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I wish someone had handed me a memo about aging. No one told me about the body wrinkles, the full impact of losing the ability to see up close, or how long any injury takes to heal (and how random those become). No one prepared me for how everything changes so often and so suddenly, and how lifelong good diet and exercise don’t ward off all decay. I even did a standup comedy set about not getting this aging memo!

I also wish someone had disclosed the full reality of personal growth. Because like aging, this sh*t is not for wimps.

I’ve been intensely interested in personal growth as long as I can remember. I never got why others weren’t, since it seemed like a must-have to living a good life. It wasn’t until midlife that I realized two forces were driving my interest: One, the lack of love in my childhood, which made me hyperfocus on “being better” (AKA “fixing” myself) so I would (finally) earn the love I needed. It was more about survival than spiritual evolution. Two, apparently some humans are more wired for “developmental potential” (see Dabrowski’s third factor), and I happen to be one of them.

Both forces still drive me, and many of my clients, towards personal growth. But I now understand and have compassion for those who aren’t as intensely committed to personal development. Not only do humans fall along a spectrum of capacity for growth, it’s a tough road that isn’t for everyone.

Such honesty is rarely expressed in our modern, hyper-commercialized culture. Many coaches and wellness gurus market personal growth like it’s nirvana — the road to “wealth” of all kinds, the vehicle to “crushing our goals”, and the path to blissed-out transcendence. They tell us this nirvana is within anyone’s grasp if we only try hard enough … and buy what they’re selling.

But just like anyone trying to sell us something in a consumption-obsessed system, our culture tells partial truths, or full-on lies. It leaves out the hard stuff – the shadow side of the light.

Here’s the memo I never got about personal growth – the five truths that would have made the road a little less terrifying.

Personal Growth is Hard. Really, Really Hard.

No one tells us how difficult personal growth is, in so many ways. It requires commitment, which means sticking with it in a culture where everything and everyone is disposable. It requires time in a culture that’s always rushing and impatient. It requires courage – taking unfamiliar action despite the fear – in a culture where courage is often performative or provocative. It means failing and trying again, failing and trying again – in a culture intolerant of failure (despite the mixed messages to the contrary). It means having your sense of self – your identity as a competent, intelligent adult – rattled by your not-knowing and incompetence. No one tells us that personal growth can be traumatic.

And no one tells us these struggles are a normal part of the process – especially with what I call “Life Homeworks”. Some lessons we learn and move on, while others persist until we die. But if we keep working on those Life Homeworks, we eventually realize we’re not going in circles, but up a spiral staircase. If we look out the window, we notice the view is slightly different – our level and perspective are changing, even if we never reach the top or exit the tower. But perseverance in the face of what at first seems futile is daunting.

One of my Life Homeworks is about increasing trust and relinquishing control, which shows up in every aspect of my life. I struggle to trust myself, other people, and the Universe/Divine. Knowing the (very valid) reasons I have trust issues helps relax my self-criticism and allow more self-compassion, but it doesn’t equip me to trust. I’ve had to build trust gradually over time in short bursts of courage-fueled action, and I’ve made progress – but I’ll be working on this as long as I live.

Personal growth is also hard because it requires lots of support. This support must come from both within and without. No one can do it alone, and no one can do it without their own inner resources. It’s a tragic failure of our culture that many of us don’t have enough support – or any at all. This awareness alone can poke at our wounds and trigger grief, rage, and pain.

And yet we must have the willingness – and capacity – to tolerate discomfort and pain to grow. This is especially difficult in a culture that chronically distracts and numbs us from any discomfort or encourages us to just “push through” without discernment. However, not all pain leads to growth. There’s a difference between the pain of being stabbed and the pain of cutting teeth or giving birth. As we discern the difference and build our capacity to hold “good” pain, the more we can grow.

Personal growth is also hard because it requires capacity and support to explore the Shadow – in ourselves, other people, and society at large. Our culture leaves little room for the Dark unless it’s fleeting, superficial, and banished with a purchase. We lack sufficient language around depression, grief, rage, moral injury, and existential crises. We allow little time or space for them in our calendars or public places. We provide no ceremonies, spells, or wise elders to guide us. But going on an archeological dig of our individual psyche, preverbal emotions, body wisdom, intergenerational past, and deep archetypes is necessary for growth, and a soul journey few are equipped to take in our spiritually anemic culture.

Personal Growth is Lonely. Really Lonely.

No one tells us that making that soul journey is lonely. First, few embark on it. Second, those who do usually leave people behind. Read the rest on Medium

Hey! Need support or guidance with your personal growth? Drop me a line, or Book a call!

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