in: Wellness

What Stands in the Way of Personal Development

Amy Angelilli

More often than not, we are our biggest obstacle on the way to success (on any level). This is especially true when it comes to personal development. It’s time to move out of the way.


Clasp your hands together.

Great. Now please consider how it feels.

It’s natural. It’s nice. It’s cozy. Now, pull your hands apart and clasp them the other way—the opposite way. This is the way that isn’t natural to you. It doesn’t feel good. It feels awkward. If you’re like me, you just want it to end.

Until one day, I didn’t.

In June, I was a counselor at Camp Grounded – summer camp for adults. Yes, you read that correctly…adults. One of the head counselors showed us that little hand exercise that basically boiled down the entire camp experience to one small body movement.

Although I, like many of the campers, was feeling awkward in my own experience, I’d check in with myself during the 22 days I was there to see how I was adjusting to being a living, moving, breathing billboard for the benefits of trying new things and for personal development.

The exercise would go like this…

  1. Clasp hands normally.
  2. Clasp hands awkwardly.
  3. Reflect on the difference.
  4. Wish I would feel less awkward and more “normal.”

Then that day came near the end of the camp experience.

It was the day I did my hand exercise and instead of clasping hands normally, my hands automatically went to the awkward position. In three weeks time, awkward had become comfortable and I had finally settled into feeling “normal” about feeling not so normal.

Wow! How did I get there? Not easily.

The Beginning of My Journey

Camp Grounded is a safe space that is held so campers can disconnect to reconnect. There are key agreements to the experience that include:

  1. Digital detox
  2. No work talk
  3. No age talk
  4. No real names – camp nicknames only
  5. No drugs or alcohol.

All the agreements are in place so campers can get in touch with their authentic selves and be mindful and present about their connections with others. I was totally on board, though I was secretly a little disappointed that I couldn’t share the experience on Facebook as it was unfolding.

Then I started packing, and it became real.

Despite being an active practitioner of improvisational theater, I was melting down about trying this particular brand of something new. How could an improviser, who cultivates a life around trying new things and encouraging others to do so, be second-guessing this opportunity to guide others through a transformational experience?

Let’s break it down:

  1. Five days before leaving for California, I had returned from a self-guided driving trip around England. I was exhausted and jet lagged.
  2. Three days before leaving for California, my 20-year-old cat, Lilly, who had been with me my entire adult life, went over the rainbow bridge. I was overwhelmingly sad and depressed.
  3. One day before leaving for California, I realized I didn’t know anyone affiliated with this operation. I would be cut off from communicating with my husband for the first time since we met. And, oh yes…I had never been to summer camp as a child, and I don’t camp as an adult despite the Colorado zip code. I was scared and confused.

…And then I had a melt down.

But I went to camp anyway.

The thought of being disappointed at myself for dismissing the opportunity to be a camp counselor was worse than the fear of trying new things, even though the things were many and formidable. A fellow counselor gifted me some wise words at the start of our Camp Grounded experience. He said the fear that our imagination conjures is often worse than the fear that we actually experience.

And this is why you, and I and everyone else put up roadblocks that sequester us from personal development. Our minds create images and scenarios that, although fictional, are powerful enough to quiet the heart. We use excuses such as time or money or responsibilities or comparisons to other people to push us away from where we want to be and what we truly hope to experience.

Plus, trying new things without a safety net is scary and requires vulnerability. Improvisation is the quintessential without-a-net experience. And after we’ve played an improv game, we often breathe a sigh of relief and express a big “Yay!” for having not only survived but thrived. For once we embrace the fear of the unknown, we grow, and we often have an amazing time doing so.

california, car, adventureI’ll be honest. I did have a safety net at camp. It was unforeseen, and it made me feel better. It came in the form of a rental car. Because I had not been successful in coordinating a car pool arrangement from the Bay Area to the Redwoods, I was left without a ride. I rented the smallest, least expensive thing on wheels; and in doing so, I calmed down.

In the unlikely event that my worst fear was realized (And what exactly was that fear?…Was it that I wouldn’t like the bathrooms or that no one would like me?) I could always hop in the car and leave…to where I didn’t know. I only knew that I wasn’t stranded and that I could escape to a place with cell service, with bubble baths, with people that maybe liked me.

So did I use the car?

Yes and no.

I used the car while camp was not in session to connect with my husband and my business, to take care of my bio needs (cough drops, bubble baths, warm bed), to stock up on camp supplies, to visit friends and to take in the gorgeous sights of the Northern California coast.

So, yes, I used it in a positive, productive way–not as an escape hatch. No one had to open the property gates for me while camp was in session, so I could make a break for it in the middle of the night on Friday the 13th. In fact, I didn’t even see the car while camp was in session.

I did, however, experience some fears and some anxieties. While they might not have been as powerful and overwhelming as what was lingering in my imagination, they were very real.

In trying this new thing as a leader for personal development, I was personally developing too. I was–when it all boils down–dealing with my own shit.

We are all the products of our own experiences. To think that as counselors, we would have the ability to be removed from our own personal development process was naïve. However, by embracing that truth and sharing it with campers, I was able to give campers the gift of permission.

I openly and authentically expressed my fears about being at camp and the head-space that accompanied the ride. I shared my anxieites; and they, in turn, thanked me by sharing theirs. As it turns out, many of us shared similar worries; and that should be no surprise, because as human beings, we all have the desire to feel safe and to feel accepted. All the anxieties around sleeping, bathrooms, food and the dark were really just fears about being safe.

I feel safe when I can take a hot shower, put on warm clothes and get into bed without worrying about my snoring affecting others. I brought earplugs for my cabin mates. I bought warm clothes en route to camp after word came that it was “damn cold” at night. I scheduled shower time for myself, so there would never be the opportunity to miss this non-negotiable part of my day.  I also had a huge supply of energy bars should I get the midnight munchies. And, I had a headlamp and a flashlight so that if one stopped working, I was still covered.

Did I get enough sleep? Probably not. Did I get sick at one point? Yes. So the self-care was and remains a work in progress. However, I was mindful enough to identify and manage my non-negotiable needs.

The fear of acceptance, however, is a much harder one to tackle.

Throughout the camp experience, many of us–counselors and campers–asked ourselves, “Am I good enough?”

Am I good enough for what?

To try something new?…Of course.

To practice personal development?…Of course.

To be scared and awkward while doing so?…Of course.

facebook hug, over connectedIn today’s overconnected world, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. When we see posts on Facebook, we think that “everyone” is doing great things, “everyone” is having great relationships and “everyone” is experiencing a great life. The truth is that “everyone is everyone.”

This is a phase that developed organically at camp. At its core, it means that everyone is doing great things and mundane things. Everyone is having a great and not-so-great relationship. Everyone is experiencing life; and sometimes it’s grand, and sometimes it’s not.

We are all going through things that are positive and negative, healthy and unhealthy, forward moving and stagnant. We are more alike than we realize, but through our digital connections we choose to rate ourselves against what we see on our news feeds.

Trying something new may be as simple as taking a new route to the office…What might become of that? Maybe some nice scenery. Maybe a stop at a different café for morning coffee. Maybe nothing more than a break in a routine. And that’s just fine – and totally worthy of a Facebook post. Or maybe skip the post and just be totally present in the new scenery, new café or new not-yet-routine.

So I invite you to clasp your hands.

Now do it the other way.

Please use this as a remembrance to embrace personal development by trying one small new thing. If you’re scared, or if you need a net, or if you think your net isn’t big enough, drop me a line and share your anxieties with me. Sometimes a little support is all we need to feel comfortable clasping our hands together the other way – the awkward way.

[image: via *saipal, Peter Gorges and Sean MacEntee on flickr]

About the Author:

Amy Angelilli Amy Angelilli

Amy Angelilli: Chief Adventure Officer – The Adventure Project Amy Angelilli’s own adventure project began when she turned 40 while on safari in South Africa. Realizing she had veered off the path of her “right life,” she returned determined to make major changes both personally and professionally. In the first half of 2012, she left her relationship, her house and her job. In the second half of 2012, she married the love of her life–one year to the day she unveiled an authentic, heartfelt profile on a dating website. Her latest creation is The Adventure Project, which offers relationship, life and travel adventures to the Every Person via play. When not playing or navigating adventures, she can be found enjoying meaningful travel, restorative yoga or improvisational theater. Her greatest performance is as herself in “It’s All About Amy”–the unscripted story of her life. She also created and produced the theater experience “3 Blind Dates”–Denver’s only unscripted romantic comedy that showcases the phenomenon of modern dating. Follow her authentic adventures on twitter or via her blog and you just might find your own adventure!

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