WHAT DOES ‘GROWTH’ REALLY LOOK LIKE? 

A couple of days back, I was thinking about the concept of growth and how it seems to be a mystery. Most of us want it but just can’t figure out what it really looks like. Come to think of it, even as kids, it was difficult to tell if we were growing. As a child, it was quite amusing (and unbelievable) when older relatives exclaimed at my development since the last time they saw me. Me? Grow? How? Mostly, we were not conscious of the process- our shrinking clothes and pinching shoes hinted at the change but it just wasn’t crystal clear.

But after puberty has done its job and physical growth plateaus, what does growth, the development into a better person really r-e-a-l-l-y look like in real time? This is important because if you don’t know what growth looks like, you will mistake it for something else and take wrong actions accordingly; fighting what you should embrace.

So what does growth really look like? Let’s run down a quick list.

1. A Shift in focus and priorities

What matters to you today that you probably didn’t even know existed three to five years ago? Put another way, what was so important to you some years ago that you no longer care about today? For me, the need to appear smart in front of others ranks high on the list. I have taken on the personal role of chief asker of questions. Your present focus and priorities are strong pointers to the direction of your personal development.

2. The birth of new, growth-based friendships (or the death of old ones)

“Twenty children cannot play for twenty years.” – David O. Oyedepo

I love this quote so much I wrote an entire post about it. I’ve put a spin on it though. Twenty children cannot play for twenty years- unless they remain children.

Friendships last as long as growth rates are similar. When one party lags (or leads), the relationship begins to wither. I’ll wait while you read that again.

It’s awkward sticking around friends whose daily highlights are the number of likes ammassed on instagram when your mind has moved into say, enterprise development. As growth happens, focus shifts, the direction of your energy is altered and the relative importance of the people in your life gets affected. Some may misinterpret this as pride (especially those lagging) but its not. It’s an inevitable consequence of growth. Sidenote: This is not a let-off if you’re struggling with pride. Don’t excuse an ugly attitude as growth. Deal with it. 

3. Fear

This is probably the most misunderstood growth symptom. See, your brain loves you so much, it will do almost anything to protect you from whatever it perceives as a threat- including growing. Why?

Because growth almost always demands trying something new. It involves jabbing at the personal boundaries of your experiences and tugging for entrance into new spaces. As the jab and tug intensifies, self preservation instincts kick in because the new experience is perceived as a threat- it is foreign to your mind. There’s nothing in your mental database to reference it against so your mind jumps in to save you from hurting or embarrassing yourself (which will happen sometimes). At a lesser degree, it is the same feeling you get when travelling alone to a new place without clear directions. The journey is drenched in fear that you might miss your way because you’ve never made the trip  before.

Understand your fear. It really doesn’t mean you should stop. It only means proceed with caution. Emphasis on ‘proceed‘. This leads to the next symptom on the list.

4. Hesitation

If you’re struggling with breaking inertia in your life, I strongly recommend you read my post about that and make this poem a personal creed.

You may want to call it due diligence or deep preparation but could it be the same ugly old fear expressed as hesitation- the lack of energy to do what you clearly know has to be done? Hesitation (after you have checked and double-checked) is not a red light. It’s amber. Your decision to go ahead turns the light green. Recognize your hesitation for what it is- a product of fear borne from an attachment to the familiar. Talk to it.

Hey fear, thank you for showing up. I know you want to protect me from making a fool of myself and I appreciate that. I really do. But I’ve got this. Thanks for stopping by but I can do this without you. So take a walk with your daughter, hesitation, while I get on with what I have chosen to do.

Weird? It may not be as easy as it sounds but it can be done. You can lose the fear.

5. Irritation and Anger

If the possible pleasure in the future doesn’t trigger growth, the palpable pain in the present does the job. I have embraced a personal truth- every irritation in my life is a signal that something has to change (=I have to grow).

Being angry about the present state of affairs in your life is useless – unless it drives development. Anger is not the answer. Repeat after me,

Anger (anger)

is not (is not)

the answer (the answer).

Unfortunately, when irritations occur and we get this scratchy feeling inside that something is amiss, we process it wrongly and immerse ourselves in activities to ‘get our minds off it’. Some indulge in endless entertainment, others find comfort in food, many binge on social media, drowning the irritation by following the lives of others while theirs cries for attention. Others go further (or lower?) and engage in destructive tendencies- alcoholism, drug abuse, illicit sex or pornography. All in an attempt to deal with that nudging that keeps asking, isn’t there more to my life than this? 

Anger and irritation are powerful- harness them. In addressing the source of irritation (rather than avoiding, venting, crying or escaping), you develop. Wisdom is forged into your soul. You advance in maturity and become a better person.

What are the things in your life that are annoying or irritating you today? Could that be growth calling? You’ll never know until you respond to it correctly.

6. Failure

What’s the usual response when we fail? I’ll never try that again. What a waste of growth seeds! Failure bruises our egos and let’s just admit- it hurts.

But that hurt is a signal. Failure has another name. It’s called feedback. You’d expect ‘growth’ to be marked by ‘improvement’ or warm remarks from others commending how far you’ve come. That happens sometimes but I think failure happens more. It goes back to what we talked about earlier – growth happens as we try new things and only on rare occasions do initial attempts go smoothly. There’s anxiety, awkwardness and eventually, we fall on our faces as another attempt fails. But in that moment, we must realise that by shifting our perspective, we can see that growth is happening. By taking in the failure as feedback rather than  covering it up or excusing a poor result, we learn and move on.

Everything I’ve shared today comes down to this- growth is a DECISION. As life brings you to crossroads, how you chose to respond will determine whether development happens or the status quo persists. Ultimately, it is a very personal path each one must tread.

I hope you make the right choice.

Live by Design. 

Image Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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