part of the journey. It’s what makes coaching or workshops worth the investment of our time and money.

Then there’s the dark side. Not bad or evil, just messy and not so much fun. And yet hugely important in the process of growth and development. I’ve been having one of those dark side experiences this summer. I’m sharing it with you here with the hope that it may support you on your journey.

Here’s the “before” description of the aspect of me that’s central to this story.

  • Self-proclaimed “control freak”
  • Set a goal and “power through” to get it done
  • Generally, don’t ask for help
  • Limit my sense of what’s possible by what I see myself as capable of doing on my own

It’s served me well up to this point. I’ve gotten a lot done, met a lot of my goals.

Now enter the messy part. Richard Strozzi calls this “disorganizing” – when we release some old ways of thinking and being. Small disorganizing experiences may pass almost unnoticed. Big ones can be messy and hard. In decades of doing my own personal growth work, I’ve had lots of disorganizing experiences of all sizes. This one was “super-sized.”

The front edge of this disorganizing experience did pass almost without notice. I allowed myself to engage with a goal that was way too big for my old mindset. I really connected to my deep commitment to developing a new generation of leaders who can make the world better for all of us. I just thought of this as tuning in to what mattered to me, not as inviting some huge disruption in my inner world.

Then I hit a wall with the “power through it” approach. As I pushed myself harder and harder, my old ways of thinking and being got more and more frustrating. Then the disorganizing really got underway. It seemed like suddenly nothing made sense the way I was used to things making sense. At a very basic level, my way of being in the world stopped working for me. Yikes!

Kinda stinks. It was painful, disorienting and frustrating. In the midst of all that, my coach kept reminding me that this is the work of transformation. Part of me said, “So what? I’m going back to my old self!” and part of me really wanted to see it through.

When I have hit these disorganizing experiences before, my unconscious perception has been that I was encountering some broken aspect of myself and that this might be an opportunity to fix what was broken. In this frame, the disorganizing experience is something unpleasant to be tolerated in service of being less broken.

In the midst of this disorganizing experience, I had a conversation with my amazing friend, Melissa. I came to see that disorganizing is a beautiful and luminous space where the constraints of how I knew myself before have been released enough for that version of me to make contact with parts of myself that I have not yet lived into. In this luminous space, the past meets the future in a world of infinite potential. I deeply felt the truth of this. And so I stayed with it.

After a couple of months of that messy stuff, I’ve now begun to emerge on the other side into the “re-organizing” experience. The disorganizing made space for me to be more intentional about the thoughts, beliefs, habits and ways of being that I organize around. I’m choosing more allowing and less pushing, more interdependence and less isolation, more possibility and fewer constraints. All in service of what matters to me, my big commitment of developing the leadership the world needs.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because my hope for you (for all of us) is that we are willing to experience this messier “dark side” of growing ourselves in service of what matters most to us. That we open ourselves to the possibility of growth and transformation so that we can move ever closer to the beautiful, loving beings we are born to be, doing the work in the world that we care most about. And the journey to that isn’t always light and fun. But it’s worth it!