version: If you want to see what this group is all about and how it
works, you can download this free pdf, which is a shortened version of
the Basic Manual (workbook the group is based on).
If you would like to form a group of your own and/or download the full manual, visit this page.
Do you have difficulty finding other people who share your
interest of personal growth? Would you like a way to take your explorations
more seriously and deeply, and to share those explorations with others who are
What I introduce to you here is an educational program which will do just that. It is called, just like my website, Living a Real Life.
How it Works
This program is similar to Toastmasters International (which focuses on public speaking) in that it is based on a series of workbooks, is self-paced, and involves no teachers or classrooms. Additionally, it is meant to center around group meetings, though unlike Toastmasters I do not require this (but it is highly, highly recommended, and really is the point). So, it’s like a cross between a club and a course on personal growth.
Each workbook contains a number of projects, each of which asks that you explore a particular topic in personal growth. The book gives you roughly a page of background information on each topic. It’s enough to understand what the topic is all about, yet it’s brief so as to encourage you to explore more on your own.
This means that this group is meant to facilitate your growth—not do it for you, or really even tell you how to do it. The point is to connect with other people who can help you along the way and to encourage you to keep moving.
At this point, there is one complete workbook, which I call the Basic Manual (this one book will keep you going for a while—no worries). It consists of 10 projects. The outline of these projects is based on Steve Pavlina’s book Personal Development for Smart People (note: you do not have to read this book, or any other book, to use the workbook). I figured that would be the best way to go because I would more or less be able to cover everything.
The Manual starts with Personal Growth in general, moves on to abstract components of personal growth (i.e. principles), then the practical components (i.e. areas of your life), and finally it comes full circle with the topic of Spirituality, which bridges the abstract and the concrete.
The outline of the Basic Manual is as follows (i.e. the 10 projects): (1) Personal Development, (2) Truth, (3) Love, (4) Power, (5) Intelligence, (6) Habits, (7) Health, (8) Relationships, (9) Career, and (10) Spirituality.
The purpose of the Basic Manual is to get a feel for each area of Personal Growth. You could say that its purpose is to introduce you to Personal Growth, though it “works” regardless of whether you have no idea what growth is or you’ve been totally committed to your growth for the last 20 years. That is the self-education component of this program: the books just give you some basic information to work with. Where you take that information is up to you. The projects are designed so that you can repeat them multiple times (if you’d like) and learn something new every single time. Ain’t that a beauty?
The form of each project is the same—it’s only the content that is different. For each project, you have several options for how you will tackle it. You only need to do one of these to complete a project, though you can repeat a project using a different option (“format”) if you’d like. You can hold a group discussion, talk about the topic as an individual (i.e. on experiences and thoughts you’ve had or research you’ve done), and/or perform an experiment, which will likely take place outside of group meetings.
An “experiment”, in this case, isn’t about gathering test subjects and splitting them into control and experimental groups, though I suppose you can do that if you want. It’s more like a controlled experience—in essence, it’s about challenging yourself. Such an experiment is likely to take the form of a 30-day trial, such as my failed attempt at polyphasic sleep, though it doesn’t have to. Depending on the project, an experiment can take the form of running your first race, trying out a new diet, climbing all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks in a season, making amends with an old friend, hitting on every woman you meet—whatever would both be fun for you and really stretch your comfort zone (and which you expect would produce positive results of some sort, such as increased physical fitness or courage).
You can read more about how the group works by downloading this pdf, which is the Introduction to the Basic Manual, as well as Project 1.
A Worldwide Organization
What I really aim to do with this group is to bring together people who are interested in personal growth, and to facilitate them exploring that interest more seriously, more deeply, and more audaciously (i.e. shamelessly).
But that’s not all—I shall be audacious myself here. I want to create a worldwide network of people who share this interest. The more closely connected we are, the more we can accomplish. There are so many fantastic people on this planet and many of us don’t even know about each other. Maybe we just need something in common to bring us together… Such as a group-affiliation, which traces its roots back to the Internet.
This isn’t just in regards to people who live halfway across the world, however. Some of these people might live just a town over—or even in your very own neighborhood. Maybe you’ve lived 20 feet from each other your whole lives, and you had no idea you were both so darned cool… That is, until you both became members of Living a Real Life.
So, how is this whole shebang going to work? Well, like Toastmasters, that is left up to the people interested. Like Toastmasters, this is about the books and the people who use them, rather than any particular leader. Besides—I couldn’t possibly spread this as far as it could possibly go all on my own. I have the Internet that allows me to share this internationally, but at the end of the day people must come together at the local level.
This is an organization, made up of clubs. The clubs all exist at the local level. As far as the physical world goes, that’s the only place they can be.
I’d like for people who want to start their own clubs to have do to as little work as possible. Unfortunately, I can only help you so much. I can give you the materials, I have this page which you can direct interested people to, and I can keep a list of clubs and their locations here on my website (likely on this page). Maybe I can even make flyers for you to use. But ultimately, if you want to start a club, you must do the work of recruiting, finding a time and place to meet, and being a leader.
You can look at the task of starting a club as a personal growth experiment in itself. Think of all the benefits you’ll gain from taking on this challenge. You’ll have to honestly express your interests. You’ll risk rejection. You’ll form new connections with people, some of which may change your life. You’ll have to exercise courage. You’ll have to be resourceful. You’ll have to be committed. You’ll test how much you care. You might even meet your future husband (cue Meghan Trainor).
At this point, I am speaking largely from conviction, rather than experience. But I am certain that if you can gather a group of people with the shared purpose of becoming better people, amazing things can happen. For one thing, you all will likely make much faster progress on your path of personal growth. You’ll create a network of people who all genuinely like, support, help, and learn from each other, and who have a ton of fun together. You’ll probably feel a lot better about living where you do.
Beyond that, however, you collectively will send forth positive ripples into the world which may have an impact you cannot presently imagine. You might create something together that totally changes your town. Maybe you go around to local schools and talk about why personal growth is so awesome and important. Maybe you start a business or non-profit venture together that makes a significant difference in the world. You’re only limited by your imagination. The people who would join a group like this are highly likely to be intelligent and to care about the evolution of the world, in addition to themselves, so the possibilities are quite vast.
Suggestions for Starting and Growing a Club
Here’s a list (definitely not exhaustive) of some steps you can take to start a club and to find people who would love to join your club.
Contact Me: First of all, you had better Contact me and tell me what you’re doing (no matter how far along you are) so I can tell you that I fricken love you and can shower you with praise. It would also be in your interest to provide me with the following information: the city or town you’re located in, along with the state or country; your full name; the name of your club (don’t try too hard with this one—it could just be “Living a Real Life Utica”), and your best e-mail address. In your message, tell me whether you would like me to list your club on my website—I would really prefer that you do this! This can help you lots. If nothing else, other users of my site might want to pop in for a visit if traveling through your town (maybe you’ll make a new friend!). Plus, other people who are starting and leading clubs can talk to you about their experience, and might be able to help you. So it’d be really awesome if you list your club on here. If you choose to do that, I would like the following information from you, in addition to the above: whether you’ve had your first meeting, the time and days at which you meet, the address of your meeting location, and places where people can contact you. Contact information you might want to share includes your phone number, your e-mail address, and any social media profiles you have. At the very least I would recommend sharing a Social Media profile here, through which people can send you a private message (and they won’t need your e-mail address or phone number to do so). Don’t worry if you can’t keep track of all that. On the Personal Growth Group page there will soon be a form you can send to me, and once you do that you’ll get an e-mail reminding you of the information to share with me.
Date and Time: On that note, I recommend that you have a static meeting date, location, and time. This way people will feel more certain that the meeting will actually happen, and they won’t have to search around to find out where and when it will be. To secure a static meeting date, you should go by days of the week, such as the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month (this is what I do!). I recommend that you meet at least once but no more than four times per month, meeting no more than once per week. I like the vibe of twice per month. Try to make a schedule and pick a location that you would be unlikely to change.
Suggestions for locations: I’ve had group meetings at a local library. You can use a meeting room there or a large study room. Toastmasters groups I’ve attended all meet in the conference room of some larger institution, which has included a retirement home, a hospital, and an insurance company (I know, they are dismal). To my knowledge, use of all these rooms is free (the library definitely is). If you’re a member of a church, you could try meeting there (especially if you are in a tight-knit community). You could also try a local college or hotel, but these may cost money. If you feel comfortable you could try your house, though please be safe. I recommend meeting in a public building (i.e. anywhere that’s not a house), and inside a room in that building with doors that can be closed. Talking about personal growth can be both deeply personal as well as intellectually effortful, and you will want to minimize distractions and respect the privacy of attendees.
Social Media: Talk about your group on your Social Media profiles, because most of the people who will see it probably live near you. On Facebook, you can make a group or fan page, through which you can communicate with people who have joined the page.
Meetup: You can make a group on Meetup. I have a hunch that this is more effective than Facebook, though it does require a small amount of cash. However, if you’re willing to put up that cash, I strongly recommend that you go this route.
Toastmasters: Attend local Toastmasters meetings as a guest (or a member, if you are one) and tell the attendees about your club. I’m serious. My organization isn’t meant to rip off Toastmasters- not at all-, but many members of Toastmasters are articulate, intelligent, and interested in Personal Growth, and they would be great additions to your club. You can use this page to find Toastmasters clubs near you. Just please be respectful of the meeting going on—its purpose isn’t so you could go there to talk about yourself (though you will get a chance to do that).
Church: If you’re a member of a church, especially Unitarian Universalism (which I have some familiarity with) or an Interfaith organization, that can be an excellent place to find local people who might be interested (unless the beliefs of said church are disempowering).
Related Groups: Attend meetings of other groups which are interested in personal growth. You could try a book club- one that centers around A Course in Miracles, for example (which I also have some familiarity with)-, a yoga class, a running group, some type of singles meet-up, or anything related to becoming a better version of yourself. My guess is that spiritual groups are likely to have the most interest, though I can’t say for certain.
Share the Manual with People: The manual may be shared, printed, and redistributed freely, so you can do that in whatever ways you please. Print a manual for yourself and show it to other people. Share the pdf on your Facebook wall. Print out a bunch and give them to people who are interested. How far you take this is up to you.
Share My Website: At the very least, I recommend that you share with people this page right here, as well as this page. Reading some of my blog posts might also get people excited about pursuing personal growth more seriously; so, my website can potentially do some of the work of enrolling for you. ‘Tis my gift to you.
For Students: If you are in high school or college, start a club in your school. Maybe you won’t get to stay in it forever, but many people who come after you will get to enjoy it. Make sure to set up a system of training other people to lead after you have gone, though this is the type of group that is basically self-sustaining: it needs a leader to get going, but once it does there should be enough enthusiasm and not-too-high-maintenance to continue without the presence of a formal leader. If you really need to, hold some type of fundraiser or lobby (e.g. with Student Congress or the Board of Education) to get funding from the school. The only cost is to get books printed (or hopefully, soon, to pay for already-printed books), so the expenses should not be high.
Honest Communication: Lastly, be straightforward about what it is you are trying to do. I will be honest myself in saying that, in trying to create my own local club I have been rather timid so far, and so I have attracted only a small number of people, most of whom were probably not the best fit for the club (note that I have only had two meetings so far). It’s okay if you don’t get it right at first: just keep trying, and be totally honest about what this group is all about.
At this point, the only up-front cost is $1 for a pdf of the Basic Manual. This is mainly so that I can see how much interest there is in this. Additionally, I don’t want to charge too much because I do not have print books available at this point, and so if you want print copies you will have to print them yourself.
I highly recommend that you charge group members to cover the costs of printing the books, whatever it may be. You can get fancy and visit a professional printer, or you can just go to a local library and use the photocopier or printer. They tend to charge on a per-page basis, so make sure you know what that per-page rate is before you go wild.
Please don’t charge more than the cost of the books, however. I don’t want there to be club dues—at least, not at this point.
Additionally, remember that these workbooks are meant for people to write in and keep, so once you give one away you are unlikely to have it returned to you.
You still can run a successful group without physical books. You can share the pdf with all of the group members. At the meetings, you’ll probably want at least one device- preferably a computer- that you can view the pdf on. You can even connect your computer to a projector, so that everyone in the room can see the manual at once.
If you are interested in downloading a pdf of the Basic Manual, it will soon be available on this page: Personal Growth Group.
I stated earlier that the pdf can be printed, redistributed, and shared freely. Please note, however, that it is copyrighted (by myself, Kimberly Wrate). I ask that you do not edit the manual. If you use a quote from it, please do cite where it came from.
I know an in-person group is much easier to hold when everyone can hold a book in their hands. I simply have not reached this point yet, and I don’t want to do too much without demand in place. Perhaps I can go through Amazon Createspace, so that way no more books are printed than are needed. Plus, you’ll be able to order them easily, through a trusted and secure website (i.e. Amazon), and, if I’m not mistaken, I won’t have to do much of anything when you do. I just have to put in the work up-front. This makes things much smoother and easier to run.
When we get to this point, I will keep the price of the books low (this will depend on printing costs, so I can’t say yet), and I will definitely make an announcement about it.
What About the Other Manuals?
Earlier I mentioned that this group is based on a series of workbooks. After the Basic Manual there are Intermediate manuals, and after those there are Advanced Manuals. So, there are three levels, or tiers, to this group. Everyone goes through the Basic Manual first.
Once you’re done with that, there will be five Intermediate manuals to choose from. They are on these topics: (1) Habits, (2) Health, (3) Relationships, (4) Career, and (5) Spirituality. These allow you to delve into these topics in greater depth. You can use the Intermediate manuals to choose a focus for your life for the next few months. Growth tends to happen more rapidly when you really immerse yourself in a single topic.
At this point I have 22 Advanced Manuals (level 3) planned, though this number may change once the Intermediate manuals are done. The Advanced Manuals explore a single topic from the Intermediate manuals in even greater depth. For example, the current Advanced Health Manuals I have planned are: (1) Sleep, (2) Movement (exercise), (3) Nourishment (food), (4) Obstacles to Health, and (5) Holistic Health (body, mind, heart, and spirit). Once you’re done with all those, you might as well be an expert. J
Overall, I’d like to get some feedback on what I have so far before I go ahead with creating 27 manuals… It’s almost like writing another book.
In fact, what I’ll likely do is compile all 28 of the manuals into one document and sell that document as an ebook. Purchasing all of the manuals at once in this way will be a package deal— likely less than $28, anyway.
In the future I intend to do quite a bit of travelling. Maybe I can visit and even start new clubs along the way. Perhaps Public Speaking will be able to help me out with this.
In addition to regular club meetings, Toastmasters holds a number of conferences every year at the District and International levels. I’d love to do something similar. I intend on holding my own live workshops starting a few years from now, so that could be one way to get all of us together in person.
I have been wondering just how organized this organization should be. Should I keep a database of all the club names and locations, along with their members? Should I be like Toastmasters and identify different geographical areas as they relate to the club?
What that means is, Toastmasters is organized similarly to the U.S. government—it’s hierarchical. At the bottom is the club level, where the action happens. A number of clubs (five where I live) that are physically close to each other- say, in the same city- comprise an Area. My city is split up into 2 areas. A number of areas (6 where I live) make up a division. My division is made up of my city, Utica, and the neighboring city, of Syracuse; most of the clubs in the division are within an hour drive of my house. A handful of divisions are smushed together to make up a District. District 65 is comprised of Western (Buffalo), Central (Syracuse, Rochester, and the Utica-Rome area), and Southern (Ithaca, Binghamton, Elmira—not NYC) New York. 7 districts come together to make a region. Region 9 is the northeastern United States—New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts (there might be 1 or 2 others). Lastly, above the Regional level is International Headquarters.
Toastmasters is organized rather cleanly and brilliantly. It is almost entirely run by volunteers (I can’t even tell you who actually is employed by them), and all officer positions- at both the club and the International level- last for a term of one year. When it’s time for people to switch out, things continue to run as smoothly as ever.
There is a Board of Directors and a CEO, but from what I can tell they get a lot of help. And the people who help are glad to do so.
I might be getting a little ahead of myself to think about splitting up the world at this point, though it is a thought worthy of consideration.
Additionally, Toastmasters holds two contests per year… I don’t know how that would translate over to my organization, though it’d be neat to find a way. :)
Well, this post is jam-packed! But the road doesn’t end here—there’s more! There will soon be a follow-up to this post, which I will link to here. I also recommend that you bookmark the page Personal Growth Group so that you can return there if interest in this whole shebang sneaks up on you again (that page will be updated soon).