Many of us find that once we have everything we thought would make us happy, we still have a nagging sense that something is missing – yet we don’t quite know what. Or maybe we still haven’t achieved certain important personal milestones, yet find ourselves blocked against moving forward.
In either case, we may have a hunch that what we need more than anything else is an internal shift – personal growth, to use an oft-used and rather general term. What does personal growth entail? The following are some aspects of the process.
- When we want to develop more of a personal quality, we may be put in situations in which we have to learn these attributes. In other words, we are not likely to be instantly bestowed with a healthy dose of patience without some sort of trial. The circumstances themselves may not be altogether (or even primarily) pleasant, but how else will we be taught the lessons we need to learn? Whether or not you enjoyed going to school, you probably faced challenging problems to solve – and that was the point. As you mastered the lessons in one class, you progressed to the next level, to be confronted with more complex tasks. There was no leap-frogging ahead.
- Life is about more than obtaining joy – or at least obtaining joy for its own sake. Instead, we are likely to find an enduring joy only through facing life’s rough spots and extracting from them what we need to grow and gain new insights. And as we do so, we become more able to enhance the lives of those close to us. Along the way, what may seem like failures can teach us humility and that we need other people’s guidance and support. The lessons are endless, and they often involve the willingness to be influenced by other people – not controlled by others, but taught and changed.
- We can learn something from everyone we encounter, even those (and often especially those) who irritate us. Often what bothers us about somebody else is an aspect of ourselves with which we have yet to acknowledge or find peace. Your struggle is thus likely to be not not so much with other people or with your external circumstances as it with elements within yourself.
- The willingness to have an open mind, rather than assuming that what once worked (or seemed to work) for us will continue to do so, helps on our journey. While it does tend to take more energy at the outset to try out a new behavior, mindset, or attitude (we are creatures of habit), the extra effort is the price we pay for the ability to expand our horizons – and it’s worth it.
- Only through learning the lessons contained in our current circumstances can we really move forward. If we resist acknowledging those aspects of our life that displease us, we tend to remain stuck, spiritually, emotionally, and practically. With an attitude of resistance, we may temporarily escape our painful situation, but we’re likely to encounter a similar situation down the road, until we learn what we’re meant to learn. However, if we surrender to our present situation, not in resignation but in acceptance and with the intention to work out within us what needs to come to awareness or shift, any circumstance can work in our favor.
- We don’t have to figure everything out, to understand at the time why we’re at the place we’re at, in order to grow. We just need to ride out the moment, to accept our thoughts, feelings, and the situation as they are, rather than denying what’s going on in and around us. Yes, there will be growing pains. We will never understand all of life’s mysteries, and that is how it should be. We never reach a vantage point (at least not on this earthly plane) in which we can see the entire picture, why things happened as they did, and how exactly the story will end. We must be content with an increasingly clearer but always incomplete knowledge and wisdom regarding life’s vicissitudes.
- Taking a close look at ourselves needn’t be an exercise in self-condemnation. We can consider our character defenses or quirks simply as character traits that we have taken to excess at times. For instance, people-pleasing can be viewed as a healthy desire and ability to socialize, but taken to an extreme. We wouldn’t want to eradicate our social ability but rather to demonstrate it in a moderate and healthy way. Also, make sure that you give yourself credit for your personal character strengths when you’re taking stock of those areas where you’d like to make changes.
- However difficult it may be, an attitude of trust and gratitude can take us far. Believe that the guidance you need will be given, at the appropriate time, whether it comes in the form of a still, small voice inside you, a friend’s comment, an apparent coincidence, or a wise quote you hear or read.
- What we focus on, grows. When we’re focused on seeing and hearing answers, and perhaps being the answer for someone else, the answers become more apparent. If we focus on problems, these tend to assume enormous proportions in our mind and the answers become obscured.
- Don’t take yesterday’s mistakes or triumphs into today. Don’t burden today with worries about tomorrow. “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only robs today of its strength.” (A. J. Cronin) Instead, focus on following your conscience today.
- Growth is a process – it doesn’t happen overnight. Rome was not built in a day. So be patient with yourself and your journey. It is in the many little steps which we take, guided by our Wise Self or inner guide, that we become who we are meant to be.
- We are the sum of our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions. While we cannot do anything about what has happened in the past, today provides us plenty of chances to add goodness, happiness, patience, kindness, and courage to our life’s palette.
Consider problems or apparent roadblocks as opportunities to respond creatively. Your life is your work of art. As long as you’re alive, life is in session, and there is the possibility of more growth. As such, any pursuit of perfection and the belief that getting “there” will spell happiness are merely illusions. The journey of personal growth involves accepting ourselves as perfectly imperfect and lovable at every step of the way.