The Truth About Personal Growth

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spiral_staircasePost written by Jer Monson.

A few weekends ago, my wife, Rachelle, and I had one of ‘those’ conversations…

Anyone who has been married for a while automatically appreciates the perennial sex-money-parenting challenges inherent in marriage.

Rachelle and I do a pretty good job of communicating on these issues. Still, after more than an hour of semi-discomfort, I couldn’t help but wonder at the frequency of some of our more challenging discussions.

I believe that Rachelle and I have grown and matured tremendously through our marriage. However, while we seem able to deal conclusively with some issues in a single conversation, others crop up again and again. Some issues continue to resurface, and we revisit the same difficult discussions. Why?

Am I wrong about our apparent growth?

Are these conversations evidence of a decline?

The answer to both of these questions is ‘no.’ But sometimes we have to radically alter our concept of personal ‘growth’ to understand why.

Personal growth is not linear.

We often conceptualise ‘growth’ in a linear fashion. In fact, if I ask what image comes to mind when you consider the word ‘growth,’ many people will picture a basic graph with an x-axis, a y-axis, and a line proceeding up and to the right.

In our minds, ‘growth’ is straight and direct, and the only real question relates to ‘growth rate.’

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” ― Oscar Wilde

The problem with this understanding of ‘growth’ is that it implies that every time we revisit certain issues, it’s evidence of something negative: a lack of growth in that particular area, or a regression related to that issue.

At best, we’ve failed to grow.

At worst, we’ve suffered a decline.

But, while this understanding of ‘growth’ may be helpful for developing organisational strategy, it’s very unhelpful for developing ourselves!

Instead, personal ‘growth’ is more accurately understood as a ‘spiral staircase.’

Personal growth is very similar to walking up a spiral staircase.

Have you ever walked up a spiral staircase? Even if not, two aspects of doing so are immediately apparent:

First, the stairs twist as they ascend, so you’re able to progress vertically without much horizontal movement.

Second, you’re also essentially forced to go around and around constantly crossing back across your starting point, only higher up.

These observations demonstrate two important truths about personal growth:

First, you can enjoy tremendous growth without much horizontal movement. You don’t need to move across the state or across the country to grow. Nor is it always necessary to move between companies or go back to school and get more education. Some people will, and that’s fantastic – but you can grow and mature right where you are, regardless of your situation.

Second, it’s often necessary to revisit some issues many times as you’re growing. Don’t lose heart! For example, if you will commit to being introspective and gleaning the available insights from difficult conversations, then each time you engage the issue you will have a slightly different perspective. You may come around to the same side of the ‘staircase’ many times, but each time you’ll be a little higher above your starting point. Consequently, you will enjoy new insights and additional growth from each conversation.

The ‘spiral staircase’ is encouraging.

At first, the idea that growth actually necessitates revisiting difficult situations repeatedly may be disheartening. However, we should welcome the ‘spiral staircase’ of personal growth as encouraging news!

It shows us that revisiting the same challenges is not necessarily evidence of a lack of growth or worse, regression. And it illustrates our opportunity to ‘bloom where we have been planted.’

In reality, growth is a spiral staircase that we are each standing on right now. Let’s embrace our potential and head for the top!

Have you ever felt frustrated or disheartened when being faced with repeated challenges? How did you gain new perspective and move up the spiral staircase of personal growth?

Jer Monson writes about leadership, mentorship, and intentional living at NexTwelve.com. Subscribe to receive a free copy of Jer’s ebook, 12 Ways to Maximize Your Next Twelve or follow him on Twitter at @JerMonson

photo source: commons.wikimedia.org

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