I think life is really confusing. I think the decisions we make, who we are, what are morals and beliefs are, how we interact with others, and how we move forward all come together to create a boatload of stress for the average person. I've been thinking about personal growth a lot over the past year. This time a year ago I was breaking up with my long-time boyfriend and getting ready to move to a new city to start at a new school. I wouldn't know my roommate, or really anybody. I had decided to not join the marching band, my safety blanket activity for the last 4 years, and had spent most of the summer feeling sorry for myself and watching my old high school 'friends' have fun without me and leave me out of their summer plans.
Naturally, I looked to college as a time and a place to grow, and I went about trying to create a rigid path of growth that I wanted to follow. I would eat better, and get out more, and make new friends. I would ride my bike, and stay organzied, and get good grades. Life rolled around, and I tried my hand at 'personal growth' once again over thanksgiving break. And then again over winter break. And then again at the start of the new semester. It wasn't until summer break, as I was thinking up all the ways I was going to grow and change as a person that I realized I had done this before.
It feels like most of my time as a teenager was spent reflecting on my shortcomings as a person and how to correct them. I spent 2 years as a team captain, which required lots of meetings where all the people in leadership were forced to look at their character flaws and how they were going to go about remedying then. It seemed like everywhere I turned people were looking to better themselves through goal setting, meditation, riding bikes and going vegan. Throw in the internet movement towards mindfulness and self care, and even more people were trying to 'glow up' in fast, easy ways.
I've grown a lot since I was 10. I've grown a lot in the past year. I've even grown a lot in the past month, the past week, the past hour. But the growth I've felt hasn't been the result of careful meditation, structured journaling, or conscious, thought-provoking conversations with myself late at night. In fact, it seemed like anytime I tried to force personal growth on myself, it would fail.
As I said earlier, I tried three seperate times during my first year at college to under take a journey of personal growth, one where I would emerge on the other side a better person, someone who wasn't as annoying, or mean, or disorganized. I had to try three times because I kept failing, as I had done for years and years of my life. So then along came summer, one of my favorite times of the year. And I decided that this summer, I would set no rigid goals, hold myself accountable for no personal growth, and live every day just trying to be happy. And it finally worked.
I realized what I had been missing all those years trying to force myself out of bad habits or character traits I didn't like. Natural, good, important growth, doesn't happen on a journaling page or in a deep conversation with yourself. It happens little by little, every day, when you cultivate an environment that serves you. When you take care of yourself, work hard, make time for the things and the people you like, good growth will happen. You don't need to think about it, you don't need to talk about it, it will just happen, and then one day you will wake and you will have become the person you were really meant to be.
My approach to personal growth was aimed at changing the wrong things. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves, if we want to achieve a better and happier state of being, is to live well. Eat foods we like, do activities that bring us joy, listen to good music, read good books, be mindful about our thoughts and feelings, and live with purpose everyday. Instead of thinking, 'I am going to work on being more patient,' take a bath, go on a walk, organize your desk. You may find change happening in your heart, and that change will be good, because it will be authentic, organic, and come from a place that was cultivated with care.
I am simultaneously a meticulous planner and very spontaneous. I love making plans and setting goals, only to throw them out the window when the time actually comes. It was hard throwing goal setting to the wind over the summer and essentially giving up on trying to actively be a better person. But it was worth it in the end. I still set goals, but ones that were open ended and constantly changing, and they were focused on the world and space around me, rather than tackling large personality flaws.
I had a wonderful summer. I felt free, and beyond happy. I want nothing more than to carry this good feeling into college, and now I know how. I'm going to stop beating myself up for being human, and stop trying to force change that should be happening naturally and on its own. I will create a space and a life that is good and makes me happy, and I will go from there.
I hope you find yourselves pleased with the end of the summer. I hope you're looking forward to the autumn days ahead and the time of year when the magical relaxation of summer fades into the hard-working reality of autumn. I hope you forgive yourself and give yourself time and space to exist. I hope you chase organic, authentic growth, not the vision of change that comes from a place of anger or fear. Grow organically, and be happy.
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