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  • Lenore Lambert

Why do some of us grow? (And others don't.)




“Matt showed a genuine interest in ‘my thing’”


This was a recent entry in my gratitude diary. My husband Matt and I were having morning coffee together and he asked me: why is it that some people grow their way out of difficulties and others stay stuck?


In a rare treat, we spent our morning coffee discussing this, rather than the last 24 hours’ developments in the field of AI. (What a delight!)


For me, growing is freedom. It’s the door out of stuck-ness and turmoil. It’s what transformed my experience of life from one of angst, anger and judgment of everything that moved, to one of flow where difficulties were just bumps in the road. Where my resting state is one of calm and presence and contentment, where joy arises easily and the triggers for reactivity are rare.


This kind of transformation is available to anyone who’s willing to ‘do the work’ as we say, of personal growth.


So why then, do many people, I’d even say most people, just keep on keeping on the way they always have? Why do they ignore the very existence of this door to freedom? Or put positively, what leads people to walk through that door?


I’ve seen two common paths. Both of them however, require an awareness that growth is an option.

 


Pre-requisite: awareness that growth is an option


Many of us don’t realise that door is there. They’ve never known anyone to walk through it. For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist.


I was one of those people for the first 20 years of my life. The role models I had for dealing with difficulty (our parents are our first examples) demonstrated, in once case anger, judgment, control, and coercion. In the other, submission, shrinking from the world, and passive acceptance.


The powerlessness of my mother (the second example) never appealed to me, so I emulated my father. You can imagine how well that went down, especially from a young female.


Inevitably this brought me to a point in my life where I felt stuck. I could see that these ways of dealing with the world were not effective. Well, sometimes they got me what I wanted, but they also got me other things – the most painful of which was feeling disconnected from others.


It wasn’t until my early 20s that I came across the possibility of growing my way out of this. An unusual university subject I did as part of my psychology degree, introduced me to the possibility of introspection without self-judgment. Without encountering this, I wonder if I’d still be stuck today.


 

Reason1: the fear of staying the same is worse than the fear of changing


The experience of stuck-ness, and the unpleasant turbulence of being in the world this way, brought me years later to the line. That is, the line we step over when we decide we’re going to grow - when we decide that the status quo is sufficiently uncomfortable that we’ll choose change, growth, even though that’s uncomfortable too. At least it offers the possibility of freedom. Being stuck in repetitive patterns of existence doesn’t.


By this point in my life I was aware of the door. However I was abjectly terrified of walking through it!


One of the disabilities I inherited from my father was the total aversion to admitting any shade of vulnerability. Vulnerability was weakness and weak people were nobodies. As a young person, whenever we showed our vulnerabilities – the epitome of which was to cry – we would often receive put-downs on top of whatever pain we were already feeling.


Vulnerability = emotional death. That was the sum of it.


This fear of my own experience was like a handbrake on my growth. If you’re terrified of your own inner world, the idea of walking right into it and exploring it is truly overwhelming. It can take an equally painful experience of life to balance up the scales and cause us to consider approaching that dreaded door.


My guess is that a large portion of the population falls into this category – those of us who use the shields of defence – whether that’s being a hard-arse who has no time for weakness, or a constant talker or a people-pleaser who reactively seeks the approval of others as a means of self-validation, or a compulsive rule follower, the eternal pessimist, or the winner – that person who shields themselves from self-doubt by impressing others with being the best.


These are all examples of shields we use to block the sight of the door, which is what we see in those quiet moments where we might question ourselves, where we might ask how do I get out of here?

 

Reason 2: desire for fulfilment

The fear scenario can be acute and turbulent. However there’s also a more chronic slow burning discomfort that can lead us to the door. It’s a gradually dawning sense of emptiness or under-fulfilment, where in quiet moments, a faint voice has the chance to be heard. That voice is asking:


Is this it?

 

That is, we may not be deeply troubled by friction with the outside world, we may even have thrived in that world – tasted success – followed society’s signposts that ostensibly lead to happiness: wealth, material stuff, career success, fame of some kind (within your community/profession, locally, nationally or internationally), romantic love, leisure-time, winning.


And even though these experiences have been enjoyable in some ways, maybe even many ways, at the end of the day we can find ourselves feeling empty.


This can be a quietly desperate place to be. To arrive here, we’ve often spent a good chunk of our life-time striving to get here. We’ve followed all the signs, and arrived and…… found ourselves underwhelmed, and asking:


Is this the pinnacle of human happiness?


It can be an awkward place because it can seem wrong to be dissatisfied. We have so much. How can I complain? Am I just a case of the worried well?


We can look to our future and feel a deep sense of meaninglessness, maybe even despondency. And we can feel uninclined to talk about it because, after all, what do we have to complain about?


This can be an insidious experience. Material security is not enough for human fulfilment. The rising rates of mental illness and suicide among wealthy nations is testament this, as is the experience itself. It is legitimate. It is real. And it is deserving of attention as a difficult space in the human experience.


This kind of unpleasantness tends to build over time and it’s why it often doesn’t lead us to contemplate walking towards the door until our mid 30s and often much beyond. But at some point, we’ve allowed that quiet voice to be heard sufficiently often, and in sufficient detail, that we start moving towards the possibility of change.


While our present situation in life might be objectively good, the idea of spending the rest of our lives in this comfortable emptiness is unacceptable. That quiet voice is getting louder, and the feelings that arise with it, are getting stronger. More of the same starts to feel like an inner dying.

We walk towards the door, we embrace discomfort, and we open to a different experience of life in our future.

 

This is my hope for Flourish Personal Growth. That it will be a travel buddy and guide through that door for those who are ready to grow.

 

Next week, I’m going to share with you an update on where I’m at with the signature program I’m creating to be that guide: The Flourishing Life Blueprint.

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