We Have to Stretch to Grow

The thing about rubber bands is that they’re pretty much useless until they’ve been stretched. Every use I can think of for a rubber band requires that you stretch it first. This is why John Maxwell calls one of his laws of personal growth “The Law of the Rubber Band.” It says that “growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.” You need to keep stretching. Another way of saying that came from Abraham Maslow who said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy the rest of your life.”

Suzi and I were having lunch with some friends several years ago. The conversation turned to personal growth and one of our friends said, “If I have to experience pain in order to grow, then I’m happy where I am.” I’ll never forget that comment. It sounded like that person was aiming for mediocrity. Mediocrity is not a worthy goal. It’s like the cartoon I saw on a bulletin board. A football team was running off the field chanting “We’re number six!” One of the fans said to another in the stands, “I think they’re too easily satisfied!” It’s easy to be average.

Life Begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch

Your comfort zone is a dangerous place. It prevents you from improving, it stops you from achieving all the things you are capable of achieving and it makes you miserable. That’s a line from an article entitled, “Why Your Comfort Zone is the Most Dangerous Place on Earth.”

Your comfort zone is where you feel familiar and in control. It’s where you are not intimidated by challenges and don’t feel like something is at risk. But that’s exactly the problem. Risk and intimidating challenges are the stretching of the rubber band. Doug Larson said, “Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.” You have to get out of the boat if you’re going to walk on water.

Stretch Goals

Most of us set goals. Many organizations require you to set goals as part of your development plan and annual evaluation. We are most often asked to set “SMART” goals. Those are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Realistic), Time bound. I love what Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ said in a white paper called, “Are SMART Goals Dumb?” He proposes H.A.R.D. goals. In his model the “D” stands for Difficult. It means, “I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my goal.” Now we’re talking about stretching. Rabbi Nehman asks, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

“Stretch Goals” are ambitious goals that challenge current assumptions and processes, and inspire teams (people) to re-imagine what they previously thought possible. You can stretch in two different directions. If you stretch vertically, for example, you are reaching for new heights in something you’ve already achieved. It may be a sales goal no one believes possible or putting a person on Mars.

You can also stretch horizontally. That means expanding your horizons to attempt something you’ve never done before. You may be dreaming of starting a business or launching a product line that seems outside your normal arena. Whether you stretch up or you stretch out, stretching is the key to growth.

Someone once said, “You are exactly where you should be in life given everything you have done to get here.” That may cause some of us to say, “ouch!” It’s true, though, and the question is, what will we do on purpose to become who we could be?

Personal Growth and Character

Do you know the difference between a tornado and a zamboni? The difference is in what they leave behind. A zamboni comes out on the torn up ice after a period of hard skated hockey and glides over the surface leaving behind a glistening smooth surface. A Tornado, on the other hand, smashes into the most peaceful, idyllic towns and leaves behind destruction and death.

People can be like zambonis or like tornadoes. I’m sure you’ve met both kinds. I know I have. What makes things challenging at work is when one person has both characteristics. For example, they may be a zamboni in their people skills, very friendly, always willing to help, but a disaster when it comes to the work they produce. On the flip side of that is the person who is amazing at what they produce but leave dead bodies in their wake when it comes to people.

We’re talking about character and competence, who we are and what we can do. Someone once said that character and competence are like the two wings of an airplane. You need them both if you want to fly. I believe that. I would rather work with someone who is pretty good at what they do (especially since it’s easier to teach skills than character), and of really good character than someone who is really good at what they do and a disaster when it comes to character.

What Difference Does Character Make?

“Character growth determines the height of your personal growth.” John C. Maxwell.

When I interview people for leadership positions, I don’t ask them a lot of questions about skills. I may ask one or two to make sure they know what they say they know (actually, that’s a character issue, too), but mostly I focus on questions about character. “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” or, “Could you tell me about at time when you saw a co-worker struggling in their job?” I can teach you the skills you need to do the job.

Character matters because character makes you solid on the inside. Like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, a person with no character will eventually implode. But strong character makes you resilient while allowing you to grow.

Some lists of desirable character traits have been developed like the “Pillars of Character” from the “Character Counts” educational program for public schools:

Trustworthiness
Respect
Responsibility
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Some add Empathy as well

Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed identifies these traits as more important than IQ for success:

Grit
Curiosity
Self-control
Social Intelligence
Zest
Optimism
Gratitude

Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who possessed these qualities?

Can Character Change?

I believe it can! The bottom line requirement for a change in character is for a person do deal with their personal B.S. (Belief system). In other words you change the way you think about yourself and the world around you. How?

One way this happens is through a life-changing encounter with someone or something, something so traumatic or amazing happens in your life that it alters your world-view completely. A murdering, self-righteous, religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus had such an encounter with Jesus Christ. He became the Apostle Paul after that encounter.

Another way that character can change is by intentionally putting yourself through a series of exercises that begin to develop a new mental muscle memory. Those in the religious world might call these exercises spiritual disciplines. Others may call them Habit Formation. The first one to work on is your belief about whether or not you can change. Start by changing your self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m just direct whether they like it or not,” which indicates an unchangeable state of being, try saying, “that comment seemed to land more like a punch than constructive advice.” That would allow you room to think about how to offer the same information differently so the person hearing it would be more inclined to receive it.

Competence and Character, the two wings of the personal growth airplane. You can become a zamboni in both.

How to Turn Poop Into a Positive

“Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue.” Have you ever heard that saying? I loved it the first time I heard it and still do. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other days you feel like a depository of pigeon poop. Everyone feels that way because we all have good days and bad days. We all have really awesome experiences and really horrible experiences. The difference between people who grow and everyone else is in what they do with the bad experiences.

“No pain, no gain” is about when you experience pain because you’re working out. That’s on purpose. You intentionally do things that make your muscles sore because you want to get stronger. What about when you experience pain that’s not on purpose, when someone just poops on you? John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth writes about “The Law of Pain.” That law says, “Good Management of bad experiences leads to great growth.”

Here’s an Example

A friend of mine, despite being great at what he does, found himself out of a job not long ago. The COVID-19 pandemic so negatively impacted his industry that he lost his job. Instead of sitting around whining or feeling sorry for himself, my friend decided to let people know he was available to work by writing a social media post. The theme? “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” It was a beautifully written piece but I don’t know if it ever got posted. A recruiter was asked to look it over and provide feedback before my friend posted it. That feedback led to a new job with that recruiter’s company. How’s that for turning poop into a positive (or lemons into lemonade)?!

As Warren Lester said, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

How Do You Turn Lemons to Lemonade?

First, understand these truths:

  1. Everyone has bad experiences
  2. Nobody likes bad experiences
  3. Few turn bad experiences into a positive.

So, how do you become one of the few? I wish I could tell you there are three or five steps to turning poop into a positive. It boils down to a choice. You can choose what to think about. For example, think about a blue sock. Now think about a bowl of lemons. See, you can make yourself think about what you choose.

You can also choose how you think about something. Take that bowl of lemons, for example; maybe you would have preferred a bowl of oranges. How will you think about that? Are you sad or angry that you got the wrong fruit? Maybe you don’t even like lemons. Or, do you see an opportunity? You could make lemonade, sell it at a lemonade stand and make new friends and enough money to buy oranges! You can choose how to think about good and bad experiences. Often the way we think about the experience helps determine how it turns out.

Another Perspective

I’m a person of faith. The Bible has some interesting things to say on this topic. For example:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials because you know that tribulation works patience…” James 1:2-4

It also says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Romans 5:3-5

This is not passivity or defeatism. This is someone who recognizes that bad things happen to everyone, and that good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.

How do you turn poop into a positive? Choose to. After all, poop makes great fertilizer!

How to Make a Recipe for Growth

I don’t have a certificate from the American Institute of Baking qualifying me as a Master Baker, but I can turn out a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. How is that, you ask? The secret is I follow the “Toll House” recipe on the back of my bag of chocolate chips. I’ve done it enough times I even have the recipe memorized. I can gather the ingredients and tools and have the first batch out of the oven in 15 – 20 minutes. The recipe makes it possible for me to consistently bake good tasting chocolate chip cookies.

Best selling author and small business guru, Michael Gerber (The E-myth) says, “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without a system, even extraordinary people find it difficult to achieve even ordinary results.” A recipe is a system. Systems consist of components (ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and tools like bowls, a mixer, cookie sheets) and processes (like measuring out the ingredients, combining and mixing, and placing in the oven at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time). I’m an ordinary guy but my cookies are consistently pretty extraordinary.

A Recipe for Personal Growth

Entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not Much.” Yikes! That’s true. In someone else’s life plan you and I will be, at best, a rung on their ladder or a medal on their chest. Do you want to be someone’s rung or medal? Me either. Here’s one more quote from Jim Rohn:

If you want to have more, you have to become more.
For things to improve, you have to improve.
For things to get better, you have to get better.
For things to change, you have to change.
When you change, everything changes for you.

We have to grow into who we want to be. So we’ve got to have a system for personal growth, a recipe if you will. As Rohn says, we have to design our own life plan.

What Would You Like to Bake?

Suzi’s (my wife) favorite cake is Angel Food (she’s an angel after all!). I love chocolate cake. We’ve already talked about my cookies. Each of those is a baked product but it requires a very different recipe to achieve each one. Before you begin to bake, you have to decide what you want to eat. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The same is true for personal growth. Where do you want to grow? What skill or trait or vision of the future do you want to work on? That’s the beginning point of your personal growth recipe. The desired outcome determines the ingredients and processes required to get there.

Guidelines for Creating a Recipe

You’ve decided you want to grow in a certain area. Now you need a plan, the recipe. Here are some guidelines for creating your recipe.

  1. Measurement – how will you measure your progress? Make a checklist of the necessary elements in your growth plan and track your progress.
  2. Priorities – think proportions. How much time, energy, and money are you willing to invest in your goal? Remember, don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.
  3. Application – the heat of the oven transforms the recipe’s combined ingredients into a cake or cookies. In the same way, the heat of putting your skill, trait, or vision of the future into practice creates the necessary transformation in you. As soon as you learn something important, think, “Where can I use this?” “When can I use this?” “Who else needs to know this?” and take action on the answer to each of those questions.

Your recipe for growth may include classes, books, interviews, skills training, or other ingredients. It will involve exposing yourself to new things, educating yourself, and experiencing the opportunities your new skill, trait, or realized vision open for you. How you combine all these things is your recipe for personal growth. What do you want to bake?

How to Cultivate Growth

We currently live in California where there are 16 separate climate zones. We learned that the hard way one summer day after we first moved here. It was over 100 degrees in the Central Valley where we live, so we decided to go to the ocean. We chose to drive into San Francisco to enjoy the Wharf. We loaded our family of 7 into the mini-van all dressed in T-shirts and shorts and headed to the city. It was when we got out of the van at the Wharf that we discovered the short drive (less than an hour) had take us way out of our climate zone. It was in the lower 60’s in the city and we were too cold to enjoy the day.

Gardening and landscaping is interesting in California for the same reason. Nurseries and Garden Centers have to stock according to the climate zone(s) represented by their customer base. “Will the plants I want grow well in my climate zone?” The answer to that question can be different only a few miles down the road.

What Growth Climate Are You Creating?

People are like plants. We thrive and grow in certain climates better than other climates. One of the first components of a growth climate is the basic beliefs or assumptions you have about people. What you believe about them will determine how you behave toward them.

Some people have the following or similar basic assumptions about people:

  1. They are uncommitted.
  2. They are basically lazy.
  3. They are irresponsible.
  4. They are merely resources you use to accomplish my goals.

What kind of climate do you think comes from those basic beliefs? I believe it would be a cold, dark climate filled with fear of failure and a punishment-based motivational model. Have you ever experienced a climate like that?

The Golem effect is in full force here. The Golem effect says that negative expectations by supervisors produce poorer performance from employees that tend to reinforce the negative beliefs of the supervisors which, in turn, generates more negative expectations. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Opposite of the Golem effect is the Pygmalian effect. It says that our beliefs about others influence our actions toward them, which impact their beliefs about themselves, which cause their actions toward others, which reinforce our beliefs about them. It is a positive cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are more apt to create a climate for growth when we believe:

  1. People will do what makes sense to them.
  2. People want to make a difference.
  3. People don’t want to fail.
  4. People want to grow personally.
  5. People need and respond to encouragement and appreciation.

What a different climate those beliefs would create. But, how do you change your beliefs? Are they permanently ingrained or can they change? I believe they can change. Often the only thing required to change them is to spend a little time getting to know your people. When you listen to them, 9 times out of 10 you will be amazed especially if you’re open to being amazed.

Sunshine and Rain

Once we have the foundational beliefs right, what can we add to the environment to promote personal growth for ourselves and our people?

Exposure – give yourself and your people opportunities to try new things. Let them attend meetings they normally don’t have access to. I’ve had people apply for promotions they didn’t expect to get just for the exposure to the process. One value of exposure is that it often generates questions which will lead to the next step.

Education – encourage yourself and your people to take classes. They could be toward certifications or just to answer those questions that came from Exposure. But, have a purpose for classes and don’t assume taking a class is the sum total of development. It’s always only a step.

Experience – the difference between Exposure and Experience is that instead of attending the meeting, you have the person lead the meeting. You let the person be lead for a day. You walk, or let your people walk in someone else’s shoes. These are amazing growth opportunities.

You have to be willing to let people fail safely for any of this to work. Failure is part of growth. In fact, we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure may feel like “dung” but dung makes a great fertilizer.

A Word About Weeds and Suckers

Part of cultivation for plant growth is pulling weeds and cutting away unhealthy growth. That’s also necessary in personal growth. Correcting bad habits and redirecting people are part of the growth process. Sometimes you may even have to remove a toxic person from the team in order to promote a growth climate. That’s extreme and a last resort, but is sometimes necessary.

Just like California with it’s 16 climate zones, your climate doesn’t have to be the same as the one down the road to grow beautiful plants. But it has to be conducive to growing the plants you want.

What Difference Does Discipline Make?

I am a lousy golfer. When people ask me if I golf, I usually say I’m a “corporate golfer.” I have only golfed at company sponsored events with vendors or clients and a couple times with my brother-in-law. Right there is part of the reason I’m a poor golfer. I don’t golf consistently. I don’t practice my swing at the driving range or my short game on the putting green. Consistency is only part of the reason I’m a poor golfer, though. I don’t love the game enough to spend the vast amounts of time and money necessary for consistency.

Does Discipline Matter?

There are differing opinions about the role of consistency and discipline in personal growth. John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, writes about “The Law of Consistency” which says, “Motivation gets you going, Discipline keeps you growing.” You also have Malcolm Gladwell’s misunderstood popularization of the 10,000 hours theory in his book Outliers. He writes about “The 10,000 hour rule” which seems to imply that greatness comes from 10,000 hours of practice. And, of course, Aristotle’s famous quote, “We are what we consistently do. Excellence, is therefore not an act, but a habit.”

On the other hand, you have articles like “Why You Don’t Need More Discipline” which explains the perspective of the late world-renown strength coach, Charles Poliquin. He said “There is no such thing as discipline. There is only love…You are the result of what you love most.” He said, for example, “If you love pizza more than you love the thought of having the body you always wanted, then you might choose pizza and feel like you failed yourself by not being disciplined to go to the gym, but really all you did was choose pizza over the gym because you love pizza more.”

To add another layer is the idea quoted by the late Vince Lombardi who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” So there is more to greatness than just doing it over and over. You can do it over and over the wrong way and become permanently bad.

So What Does Discipline Have to Do With Personal Growth?

In their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the authors demonstrate that the best managers focus on strengths. Rather than trying to help themselves or their people improve in their areas of weakness, they focus on helping them get great at what they’re already good at. John Maxwell, in his “Law of Consistency,” points out that its critical to know why you want to improve. He says that “Why Power” is far more effective than “Will Power.” It’s about your passion, what you love.

Putting those together brings us back to something I’ve written about previously, your sweet spot. It’s that place where you talents (what your good at), your why (what you care about or love), and your dreams come together. I believe discipline is staying focused on your sweet spot and making the choices every day that will move you forward in realizing those dreams.

I’ll never be good at golf. I lack the talent, the why (sorry, I just don’t care that much about the game), and any dreams about being good at it. What sense would it make for me to discipline myself to improve in that area? Do you have anything in your life like golf? Your’re working on it but it’s not part of your sweet spot. Try re-focusing on your sweet spot and see what happens.

The Art of Pausing

We almost never watch live TV anymore. It’s liberating to watch if you want, what you want, when you want. Another liberating feature of modern TV is, whether your watching from a DVR or a streaming service, you can press “Pause” until the kids quiet down or while you take a snack (or potty) break or answer the phone. When sports come back, that’s one thing we’ll watch live, and you can even “pause” live TV like a game. Of course, one great thing about that is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the ads. I’ve even been known to fast forward between plays of a football game.

The “Pause” button obviously has many benefits when enjoying recorded or even live media. Less obvious, perhaps, but very important, are the benefits of pressing “Pause” to personal growth. Learning to pause allows growth to catch up with you. In other words, it’s in the pause that most growth happens. Leadership teacher, John Maxwell, has said, “Experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is the best teacher.” If experience alone made one better, then everyone who has been in the same job longer would be better than their “less experienced” colleagues. We know that’s not always the case. That’s because you need to evaluate and learn from your experience in order to grow, and you have to pause in order to evaluate.

The Power of the Pause

To “evaluate” means literally “to find the value.” Pausing provides the opportunity to reflect which means “to think deeply or carefully about.” If we take the time to think deeply and carefully about our experiences in order to find the value in them, that process is what turns experience into insight. Insight is the wisdom we gain from evaluating our experience and that wisdom is what guides us into a better future. That’s growth.

Pausing is essential to personal growth. But, when should I pause? I would recommend pausing at least at these times:

  1. The beginning of each day to go over the most important things in the day and your growth plan.
  2. At the end of each day to replay the crucial events of the day and evaluate them.
  3. At one point during the weekend to do the same for each week as you do daily
  4. Monthly as you change over your calendar, the exercise is the same for each frequency, you are just evaluating a larger arc of your experience
  5. An annual week or weekend to review and plan the whole year. My wife always chooses a word or short phrase for the coming year during the holidays. She lets us know that this is the year of …
  6. Finally, pause as immediately as you can after significant experiences.

Our society seems to get more and more frenetic by the year. Pausing can seem almost counter-intuitive. But, the more you do it, the more opportunity you give yourself to learn and grow.

Use your “I’s” When You Pause

Here are four approaches to your Pause time that may be helpful.

  1. Investigate – interrogate yourself and your experience to explore it’s value
  2. Incubate – I also call it percolating or marinating. The idea is to let thoughts and experiences grow to their full potential. You may want to lift the lid on that crockpot from time to time to see how their doing.
  3. Illuminate – here you actively place a value score on your experiences. Scoring them helps you seek out more of the higher value growth opportunities. Note: some of the highest value experiences can be painful ones which I do not recommend seeking out but value them highly.
  4. Illustrate – turn your evaluated experiences into lessons which you can share with others to help them grow. See #2 under “How to Re-set Your Value” from last week.

We have all had a life full of experiences. Some of those experiences have been good and some have been bad. Those of us who have grown and learned from our experiences are the ones who have taken the time to pause and reflect on them. Set an alarm on your phone for this evening that says, “Pause.” When it goes off, stop what you’re doing and take 5 minutes to reflect on one specific experience from today.

See Value IN Yourself to Add Value TO Yourself

I love this picture! That kitten doesn’t seem to have a problem with his self-image, does he? It’s a great illustration of the concept of self image. What do we see when we look in the mirror? What image of ourselves do we see looking back at us? As I get older, I’m noticing that I recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror less and less. I sometimes wonder, “Who’s that old guy looking back at me?” If you’re over, say 40 or so, you get what I’m talking about. But that’s not what this post is about. We’re talking about personal growth and the reality is that you need to see value in yourself before you’ll be willing to add value to yourself.

Unless your a narcissist or some kind of crazy, you’re susceptible to “impostor syndrome,” especially if you’re a high achiever or have big dreams. Impostor syndrome is that form of self-doubt that worries about being “whatever-enough” for the job or the dream. Every Lion looks in the mirror and sees a kitten from time to time. But, if that’s your constant state, that will prevent your personal growth.

What’s Your Value?

I’m not talking about your financial net worth. I’m asking, “What value do you see in yourself?” That’s important because you will not give yourself the opportunity to grow if you think you are not worthy of it because if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t bet on yourself.

Your sense of personal value becomes a self-fulling prophecy in the sense that others will begin to see you the way you see yourself. Leadership coach John Maxwell said, “If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise the price.” If you don’t allow yourself to expand and grow, if you don’t invest in yourself, remaining where you are for a long period of time, others will take note and place the same value on you as you’ve placed on yourself.

Value is defined as, “the regard (high opinion, liking and respect, esteem) that something/someone is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something/someone.” With that definition in mind, what “regard, importance, worth, or usefulness” do you see in yourself? Let me tell you something. Unless you’re that narcissist I mentioned earlier, you’re worth way more than you think.

How to Reset Your Value

I’m a person of faith so the first place I look to determine anyone’s value is to the Bible. According to the first book of the Bible (Genesis), we are all created in God’s image. The rest of the Bible talks about how much God loves us and the extent he’s gone to redeem us. God places extreme value on each of us. Who am I to argue with God?! You have great value.

Even if you’re not a person of faith, you can change the image you see when you look in the mirror. Here are a couple ways to do that.

  1. Watch your Self-Talk – We tend to listen to and believe ourselves more than anyone else. What we say to ourselves, we believe. How we believe determines what we do, and what we do we tend to become. No one ever set a world record who said, “I can’t do this.”
  2. Add Value to Others – When we give to someone else by helping them grow and develop it creates space in us for growth
  3. Do the Right Thing even if it’s the Hard Thing – This discipline will go a long way in resetting your sense of character.
  4. Practice a One Word strategy – Pick a character quality or skill you’d like to develop and make it your one word for the month. Put it in a prominent place where you’ll see it daily and spend time each day focusing on that word and how it will be seen in your life.
  5. Remember the Rest of Your Story is Unwritten – Remember, the story of your life is an epic novel. The next chapter, let alone the ending, is not yet written. Become the author of your own story.

You are a person of value. It’s time to start betting on yourself.

Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

When you plan a trip you have to know at least two things. You need to know where you’re starting from and where you’re going. That’s true if you’re going to the grocery store or going across the country. It’s also true when we talk about personal growth. It’s true but the starting and ending points of personal growth are often far less obvious than are the two end points of a physical journey. That’s why we say you have to “know yourself to grow yourself.”

Knowing yourself is the starting point of your personal growth journey and it involves understanding what you want. There are three kinds of people when it comes to knowing what you want and doing it. First, there are those who don’t know. They are confused. Then, there are those who know but don’t do anything. They’re frustrated. Finally, there are those who know and make the journey. They are fulfilled. Which are you?

The really great thing is there is fulfillment in the personal growth journey itself, not just in arriving at the destination. If you think about it, when it comes to personal growth, when does one ever arrive?

To Know Yourself, Know Your Why?

A starting point for your personal growth journey is to understand your purpose. Knowing what to do becomes more clear when you know your “why.” How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about the normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as of having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery, when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend.

So, Now What?

Comedian, Michael Jr. says, “To inspire people to walk in purpose is my Why. I can do comedy, write books, or be in a movie. They are ‘whats’ that are made more clear and impactful by my why.”

The next step in personal growth is to find some of your best “Whats.” Ask yourself,

“What are my strengths?”
“What are my weaknesses?”
“What are my interests?”
“What are my opportunities?”

In short, what do you like to do and/or want to do?

Now, ask some of your friends and family the same questions about you. They can validate or clarify especially the answers to the strengths and weaknesses questions. You may also find value in taking an assessment like the DISC analysis. I can help with that. I’m a certified DISC trainer. Feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com. I’ll set you up with a web-based assessment that will give you a 30 page report outlining many helpful insights into your DISC personality profile. There is a small fee for this service, but it is well worth it.

Now it’s time to put it all together.

What’s Your Sweet Spot?

The next step in your personal growth journey is to identify what you’re great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. You may like to do lots of things but there are a couple or one that you excel at. These are the things people tell you you’re good at but you don’t recognize it because it “comes naturally.”

Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about) and your talent and skills intersect. When you’ve identified your sweet spot you have the “Know Yourself” part of “Know Yourself to Grow Yourself.” You’ve put a pin in the “Where am I now” part of your personal growth map. Now you can plan your growth to develop your sweet spot.

Growth Doesn’t Just Happen

Over the last three months I’ve been writing about Communication. In April the topic was “The Power of Connection” in four parts. May was four posts on Organizational Communication. Finally, last week I concluded a five part series on Listening. During the quarter that started this month, I want to shift themes from Communication to Personal Growth. It’s been said that “mastery” (the desire to get better at stuff) is one of a handful of intrinsic motivators. In other words, we are driven to grow and improve because of internal rewards (satisfaction) over external ones like prizes or recognition.

Leadership teacher, coach, and author John C. Maxwell,  among his many books, has written two that have been helpful to me on this topic. First is , The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, and the other is called Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. I highly recommend them both and if you were to read them you would recognize their influence in my writing during this quarter.

The First Law

The first of John’s invaluable laws of growth is the law of “Intentionality.” It’s also what the entire second book is about, living on purpose. The Law of Intentionality says, “Growth Doesn’t Just Happen.” You have to plan for it and work on it … on purpose.

My youngest two graduated from High School a year ago (wow! already). Our lives have changed in the evenings since that happened. While they were in school the evenings were filled with homework and preparation. That’s because the school had a curriculum and each course in that curriculum had a syllabus and each day had a lesson plan which included learning objectives. The school district was intentional about their learning and development (growth).

Once we graduate and the structured learning environment of school is gone, most of us are set adrift when it comes to personal growth. We find jobs or start businesses that may or may not have anything to do with our formal education. Then life is all about the daily tasks related to that job or business. But, as many experts will tell you, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” If that’s true, then in the scenario I just described, we’re dying.

Be Your own Board of Education

Because we no longer have others structuring our learning and growth for us, we need to develop our own personal growth plan.

Start with work. If you love your job (if you don’t, that’s another conversation) or aspire to a certain position, there are most likely job related certifications you can pursue. Research those and decide which ones you want and how to get them. There may even be organizations you can join that provide curriculum for your job development. In many cases an employer will pay for job related education and memberships. LinkedIn Premium has training available on a wide variety of topics as well.

How about Hobbies and personal interests? Set a goal. What do you want to be able to do by the end of the year? Find Youtube videos or online communities or local clubs that deal with that and start learning. Or go old school, like me, and buy books. Invest some time and money in yourself.

Finally, set a time and place to “study.” I get up at 5:15 every morning. After feeding the cat and letting the dog out, I pour a cup of coffee and sit down on the couch in the living room. I read for half an hour. I read a selection from two books. First, I read a chapter from the Bible progressing through a book. Then I read from whichever book is current on my list. It could be on a variety of subjects. After that, I write for half an hour. That’s when I work on these posts. I also have a couple of e-books on my phone that I read whenever I’m in line or waiting for my wife in a store.

There are other things I do and other things you could do. The main thing, though, is to start. Growth doesn’t just happen.