Elevating Your Self Awareness AND Your Systems Awareness: The 5 Levels of Personal Development for Change Agents

Uncategorized Jan 13, 2021

What level of self awareness and are you bringing to your work as a change agent? 

Have you figured out how to get past your own blindspots, particularly around the larger systems that are perpetuating the inequalities and bias you are working to change?

If you're someone with a calling to make the world a better place, whether you're giving money away as a philanthropist, raising money as a social entrepreneur, or just getting started on your journey, chances are that whatever you're not able to see about yourself and the systems around you is getting in the way of realizing your full potential for creating more impact and more joy.  

What I want to share with you in this post is a framework for thinking about levels of personal development, and how this relates to doing the work of social change, particularly if you are trying address systemic inequalities that you yourself are not directly suffering from. 

You could think of these five levels of personal development  as levels of perspective we have on ourselves and the world around us.  A big part of the journey of joyful impact  is about elevating your perspective to be able to see more and do more, particularly when it comes to seeing the systems that operate to perpetuate the inequities and biases that so much social change work is aimed at addressing.  

 Step 1: Five Stages of Personal Development

The first step here is to look at the five levels of personal development--these apply to all of us, whether or not we're working the field of philanthropy and social change.  We can think of these as levels of perspective on ourselves, and the way in which we go about meeting our own needs as we engage with the world.  For more about human needs psychology and how it connects to this model check out the video that accompanies this post.  The idea here is not that we permanently ascend these levels of development like rungs on a ladder that only goes up.  In reality, we can move up and down throughout these levels  depending on which aspects of our life we are engaging in any given moment.  But with sustained personal growth and self development you get the ability to come from a higher level of perspective more and more of the time as you move through life. More on this in the post on the 7 Pillars of Personal Growth for Change Agents.


Step 2: How Levels of Personal Development Crossover to How You Engage Around Systemic Inequality and Bias

This framework can be particularly helpful in thinking about how we engage around issues of racism, or any form of systemic bias, especially if you are not part of the group that is being targeted by a given form of bias.  The video for this post walks through this framework step by step--here's what it looks like in summary:

Step 3: Leaning In to Get Past Your Blindspots and Come at Your Work and Your World from  a Higher Perspective

Needless to say, being able to appreciate a framework like this on an intellectual basis is not the same as being able to live it out at the highest level on a daily basis!  In the joyful impact journey we talk a lot about how we need to stack knowledge, skills and mindset in order to be able to take action consistently.  What we're playing for in seeking to "get better" as change agents is to elevate our own level of development to generate more joy and more impact in all that we do!  If you want to access the frameworks and tools we use to help with that in our coaching practice, many of them are available for free in the Joyful Impact resource library.  Just click here to create an account if you don't have one already.

And if you're interested in delving deeper on the topics covered in this post, here are some ideas on further reading and resources.

Further reading/resources on levels of personal development

Further reading/resources on engaging systemic bias

  • Implicit bias assessment. This is something you can do online in about 10 minutes.   Project Implicit, affiliated with Harvard University, has set up online tests to provide insight into all kinds of implicit bias, along the lines of race, gender, age, sexual orientation etc.  These instruments helps you get a window on the extent to which you may unconsciously favor one group over another. 
  • Barbara J Love: Developing a Liberatory Consciousness This framework is useful both as a tool for those seeking to be allies to people who are targets of systemic bias as well as those seeking to liberate their own consciousness from the impacts of being systemically targeted
  • Jal Mehta: The White Journey To Racial Awareness: A Stage Theory inspired by Ken Wilber’s work on the spectrum of consciousness, this includes reflections on how white people’s level of racial awareness impacts people of color

Further Reading on Race by People of Color

  • Reading the writing and listening to the voices of people of color provides a rich perspective on racism and what it feels like to to move through the world without the privilege of whiteness—especially if you’re white and have the privilege not to reflect on this deeply already…

There are so many great possibilities here, but here are some books that I've particularly appreciated :


Sharing your thoughts 

I'd love to hear any thoughts and reflections, whether you're giving money away, raising it, or just looking to kick some ideas around.  Reach out to me anytime at [email protected] and wherever I'm missing something in any of this, I'd love to know about it and keep working to grow past my own blind spots!


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