August Turak on the Myth of Personal Development

Columbia Business School Publishing

August Turak, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and AuthenticityIn a recent article for Forbes, August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity (Columbia Business School Publishing), takes a closer look at what is meant by “personal development” and how it is frequently misunderstood.

In interviews about the book, Turak is frequently asked “What do you do for personal development?” However, how most people think about personal development in a business context is different from Turak’s view. While many tend to think of it as a means to success, Turak believes personal development is the end. Turak explains:

“Personal development” is compartmentalized; it becomes something we do off the clock and in our spare time in order to “get ahead” in the “real world.” Slowly and unwittingly we become like the real estate agent who religiously accompanies his family to church only because being perceived as a family oriented, God fearing man is “good for business.”

This entire world view tragically puts the proverbial cart before the horse. Whether you call it personal development, personal growth, self-actualization, self-transcendence, or spirituality does not matter. What matters is realizing that the reason you were born is to become the best human being you can possibly be. Personal development is not a tool for reaching a bigger goal. Becoming a complete human being is already the biggest and most noble goal you can aspire to.

Making personal development the central mission of our lives is at the core of Turak’s argument in Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. By privileging the importance of a personal development, the Trappist Monks, according to Turak, have also found success in business. Turak writes:

Trappist monks have been among the world’s most successful businessmen for over 1000 years precisely because they dedicate their entire lives to personal development. Being on time for work, for example, is not just part of a monk’s “job description.” It is a way to build self-discipline; a way to show the same compassion to customers and fellow monks that he prays God will show to him. In other words being on time is not a result of a monk’s personal development it is a form of personal development.

The secret to the amazing business success of Trappist monks is not that they have managed to establish the mythical “healthy balance” between their personal and professional lives. The secret is that their personal, organizational, and business lives are all subsets of their one, high, overarching mission- becoming the best human beings they can possibly be. Business success for the monks is merely the by-product and trailing indicator of living for a higher purpose. Trappist business success is living proof that when we seek first the kingdom of personal development everything else will take care of itself. And this is true of our personal lives as well.

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