With it being the New Year, many individuals are setting goals for themselves and taking comfort in a time where it is ‘acceptable’ to work on oneself. I thought it would, therefore, be valuable to discuss how transitions are an essential part of life, and why it is limiting to equate a resolution with personal growth.
According to a January 2017 article, the Telegraph reported that people’s top resolutions are to exercise more, lose weight or eat more healthily – none of which, alone, are going to transform one’s life.
As the writings in this space are largely inspired by and related to transitions in some way, shape, or form, kicking off 2018 with an argument for perennial transition may provide some clarity of thought for your approach to the year, and what you will see as your own successful growth.
January sets high expectations for renewed personal growth, even for those on the cynical end of the resolution spectrum.
You can spend all the time you want on this growth objective – e.g. restricting your indulgences, trying a new activity – but, I would argue that the most substantial personal growth comes from transitions in life. And, while they can indeed be the product of decisions you have made, transitions (more often then not) may feel like they are happening to you.
To me, a resolution represents a well-intentioned life improvement, often born out of a desire for a ‘reset’ at the start of a year. Where personal growth demonstrates some combination of reflection, perseverance, and, perhaps even, the opportunity to contribute to someone else’s own experience. Let me discuss this further.
Events and opportunities that do catalyze substantial growth come in waves, but also multiples items come in those waves that can be a confusing mix of good and bad. Personal growth is not typically clear-cut, you are not always conscious it is occurring, and it takes reflection to understand. The problem of reconciling resolutions with growth is that, as much work as you do on yourself as a person, the world is not in your control.
Personal growth is more akin to perseverance than to reinvention.
In my ‘about me’, I list a quotation I find as powerful as I do confusing.
“Life may contain the ‘essence’ (what else could?); recollection, the repetition in imagination, may decipher the essence and deliver to you the ‘elixir’; and eventually you may even be privileged to ‘make’ something out of it, ‘to compound the story.’ But life itself is neither essence nor elixir, and if you treat it as such it will only play its tricks on you.”
– Hannah Arendt on Isak Dinesen, Men in Dark Times
I think the emotion of confusion that Arendt elicits only adds to the power of the sentiment.
It is human nature, and possibly even survival, to believe life is going to bring with it elements of sense and compatibility, and of understanding and wisdom. What happens when it does not, or, at least, if it is not one’s individual destiny to find acceptance in what it presents?
While a resolution could provide a new experience that leads to personal discovery, it is not so much the experience than it is the reflection on it that will lead you towards unpacking its power for growth.
How one approaches their personal growth is key, and storytelling is essential. It seems paradoxical in the modern age, but storytelling is becoming fewer and farther between. It is one of those strange things where if we did not have digital stories coming in by the second, we might realize more starkly the absence of beneficial storytelling interactions.
A lack of this type of storytelling severely limits our ability to approach our growth, whether born out of desire or necessity, productively.
I realized the absence of relatable storytelling in my life was when I was ashamed at my initial response of being startled to see people upfront with their own challenges online – from representation to parenthood to illness to wellbeing to career ambitions to body image.
Individual stories are catalysts for personal revelations, as well as global revolutions.
There is no better testament to the relationship between revelation and revolution than Oprah’s instantly iconic Golden Globes speech:
“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”
On a global front, the occurrences in 2017 that are carrying us forward into 2018, included movements such as the Women’s March, as well as the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns. These demonstrate, on a large-scale, why silence is not optimal for problem solving and community building. And, of course, this is far from limited to women’s rights issues alone, as these issues overlap with thousands of other ones.
Ultimately, experiencing and sharing personal growth can provide comfort for others at different stages of the journey.
We are always transitioning, and if we do not come to terms with this fact, we are bound to be frustrated at the speed of progress or even miss the vitality of the experience itself.
So, rather than a goal being to fix something ‘wrong’ with us, I want to hear and tell more stories. I want to be aware of the new ideas I am absorbing, the newfound influences to which I am subscribing, the attitude I am exuding, and the desires I have for a changing world.
Life’s transitions cannot be escaped nor fully planned out, but one’s own experiences can be reflected upon and discussions by others can resonate. Eventually, that can lead to a breakthrough in personal growth for yourself, and, if shared, for others.
Resolve to look beyond the limits of ‘self-improvement,’ and far beyond January.