When I was going through SEAL training, I was constantly busy with a never-ending barrage of learning new skills. There were the performance skills of running, ocean swimming, underwater navigation, obstacle course, and endless strength and stamina exercises. Learning those undoubtedly made me more physically fit and competent as a warrior and athlete.
Then there were the combat skills I needed to learn and master. These included shooting while stationary, shooting while moving and communicating. Parachute jumps with a static line, then free fall HALO (high altitude, high opening), then HAHO (high altitude, low opening). Demolition of fixed obstacles and breaching doors on a building to find the enemy followed by driving dune buggies, HumV’s and mini-submarines, and an endless array of other skills.
The more fit and the better I got at doing all of that cool SEAL shit, none of it elevated my character. I was still the same Mark, just more competent and confident at doing those things I needed to do for my job.
But, when I slowed down to do the inner work, I began to grow in character. Zen, mindfulness, box breathing, and visualization elevated my perspective, changed my inner dialogue and storyline. Then, my emotional coach helped me unearth the shadow aspects of my personality that were tripping me up. When I took deliberate action to clean up my shadow and learn from my many mistakes, I was able to grow even more. I worked hard to change my past relationship with myself and others to gain new perspectives, to alter my limiting stories, and to see the world from other people’s perspectives.
Both are important. Horizontal development makes you better at what you do while you are who you are now. Vertical development helps you become a new, better and more evolved “you.”
Leaping horizontally can seem like progress. But sideways won’t get you up unless the path is going up. People mistake productivity and performance hacks with personal growth. Most of that activity is purely horizontal in nature; you will see no vertical gain. For vertical gain, the work is to slow down and turn inward to change your perspective, stare down the wolf of fear and sabotage, and elevate to a new stage of development.
Which leap do you want to take?