Ingrid Jensen List In June 2010, I was having a real rough time. I was an aspiring professional trumpet player with an injured lip, and I couldn’t play. I was also trying to finish a graduate degree in music at the time, so this was kind of a problem. I had other problems, too:

  • I was deep in student loan debt.
  • I was completely out of shape.
  • It was time to start a career, and I had never had a “real job.”
  • I had no idea where to start fixing any of these things.

The one thing I had plenty of was time, and I decided to do some reading. Needing somewhere to start, I picked up a reading list given to me by someone I truly admired: jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, whom I’d been lucky to meet a few years earlier. One of the books on her list had a bizarre title, and it caught my eye: Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz. I got a copy and went to my local coffee shop to check it out. That book’s message — that our self-image guides our behavior and we can change our self-image — blew my mind. I started down a road of self-improvement and personal development, and I’ve never been the same since.

A Simple Definition (Because Let’s Keep It Simple, Right?)

How do you define personal development? It’s a broad concept, but here’s my definition:

Making a conscious effort to get better at life.

That’s it. No magic pill, no ancient secrets, no chanting. Just the idea that we can change ourselves, so why not do it? Why not take charge of our career? Why not make art, or create music, or write? Why not read a book a month, or even a book a week? Why not pick up a new hobby, then another, then another, until we have to actually read the buttons on the TV remote to remember how to work it?

Why Personal Development?

If you could take a snapshot of my life before and after I embraced this philosophy, you’d see why I believe in it so strongly. Here are a few changes I experienced:

  • I worked through my lip injury and finished my degree.
  • Sarah and I paid off our debt: $48,000 in student loans.
  • I started exercising, running a half-marathon and biking across Iowa (twice).
  • I began a great career in higher ed using the skills and principles I’d acquired through studying this stuff. The old me would never have been up to it.
  • I started reading: 61 books and counting since I started this journey. Many of these have had a major impact on how I see the world and approach daily life.

I agonized over including these examples, because doing so feels like bragging (and it probably sounds like bragging, too, so please forgive me). I am very much a work in progress, which I’ll be writing about often (and as anyone who knows me can attest). My goal is not to impress anyone, but rather to show what’s possible when a normal person starts to focus on personal development. What about you? What changes would you like to make? What grand ideas do you keep hidden away? What would you like to do, if you felt like you could? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? “Why personal development?” is a good question. But a better question is: Why not?