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Self-leadership vs. self-optimization: An interview

Why is self-development not the same as self-optimization? How is personal development changing in the digital age? And are millennials really so keen on self-development and learning? My new blog post is an excerpt from a podcast interview two Master students from the University of Economics and Law (HWR) in Berlin conducted with me in July 2019. In this interview, I share insights from my coaching practice as well as experiences I made on my way of personal development.

Jessica, how does self-development and self-improvement actually look like in the digital age?

First of all, I would like to clarify that for me self-development does not equal self-improvement. Actually, I would never talk about self-improvement when talking about personal development. I would never say to you that you should improve yourself. For me it's not about improving, but it's about life quality. In my view, personal development has to do a) with learning – about yourself and others, b) with being able to cope with adversity – within or outside of yourself and c) with bringing your private and your business life to the next level. All that in order to live a happier and more fulfilled life and in order to be able to bring happiness into other peoples’ lives.

That sounds pretty intriguing. How can you get there when not via improving yourself?

Maybe some of you know “Managing Oneself” by Peter Drucker. In this essay, he talks about not caring so much about your weaknesses. Improving your weaknesses only gets you to be average. Instead, you should consequently focus and build on your strengths in your personal and leadership development. When you really build on your key strengths, that's where you develop your superpower. The concept I developed for my coaching and workshop clients aims at developing your superpower by means of “self-leadership” instead of self-improvement.

What do you think has changed in the digital age?

Some things have changed, especially the accessibility of psychological knowledge, the availability of coaching tools and an ongoing mind shift in the society towards more openness and even curiosity with regard to personal development. But apart from that, I am afraid not so much has changed. We human beings still have one common goal: living a life of high quality – whatever that means for an individual: love, meaningfulness, success, impact...

Let's go for self-development instead of improvement

The young generation today has so many options. Don’t you see that as a huge challenge in the digital age?

Oh yes, this is a challenge! After my PhD thesis, I had so many options – and I felt like I had no option at all. At Stanford, they call this period the “dissertation drought”. As I also had a terrible breakup in my love life, so theoretically, I was open to go everywhere in the world. But where? And what should I do for work? Academia? Business? I was so unhappy with that situation of complete freedom of choice! And this had nothing to do with the digital age. It is typical for development stages in our lives: transition phases are never easy. What you need is self-leadership: the capacity to lead yourself to the next level.

What skills do you need to lead yourself?

The first skill you need is self-reflection: being able and willing to see yourself as you are, the core of yourself. Honest self-reflection is a topic that is extremely important and it's actually the basis. And then I think the second very crucial ingredient are values. My key values are authenticity, honesty and trust. In a time in my life where I was really unhappy, it was because I was living against my values. And as soon as you know your true values and when you really live according to them, life is actually bringing you the experiences you need for being happy.

How does that work in practice?

Well, it’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your core values and goals and then building a vision for yourself: Where do you want to be? What do you want to have in your life? How do you want to feel? Actually, the latter is the most important question in my coaching. Ask yourself: “How do I feel when I found the love of my life?” “How do I feel when I have the job of my dreams?” Create the emotions of it throughout your whole body and your mind so your whole being reflects the aspired feelings. And then act! What are the steps you need to take in order to be in a new position, in a job or in order to change the direction of your job or in order to live in a happy relationship? When you practice the art of feeling good and when you change your life so that it fits your feelings, you can be sure to reach your goals sooner than later.

That sounds great, but not so easy…

Yes, indeed. That’s why in my coaching, I support my clients in developing a personal roadmap to reach their vision. We define milestones, dates, steps to be taken – and the right goals. For example, if you just ended a relationship and you're super lovesick and actually feel like your life is not worth anything anymore, maybe it's not a realistic goal to be a in a new relationship four weeks from now. Maybe, you need some other goals in between to get there. So, that's what I'm helping my clients to create a visionary but realistic perspective for themselves.

Coming up in September: 360° me Coaching-Workshop

All the things you described are like really human-centered. Do you see any chance that technology can support this personal process?

Definitely. I think technology opened up a lot of opportunities for personal development. Starting with a) podcasts, I think they have become one of the most important means for accessing information about personal development: you can get input from the best people in the world in the respective area. You can listen to podcasts from Tony Robbins, if you like him or you can, like I did, listen Laura Seiler or Veit Lindau. The podcast world offers such a huge variety that everyone will find their “guru”. Then of course, you have b) tools that support you. I just had to think about meditation tools. Meditation is definitely something that helped me a lot in just calming down and reflecting myself and my life; on focusing on how I want to live and how I want to feel. Then there are c) digital coaching programs like the “Rise Up & Shine University” by Laura Seiler. A friend of mine, Adaeze Wolf, conducts a digital coaching program “The Naturally Good Academy” that focuses on nutrition and healthy lifestyle. I think, technology opens up and democratizes coaching knowledge and tools for everyone.

As studies have shown, millennials have higher levels of motivation to learn, greater levels of proactive personality and higher levels of consciousness than members of the previous generations. Would you agree that the importance of personal development has changed with the current generations?

Yeah, definitely. The importance of self-development has changed because people want to reflect themselves and they have the luxury to do it. With regard to the Maslow pyramid of needs, we are on average on a higher level today. Prior generations were in a less favorable economic position. It was not rare that people from the Generation X or Baby Boomers started to truly reflect themselves in their midlife crisis. Around 48 to 55 they started think about meaningfulness. But not only wealth has changed, also the collective wisdom. There is so much more knowledge available and accessible. I mean, when you just think of psychology: psychology is such a young science and everyone can access key psychological insights nowadays – through the web, in podcasts, in books, in journals. This is a luxury I am especially thankful for!


Thank you to Julia Thielemann and Sara Sommerfeld for recording the interview and sharing the transcript. Listen here to the full podcast interview.

To all the ladies: Save-the-date for the workshop of the year in Berlin! On September 14 and 15, 2019, Eva Assmuth and I will offer a deluxe two-day coaching workshop called 360° me: Weiblichkeit authentisch leben - privat und im Business. You will explore the different dimensions of your womanhood, develop a 360° vision and roadmap for you, learn coaching and self-coaching tools, get a speed coaching with us and meet amazing women. Ticket sales will start on Monday, July 15 with a crazy early-bird offer till August 5. Stay tuned on

For individual coaching workshops, please check out and contact me via E-Mail.

Photo credits: Cindy König

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