I have an issue with the idea of “personal growth.” I’ve come to realize that this idea often falls in line with those ideas of fluffy positive thinking. Do I believe people grow? Absolutely. We all change and shift and morph as life marches forward, and some people put a lot of work into growing and changing and learning to adapt and be resilient.
Where my issue falls is in the idea that “growth” is necessary. There is a subtle message that I hear when people talk about “personal growth” and that message is “I’m/you’re not okay as we are.” And that I have issue with. The idea of personal growth is one of striving and reaching and not being present; it is focused on outcome and future and not on process or the now.
It’s a mixed bag really, because things that people do for “personal development,” like meditating or yoga or breath work or learning to become self-aware are things I’m all for. I’m all for connecting to our body, bringing our unconscious to consciousness, and using the tools of meditation and creativity and connecting to nature and others to do so. Where I’m feeling the bristling is in the doing it to “better” our selves. Because this implies that we simply aren’t okay as we are.
“Bettering” ourselves is all about the striving and (over)achieving and reaching. Ironically, we are often told to do things like yoga or practice mindfulness to “better” ourselves, when those practices aren’t about “bettering” ourselves at all!
Self-awareness however, while part of what is considered “personal growth,” doesn’t carry those expectations with it. Self-awareness is about, quite simply, becoming aware of our Self. It is also connecting to our body, bringing our unconscious into consciousness, and doing so using the tools of meditation, yoga, breath work, creativity, connecting to nature and others. Yet there isn’t really an end-game in self-awareness, beyond becoming aware. There isn’t a need to fix or change or “better” one self. It is, quite simply, learning to be aware.
I’m grappling with these ideas and with the language of this work I do. My work is not about “fixing” people or making them “better.” Truly, my work is in guiding you, and myself, to become more aware, and in this process to learn to accept and love ourselves just as we are. Which means, if you are angry, it’s okay to be angry; if you are sad, it is okay to be sad; if you are elated, it is okay to be elated; if you are grieving, it is okay to grieve; and if you are a mixed bag of all of these, which most of us are, you are okay being a mixed bag.
We are told over and over in our culture, by those in “authority,” be they our parents or “gurus” or teachers or bosses, that having feelings beyond happiness isn’t okay. I’m here to call bullshit. And to say fuck that. To be your and my and everyone’s advocate in saying WE GET TO FEEL OUR FEELINGS and to proclaim that our experiences are ours, are valid, are true. I’m here to say that those who shame you about being angry or sad or frustrated or whatever it is you are feeling need to step back and deal with their own stuff.
We don’t need to “grow” or transform or change. We don’t need to “better” ourselves. We don’t need to stuff our rage, or sadness, or worry. We are NOT too much. We are EXACTLY enough.
Becoming aware of our Self:: connecting to our body—her physicality and her wisdom; exploring our unconscious and Shadows and bringing them to light; embracing our spiritual self, whatever that may look like :: that is the endgame in itself. And yes, we grow and change and transform, that is a byproduct of this work, not the goal. This is an important distinction to make.
Having transformation be a “goal” sets us up not only to fail, but also to feed those stories of how we aren’t enough and are too much as we are now. Having “growth” be the goal feeds the shame that we are somehow not okay as we are, in this moment.
When growth and transformation happen as a by-product, because the goal was simply to get to know our Self better, shame is not fed and begins to melt away from malnourishment. When we change as a by-product of understanding our Self better, of being curious and getting to our Shadow, those stories of being too much and not enough start to lose their grip, because we are learning to accept our Self as we are and not trying to “fix” us.
Poppy Lockridge said recently: You don’t need fixing. The world needs fixing. Let me repeat this for you: YOU DON’T NEED FIXING. THE WORLD NEEDS FIXING. We do not need to better ourselves. And we abso-fucking-lutely don’t need to quiet our rage or calm down or act “properly.” And we especially don’t need to buy into this idea that we must, at all costs, be shiny and happy, every moment of every day; that we have to constantly be making lemonade out of lemons and seeing all these supposed silver-linings in every tragedy. We don’t need to believe that if we aren’t seeing the positive in every.single.thing, well, then there is something wrong with us.
There is nothing wrong with us. There is everything wrong with a world that tries to sell us a story that there is something wrong with us.
There is nothing wrong with being sad.
There is nothing wrong with being angry.
There is nothing wrong with being hurt.
There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable.
There is nothing wrong with being negative or anxious or scared.
And, yes, there is nothing wrong with being happy, either.
However, let’s not be “happy” at the cost of our wholeness. Let’s not be “happy” because that is how we are told we should be. Let’s not be “happy” because it makes us a “better” person.
Let’s simply be who we are, in this moment, and allow that to be okay. Let’s, not so simply, become aware of our unconscious motivations; our internalized -isms (and we all have them, so while we’re at it, let’s also let go of that idea that we don’t). Let’s become aware of our triggers and our knowing. Let’s connect to the people we are, right now. Let’s come back into our body and feel her and all her physicality and hear all her wisdom. Let’s learn to love ourselves, not despite, rather because of our humanity. Let’s learn empathy and compassion, for ourselves and others.
Let’s let go of this idea of “bettering” ourselves and instead embrace the idea of accepting and loving ourselves as we are. Let’s move away from needing “personal growth” and instead embrace self-awareness.
Because we don’t need to have “growth” be a goal. It will happen, as a by-product, by not-so-simply becoming aware. We don’t need to burn ourselves out with all this striving. We truly can allow ourselves to just be.
These thoughts were originally published in my weekly love-letter on April 9, 2016. I have revised and expanded on that original writing in this post. To receive more of my writing on these ideas of being too much, not enough, shame, and how our culture feeds them all to us, you can subscribe by clicking over here.