How vision and goal setting became my gateway drug to the world of personal development
By TAWNY LARA
My addiction to personal development started small, just like my issues with substance abuse. I didn’t think getting stoned on the weekends in high school would turn into a 13-year lifestyle of binge drinking and excess. In the same vein, I didn’t think that reading self-help books would lead to a three-year downward spiral of searching for “the best possible version of myself.”
Vision and goal setting was my gateway drug to the world of personal development. I was working for a retail company that focused heavily on the importance of writing down goals. It was actually part of our job to maintain an updated list of goals we were working toward. I was still drinking at the time. One of the first goals I wrote down was “Have a healthy relationship with alcohol.” At one point, all the employees were given a copy of Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life. I read it quickly, highlighting the talking points I was eager to discuss with co-workers.
That book changed my life — but not necessarily in a good way. Kelly often referred to “the best possible version of yourself” throughout the book. What a lovely thought. I’d like to be the best version of me. That mentality, paired with my addictive personality, was toxic. I was instantly hooked on finding what was wrong with me and then changing it.
It’s nothing against Kelly or his book. There are tons of people out there who can read a self-help book, have a few moments of clarity and then go about their lives. I couldn’t do that. I read to change myself with the same tenacity that I drank to get drunk.
I quit drinking a year and a half later. With booze completely off the table, I had more time to apply to improving myself. I attended seminars and workshops, and I even led a few goal-coaching events. In hindsight, I can see the annoying woman I became. I was blindingly optimistic, determined to save everyone I knew by telling them how to accomplish their goals and follow their dreams. It was a way for me to deflect from my own issues.
My therapist says that my obsession with personal development is linked to my relationship with self-destruction. For a while, I had an actual checklist of things I was “working on” improving. This list included topics such as vulnerability and communication.
I needed these books to cure me, fix me, make me perfect. I was desperate for their words to heal my internal wounds. These books inspired me. They made me feel capable of anything. Sure, feeling inspired can be a good thing, but I let said motivation take control of me. I refused to stop growing until I was perfect. Living in this exhausting world of destination addiction (believing that happiness is whenever you “arrive” at a physical or mental destination) was impossible to maintain.
Let me be clear: I am not bashing self-help books. I’m simply acknowledging that my unhealthy reliance on them created even more issues. These books have truly helped me overcome many personal obstacles. I’m not sure I would have started my blog without Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability in Daring Greatly. Reading Brian Tracy’s Goals! Inspired me to move to New York City. Gabby Bernstein’s Spirit Junkie made me realize that talking about addiction is not only OK but also empowering.
My dependence on self-help books was the same as my dependence on alcohol. They were there for me when I was feeling low and wanted to escape or become someone new. Sobriety and therapy have helped me realize that I’m doing pretty well as is. Sometimes I still browse the self-help section of bookstores. The difference now is that I’ve been on both sides and I know that change is contingent upon the acceptance of who I am right now.
I struggle with the fact that I’m a woman who has a blog that can arguably be considered self-help. I try my hardest to write from personal experience. To stress that I don’t have all the answers. To say “How I” instead of “How to.” What works for me may not work for others, and that’s OK. “The best possible version of myself” isn’t linear. The best version of me changes day to day. Sometimes even minute to minute.
I’ve been “clean” from the self-help world for nearly a year now. I stopped reading those books and unfollowed motivational accounts on Instagram. Maybe one day I’ll be able to find a healthy relationship with that world. But for now, like with alcohol, abstinence is best.
Tawny Lara, right, is the founder of SobrieTeaParty.com. She writes about being sober in New York City and hosts sober socializing events. She is also the music editor for NY Yoga + Life Magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s practicing yoga or eating tacos. Sometimes simultaneously.