Stagnant pond

Personal Development: The Stagnant Pond

One of the most important goals people give up on, is that of personal development. From a business perspective, companies tend to focus more on training technical skills than personal development, focusing on courses that will directly benefit the business.

This is actually one of my bugbears regarding training, because it ignores the person being ‘developed’ and forgets to develop their ‘human skills’ – leadership, self-awareness, skills acquisition, and mindset cultivation, etc. Personal development is considered a life-long journey, this isn’t something a person can do in a three-month short course. Rather, it is a process of pausing, reflecting, and moving forward. Rarely do we have the time to pause and reflect, simply choosing to move forward – everything else is so busy that we tend to put our own growth on hold.

The world is dynamic, things change constantly, and if we cannot move along with it, then we cannot be successful – this makes continuous growth a necessity, and to illustrate this, I want to use the analogy of a stagnant pond.

The Stagnant Pond:
Imagine walking through a dense forest and coming across a pond, with no stream flowing in or out. The pond is dead quiet, it doesn’t grow or shrink, nothing lives there, the water doesn’t even ripple. Within this lush, ever-changing forest, this pond is effectively an island of isolation and stagnation.

When people and companies neglect personal development, you get an office full of stagnant ponds.

When bodies of water stagnate, they accumulate algae and debris, and because there is no movement, nothing changes. The upside to stagnation is that you don’t backslide, but the downside is that you accumulate emotional and mental clutter. This constant accumulation and lack of momentum gradually becomes the status quo.

Stagnant ponds are voids, but there is still something growing there – the negative stuff. When you or someone you know stagnates, ask yourself what it is that you are allowing to grow in that pond.

The problem with the status quo is that it becomes self-reinforcing, it becomes more and more difficult to challenge, and so we get stuck – no growth, no change, no development.

The stagnant pond is an entity unto itself. It doesn’t adapt in the face of external changes; this starts off as a sort of resilience, but the lack of adaptability puts it at risk. Stagnant water can be toxic, and without any streams flowing in or out, the pond could evaporate during a heatwave.
Without personal development, individuals may find it challenging to adapt to change, navigate challenges or even seize opportunities. From this perspective, the question would be “If you aren’t practicing personal development, what is it that you are allowing to pass you by?”

Limited Growth:
Stagnant ponds see little in the way of growth or change, but the things that do grow there aren’t great. With nothing new or fresh coming in, or going out, the pond acts as a confined environment. Whatever the boundaries of your current thinking or capabilities are, when you stagnate, those won’t change.

If you aren’t growing, which of your dreams or aspirations are you giving up on?

Unseen Potential:
Beneath the surface of the stagnant pond, there could be seeds waiting to germinate and grow; there could be a whole ecosystem of plants, insects, birds, and other animals waiting in the wings. The stagnant pond has so much potential, but all that potential will remain untapped if the pond doesn’t get enough fresh water, sunlight, or oxygen, all in the service of supporting life within.

Neglecting personal development may lead to failure in uncovering hidden talents, skills, and unrealised potential. At the rate that the world changes and evolves, there is always space to do something new. What if something that you believe is out of reach is actually within your grasp, but you don’t realise it because you never really tried to push for it?

Lack of Clarity:
The stagnant pond is filled with sediment and debris, the bottom has long since turned to sludge. This lack of clarity makes it difficult to identify goals, values or purpose.

People often live the life that was given to them by others – as an example, you were raised to practice a specific religion, you attended a particular school/university, you took the training your previous employer offered you, etc. As a coach I often see people, even into their forties and fifties, still living within the confines of the choices that were made for them during their teens and early adulthood.

Who placed this pond? Who planted those flowers at the water’s edge? Are you living your life or are you living the one designed by whoever built this pond? What could happen if you got that clarity?

Stagnant water will resist attempts to disturb its tranquillity. Similarly, individuals avoiding personal development will try to resist change, no matter how much they agree that the change and growth is necessary. What are you resisting in the name of avoiding growth? How are you sacrificing your wellbeing because you are not growing?

In contrast, personal development introduces a stream of fresh water to the pond, bringing change, clarity, and growth with it.

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Other articles in this series include:
Personal Development: Who are You?
Personal Development: Identifying your developmental needs
Strategies for Effective Personal Development
The All-Encompassing Impact of Personal Development