Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about personal growth.
When we talk about babies, we talk a lot about growth and development stages. When should they sit up? Are they crawling and walking as they should by a certain age? Are they making sounds and forming words? Once kids start school, we focus even more on intellectual growth and meeting academic expectations. Can they read on schedule? Have they developed math skills? Are they understanding basic grammar skills? We also talk about their social skills. Are they getting along with their peers? This trend continues until we complete our education. It’s then that our discussions of personal growth tend to lessen and sometimes even go away. We may still talk about professional development, and if we are religious, we will use growth language when we talk about our faith. But even then we are rarely assessing ourselves to see if we are maturing in any real way. We have formed our life habits by then, and unless we are forced by circumstances to change any of those habits, most people are content to just get through life without much additional work toward growing.
Through developmental and psychological research, we know that adults have the ability to continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. We can break habits, learn new skills, and change our behaviors. We come into adulthood with our life perspectives developed through our experiences and influences beginning in infancy and continuing through young adulthood. We are affected by our family and societal relations, by our educational and religious experiences, and by the technological access and cultural influences from our surroundings. But growth and change are still possible.
Psychologists tell us that the ages between 18 and 29 can be referred to as emerging adulthood. This is a time for individuals to focus on their goals and explore their unique identities and the possibilities that are before them in life. This is also a key time in life to explore our relationships and all of our societal connections to others. In this time, new relationships help individuals realize that they may need to break away from old habits, unhealthy ways of thinking, and prejudices that were handed down from family and friends.
But what about those of us over 30…over 40…over 50? Are we will still exploring our own identities and thinking about our habits and the thoughts we carry each day? I can answer for me. For a long time, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was in all-out survival mode—keeping my head above water physically and financially. I went to Sunday school classes, but I didn’t really assess any of my religious beliefs. The places I went just affirmed what I already believed. I didn’t think much about my larger community. I didn’t spend a lot of energy wondering about what I needed to change in my life. When things were going well, I enjoyed the good times as they were. When things weren’t going well, I just tried to hang on and survive.
How many of us get stuck in this pattern and never think about the world around us, how we can use our gifts and talents to bring positive changes to our communities, or how we can join in with other community members to improve the quality of life for others while we also increase our own strengths and find happiness in pursuits we had never imagined?
Changing is so hard. It’s not something we just naturally feel good about as adults. We like many of our routines, or we at least feel comfortable in them. We are reassured by predictability in our lives. So, a first step for many of us involves a recognition that we have not actually grown in quite a while and we haven’t even assessed ourselves lately. Let me clarify here…self-assessment does not mean we get stuck in our patterns of self-criticism. Self-criticism is allowing negative beliefs about ourselves to take over our internal conversations. This actually slows our personal growth because we don’t see ourselves as strong or worthy or possessing qualities or talents that we can share.
I’m talking about taking time to asks ourselves questions about why we believe what we believe, how can we open ourselves up to new people and new opportunities, and how can we be a person who helps bring positive changes to a hurting world.
Brené Brown—a research professor, author and public speaker—talks about our next step: a willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is letting go of our need for absolute control. It’s stepping out of our comfort zones and doing something new that forces us into new conversations and exposes us to new perspectives. It brings us uncertainty and emotional exposure. In a 2013 interview with Forbes magazine, Brown says: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I was raised in a ‘get ‘er done’ and ‘suck it up’ family and culture (very Texan, German-American). The tenacity and grit part of that upbringing has served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a street fight for me, but it’s been worth it.”
Brown reminds me that vulnerability is worth it because, even though we feel uncertain and exposed at first, we soon discover new joys that new relationships bring. We move from surviving to thriving. We become members of our larger community, and we find ways to strengthen these local, national, and international communities. We also find ways to let them strengthen us. They bring beauty into our lives, and we realize that we bring beauty into the lives of others.
With vulnerability, we redefine success and stop tying our legacy solely to what we earn or what job we show up to every day. We stop trying to be perfect and try instead to be good and to be kind and to be open to life. We aren’t scared to admit that we need to improve and grow.
Growth and change take more than just vulnerability. We also have to have courage. The changes I made in my life were terrifying at first. I remember having to walk into a new career at a university in Nashville. I had just moved there as a single Mom and knew no one at all in the city. I had to wake up every day and find the courage to start this new phase of my life. Then I added vulnerability. I sought out new people and new experiences. I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended lectures and even gave some. I learned about the nonprofit groups in the city and the needs of those they served. I took risks and wrote articles while others were unsure about whether or not the stories needed to be told. I learned to walk away from people and places I needed to walk away from, and I learned how to grow again.
It takes courage to admit that we still have things to learn. It also takes courage to admit that we are responsible for educating ourselves. I admit that I get frustrated when adults just want education on a new topic just handed to them without effort. Kids can’t be responsible for their own education. They need teachers and parents to feed them new information. We have to provide the information and the materials and help them interpret everything new. But as adults, we get lazy at times and still want our own learning to happen that way.
Well, it’s not anyone’s job but ours to educate us. It’s not a person’s job to educate us about what it’s like to be Black in America or live with deafness or be Native American or flee your homeland or be a woman or face cancer or live with grief or survive abuse. It’s our job to open our eyes and read and research and be vulnerable to this learning. It’s our job to hear new stories and let them soak in. It’s our job to volunteer at the Refugee Empowerment Center or attend their public programs or read their social media posts. It’s our job to read nonfiction pieces by people outside of our own race and gender. It’s our job to use the search tool within a new group and read what answers have already been posted there. It’s our job to read articles written by people trying to overcome homelessness. The information is already there. We don’t need people to feed it to us. We just need to learn to use reliable sources, to stop misinformation, and to use what we find to grow.
Your challenge this week: be vulnerable and courageous in a new area of your life. Do at least something simple like reading an article written by someone of a different race and one by someone whose life perspectives may be different from yours. Explore recipes from another culture and read the history behind the recipe. Read books written by those working in the nonprofit world such as Becca Stevens who works with Thistle Farms. Read fiction and nonfiction pieces which expose you to new perspectives. Start a Zoom meeting with people you have never met in your community. Be open and vulnerable to learning. Those who grow make a difference…those who grow are changed for the better and bring changes for the better.
Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I hope you return soon. Be well and stay safe. And remember: You are loved.