We are changing--we have got to change. We can no more help changing than leaves can help going yellow and coming loose in autumn.
D.H. Lawrence

God helps those who help themselves. And since few human beings experience abiding inner peace or fulfillment, most of us are involved in improving our body, our finances, our relationships, or some other aspect of our lives. Few would argue with the desirability of improving one’s general lot in life, but those more deeply committed to personal growth are sometimes debunked by "respectable" authorities who suggest this quest as self-indulgent. Self-improvement books, seminars, teachers, and practices, like sweet desserts, become difficult to enjoy it without lingering guilt. After all, as some might assert—wouldn’t we be better off using our time and energy in the service of others?

Indeed, do we need to change at all? Isn’t the higher goal of life to completely accept ourselves as we are? And abandoning efforts at personal growth frees up time and saves money. Yet we persist, because the urge to transformation is deep within us. Call it escape from pain, the drive to freedom, or the force of human evolution. Anais Nin put it well when she wrote, "Then the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom."

The following incidennt may help to resolve the apparent choice between working on ourselves or serving others: One day Socrates and I were walking along a street by campus when we came to some posters on a wall. One was about helping oppressed peoples; another had faces of starving children; a third asked for our support in saving the whales. Reading these posters, I said, “Socrates--I sometimes feel guilty, or selfish, doing all this work on myself when there are so many people in need out there.”

Socrates continued walking, saying nothing at first, until he stopped abruptly and said, “I’ll give you five dollars if you can slap me on the cheek.” I had no idea where this non-sequitor came from, but refused to play his game until he started slapping me playfully, challenging me, until I finally took a swing at him--and found myself on the ground in a rather painful wrist-lock. “Notice,” he said, “how a little leverage at the right place and right time can be very effective?” “Yes,” I answered, getting up, “I noticed.”

“It’s commendable that you want to help others,” he told me. “But before you can help others you have to understand them. And before you can truly understand them you have to understand yourself. Follow your heart, by all means, and help where you can. But only when you’ve first developed clarity, courage, and commitment will you know how to exert the leverage to really make a difference.”

One need not choose between self and world. We can accept ourselves as we are, and at the same time, use whatever resources that instruct, uplift, and empower us to lead better lives.

According to a Chinese sage, “Only the supremely wise and the ignorant do not change.” Like the caterpillar, which goes through the dramatic change into a butterfly, we have birth, puberty, menopause, and eventually, death. But our lives also involve many small transformations, many opportunities to be born and re-born. To what? That is the question, and the mystery, which remains before us. A puzzle not to solve, but to celebrate.

On our quest for self-improvement, we need to be wary. Some teachers, schools, and methods are more effective than others. Alan Watts advised us to “beware of teachers who pick our pockets and sell us our own wallet.” Ironically, that’s all any teacher can do, because the treasure is inside us, and the keys to the treasure chest are found in our life experience.

Ultimately, no one requires books, seminars, teachers, or practices to evolve. Daily life is guaranteed to teach us everything we need to learn. Our relationships, children, work, and bodies reveal us to ourselves--all our weaknesses emerge, and our strengths. I continue to teach and to write because I offer a kind of map to daily life—to help most people learn more, learn faster, and learn easier the lessons of everyday life. I write and teach because I can save people some time and some pain.

Meanwhile, wheverever we step, the path appears beneath our feet. So follow your nose and trust your instincts. Take the day off, or take the lifetime off. Still, the path continues. If we lose our heartfelt connection to others, no method avails; if we open to love, nothing else is necessary.

The ultimate purpose of transformative practices, of “consciously walking the path of personal evolution,” is to clear away the obstructions that hold love trapped within us and free it to expand into the world as joyous service to the common good. We’re on this journey together. We may as well enjoy the scenery.

Best wishes from a fellow traveler,


Author's Bio: 

Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, and college professor whose eleven books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Life You Were Born to Live, Everyday Enlightenment, The Laws of Spirit, and Living on Purpose have inspired millions of readers in more than 20 languages worldwide.

Dan's talks have influenced men and women from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of business and finance, health, psychology, education, politics, entertainment, sports, and the arts.

For further information about Dan's work, you can visit his website at: www.danmillman.com