Personal Development


When you’re in the personal or business development industry, people start looking up to you as a guru. With time, some people start believing that you have all the solutions to life’s challenges.

As you get better at helping people solve their stuff, you get followers. And then the followers become a faithful tribe.

Having been in this industry for over 7 years now, first as a consumer and then as a consumer and practitioner, I’ve seen my share of all these instances.

And I’ve also been guilty of being a follower and member of more than one tribe, sometimes with blind devotion.

Today let me give an insider view of the personal development industry. I’m spilling some major beans here so read through to the end.

A moment of truth

I remember how hard it hit me when I learnt that one of my top spiritual gurus had gotten divorced. His wife left him and soon married someone else.

They had 7 children together and were definitely not a young or middle-aged couple.

When I read this information, I found myself wondering how much of this guy’s work I could trust if he couldn’t keep his marriage alive.

I love the way he handled the issue. He put it clearly that you cannot control someone you’re in a relationship with.

If it reaches a point where your partner feels like they want to leave, and you have both tried to work it out without success, then that person’s decision is more important than the image the world has of you.

His openness is probably the only reason why I’m still part of his tribe. It also taught me the importance of being authentic with the people who trust and look up to you.

Challenges are a constant in life

I too have had many challenges over the last 7 years, some of them real doozies. Some challenges were so big that there were times I would ask God, “Kwani you haven’t had enough?”.

Very few people know that I had challenges and even fewer know the exact magnitude of the challenges.

I’ve shed a lot of tears and had inner pain and physical losses. I put a lot of energy into some areas of my business without positive results; and made wrong personal and business decisions.

There have been fights with family and friends;  separation from my husband; and having to start my life over as a single mum.

A whole load of stinky stuff that if it was aired on reality TV, would make me a millionaire and rival the Kardashians – step aside Kim, there’s a new gal in the house!

It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that challenges are a constant in life that I stopped feeling like giving up and started pushing myself to take the next step forward.

A peep behind the scenes

One of the biggest lies of the personal development industry is that the people in the industry have all the answers and their lives are all rosy once they overcome their major challenges.

Now this is a very dangerous belief for you to have if you’re on the outside, looking for help from someone who’s on the inside.

Some of us in here have gotten very good at masking our pain and issues. We do cry but in private. We have moments of weakness.

We lose our tempers and say or do things that we later regret. We fight with our loved ones and sometimes we’re the ones in the wrong.

We have major blind spots in our lives and character too. We are just as flawed as the rest of humanity.

However, a lot of us have worked so hard on our inner strength that it kicks in when we need it. For some experts, this is almost automatic. Most of all, we know when to seek help and how to get it.

That is all behind the scenes work that rarely comes out – except in small snippets – after someone has acquired a following.

You then get to hear things like, “I had a lot of challenges when starting my business. I lost money, my wife left me, creditors came and took my house and I had to move to a slum for 3 months.”

When you read that statement it doesn’t tell you about the years of struggle this person went through. It doesn’t give you the nitty-gritty and tell you exactly how bad things were.

It doesn’t tell you how frustrating and painful things got until maybe this person thought of ending it all. It doesn’t tell you about the challenges this person is going through now.

It’s just a nice and well-packaged way of keeping the ‘stuff’ tidy. And (sad to say), it’s a very effective marketing gimmick that makes you emotional and gets you removing your wallet and buying something from the expert RIGHT NOW!

You are the expert of your life

Personal development is a billion dollar industry and it’s one of the fastest growing industries in the world today.

So it does have it’s good, bad and ugly sides. People rarely talk about the bad and ugly sides, or about those in the industry who are driven by money.

Unfortunately, because this is a non-regulated industry, there is no one to police and enforce professional ethics in a way that makes people comply.

And so we end up having a lot of hype and good sales copy that leads you into buying regurgitated material that tells you that you’re not good enough, or points out all the flaws in your life.

You feel very bad as you read the copy and end up making a purchase that promises you instant relief or solutions.

Everyone I know who’s into personal development has gone down this path. Many have numerous books and resources that haven’t helped them much but have helped the authors become richer. And yet, we put these experts on a pedestal and keep buying more from them.

Here’s my advice for today: Don’t idolize the experts you work with or whose work you trust. Your experts could be in books, audio, videos, newsletters, blog articles like this one, or in person.

When working with an expert, remember that the expert is human and is going through the same human experience like everyone else.

And if at any time you feel that your relationship with this expert is not working, then you should quit or stop using their material. This is your life and you shouldn’t spend time (and money) doing things that don’t feel right.

Always keep in mind that the expert is just doing their job. Period. They’re paid to help you sort out your drama and they are good at helping you.

Even when this person has declared their work their purpose…this is work that they’re paid to do. The more they invest in getting great results for their clients, the higher the fees they get to command.

It’s the same system as when you’re working with any specialist. A specialist is someone who has invested their time, money, energy and experience into being the best at what they do.

Coaches, personal development trainers (and authors), motivational speakers, energy workers, spiritual leaders, etc are simply experts or specialists, just as you are an expert in your career.

Personal development redefined

Personal development is not about fixing you because you’re broken. You don’t need fixing. You’re OK and complete just as you are.

It’s also not about what you haven’t achieved – making you feel bad because you’ve not followed the expected path.

Personal development is about celebrating what you have achieved. It’s about accepting and appreciating yourself just as you are while striving to amplify your strengths.

Real personal development involves overcoming obstacles that you encounter as you work on your goals and dreams.

Peter Shallard, a personal development expert, notes that “It’s far better to build personal development on a foundation of self-love than self-loathing.”

He further cautions that personal development should come in waves. And so you should not have more than 4-5 breakthroughs in a year. This is because you need time to stop, implement and enjoy the breakthroughs you’ve had.

I love having my clients take a break from coaching after 6 months of work so that they can spread their wings.

We prepare for this from the start of their program. However, almost all my clients try to have their program extended because they’re scared of being alone.

Interestingly, when they start working on their own, they struggle a bit and then they soar. Most of the successes my clients have had come after they complete their coaching.

I’ve never had someone come back to me with the same issue again. I also follow-up with former clients and have found them soaring years after we’ve worked together.

That to me is what personal development is about: being able to gain new skills so that you improve and make your life better permanently.

All you may need from someone else (the expert) is for them to teach you how to navigate life in an easier way. Maybe you need to:

  • amplify what you already know.
  • learn a new skill.
  • acquire some new tips and tricks.
  • find out how to overcome self-limiting beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.
  • get a short cut from someone who’s ahead of you – a mentor.
  • have someone walk along a personal, business, or professional journey with you – a teacher, trainer, coach.

It’s always about taking some information or skill the other person has and applying it in your own life. It should never be about the other person having control over you and/or your life.

So when you meet anyone who tells you that they have all the solutions to life’s problems, run away.


In the opposite direction!

That is my take on personal development and I hope it helps you make wiser decisions the next time you’re purchasing a book, attending a seminar or hiring someone.

And now that I’ve spilled some secrets from this industry, let me wait for a bashing from my colleagues…

Back to you…What has been your experience with personal development?
What has worked/not worked for you?
What would you recommend for someone who is starting out or is feeling stuck?

I’d love to hear from you so please share your experience and thoughts in the Comments below.

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


Caroline Gikonyo is a Life and Business Coach at New Dawn Solutions. She helps brilliant professional and business women become more successful while reducing the time they spend working. She is the author of 12 Weeks to Startup: How to Turn Your Skills, Talents, Knowledge and Experiences Into a Business, which is a self-coaching manual that helps professionals start businesses while still working.