John Maxwell: Gearing Up for Growth

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: August 15, 2012

All of us want to improve, but few of us really want to change. The problem is that growth requires change. Any kind of makeover you attempt that does not include intentional personal growth will be only skin-deep.

I became dedicated to intentional personal growth in the early 1970s, when I realized it was the only way to become a better person. If we don’t dedicate ourselves to it, we don’t get better; we only get older.

I am committed to personal growth and to helping others grow. That’s why I wrote The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential (in bookstores in October).

As a SUCCESS exclusive, I’m sharing the following excerpt from that book to encourage you to become more proactive and strategic in your personal development.

The sooner you make the transition to becoming intentional about your personal growth, the better it will be for you, because growth compounds and accelerates if you stay intentional about it. Here’s how to make the change:

1. Ask the big question now.

The first year that I engaged in intentional personal growth, I discovered that it was going to be a lifetime process. During that year, the question in my mind changed from “How long will this take?” to “How far can I go?” That is the question you should be asking yourself right now—not that you will be able to answer it. I started this growth journey 40 years ago, and I still haven’t answered it. But it will help you set the direction, if not the distance.

• Where do you want to go in life?

• What direction do you want to go?

• What’s the farthest you can imagine going?

Answering those questions will get you started on the journey. The best you can hope to do in life is to make the most out of whatever you’ve been given. You do that by investing in yourself, making yourself the best you can be. The more you’ve got to work with, the greater your potential—and the farther you should try to go. As my dad often used to say to me when I was a kid, “To whomever much is given, much shall be required.” Give growing your best so you can become your best.

2. Do it right away.

In 1974 I attended a seminar at the University of Dayton, where W. Clement Stone spoke on the subject of the importance of having a sense of urgency. Stone was a business tycoon who had made his fortune in insurance. His session was titled “Do It Now,” and one of the things he told us was this: “Before you get out of bed every morning, say, ‘Do it now’ 50 times. At the end of the day before you go to sleep, the last thing you should do is say, ‘Do it now’ 50 times.”

I’m guessing there were about 8,000 people in the audience that day, but it felt like he was talking to me personally. I went home, and for the next six months I followed his advice. The first thing every morning and the last thing before I went to sleep, I repeated the words “do it now.” It gave me a tremendous sense of urgency.

The greatest danger you face in this moment is the idea that you will make intentional growth a priority later. Don’t fall into that trap! Last year I read an article by Jennifer Reed in SUCCESS (“The Time for Action Is Now,” December 2010). She wrote,

Can there be a more insidious word? Later, as in “I’ll do it later.” Or, “Later, I’ll have time to write that book that’s been on my mind for the past five years.” Or, “I know I need to straighten out my finances.… I’ll do it later.”

“Later” is one of those dream-killers, one of the countless obstacles we put up to derail our chances of success. The diet that starts “tomorrow,” the job hunt that happens “eventually,” the pursuit of the life dream that begins “someday” combine with other self-imposed roadblocks and lock us on autopilot.

Why do we do this to ourselves, anyway? Why don’t we take action now? Let’s face it: The familiar is easy; the uncharted path is lined with uncertainties.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already begun the process. Don’t stop there! Keep taking more steps. Pick a resource that will help you grow and begin learning from it today.

3. Face the fear factor.

I recently read an article on the fears that keep people from being successful. The following five factors came into play:

• Fear of failure.

• Fear of trading security for the unknown.

• Fear of being overextended financially.

• Fear of what others will say or think.

• Fear that success will alienate peers.

Which of those fears most impacts you? For me it was the last one: alienating my peers. By nature I’m a people pleaser, and I wanted everyone to like me. But it really doesn’t matter which fear affects you the most. We all have fears. But here’s the good news. We also all have faith. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Which emotion will I allow to be stronger?” Your answer is important, because the stronger emotion wins. I want to encourage you to feed your faith and starve your fear.

4. Change from accidental to intentional growth.

People tend to get into ruts in life. They get in an easy groove, and they don’t try to break out of it—even when it’s taking them in the wrong direction. After a while, they just get by. If they learn something, it’s because of a happy accident. Don’t let that happen to you!… How do you know if you’ve slipped into a rut? Take a look at the differences between accidental growth and intentional growth:

Accidental Growth

Plans to start tomorrow

Waits for growth to come

Learns only from mistakes

Depends on good luck

Quits early and often

Falls into bad habits

Talks big

Plays it safe

Thinks like a victim

Relies on talent

Stops learning after graduation

Intentional Growth

Insists on starting today

Takes complete responsibility to grow

Often learns before mistakes

Relies on hard work

Perseveres long and hard

Fights for good habits

Follows through

Takes risks

Thinks like a learner

Relies on character

Never stops growing

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes.… In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” If you want to reach your potential and become the person you were created to be, you must do much more than just experiencing life and hoping that you learn what you need along the way. You must go out of your way to seize growth opportunities as if your future depended on it. Why? Because it does. Growth doesn’t just happen—not for me, not for you, not for anybody. You have to go after it!