Growth sounds like a nice, positive, wonderful thing that we should all do, both personally and professionally.
But the truth is, growth usually feels really uncomfortable. Even terrible. That’s because it requires us to stretch and keep moving past what we know to what we don’t know. It requires that we persevere despite fear, doubt, and uncertainty. And it requires that we continue to try things even when we have no evidence that we can achieve them.
Opportunities For Growth Are Everywhere
Although we might think of growth opportunities as those big, pivotal moments in your life and career, sometimes tiny, seemingly insignificant choices that we make can change our growth trajectory or can give us the momentum we need to get unstuck and start growing.
When I moved to Spain in September, I had such a moment in a parking garage. Driving here in general presented several challenges for me. The traffic lanes inexplicably merge without warning. Left-hand turns are a veritable free-for-all, with people passing you on the left and right when (in theory) you’re in a single turn lane. You have to change lanes (and therefore look backwards) while driving in circles. But I dreaded the parking garages the most.
Spanish parking garage engineers are cruel individuals. In an effort to fit in as many spaces as possible, they make postage-stamp-sized parking spaces and the narrowest tunnels and steepest ramps you can imagine. And the worst is that they give you virtually zero space to maneuver into the tiny parking spaces.
When I first started driving in Spain, I had an errand that required parking in a particularly small parking garage. It would have been easy enough to come up with a way to avoid it altogether. I could have taken a bus or taxi. But I was committed to learning how to drive here, so I drove into the garage and was presented with a particularly tiny spot between two columns and to access it, I would need to park in reverse (without a camera). I had all kinds of negative thoughts about it: “I can’t do this! I don’t know how! I’ve never had to do this before! How can anyone park in these insanely small spaces?” These thoughts created the feeling of helplessness, which made me want to give up and go home.
That moment was not a moment of growth. It was a moment of being stuck.
But at the same time that I was feeling stuck, I also really wanted to learn how to park in that space, so that I could face any parking garage in the city. And to do that, I was going to have to switch my mindset.
So, I coached myself through it. I reminded myself: “I’ve done new things before. I can figure this out. I can do hard things.” These thoughts created the feelings of motivation and determination, which drove me to figure it out. I was slow parking the car. I had to get out to check how much space I had. But I parked the car without swiping any columns or bumping into anything.
And then, I began parking in spaces like that over and over. Now, it’s almost easy.
It could be tempting to dismiss seemingly insignificant moments of growth like this one. But consider that growth begets more growth, so even a small moment of growth can provide evidence that you’re capable of growing in bigger ways, too.
Embrace The Growing Pains
We want growth to be easy and when it’s not, we often stop, telling ourselves “I just can’t do that.” But growth is not supposed to be easy or comfortable. Accepting the inevitable discomfort of growth allows you to keep going. There is ease on the other side of growth if you push through it.
To know whether you’re growing, ask yourself:
- Am I trying something new that feels difficult?
- Do I feel uncomfortable attempting something new, but continue taking action anyway?
- Do I have a goal that I’m pursuing even if I sometimes fail along the way?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” you’re growing. If that’s where you find yourself, keep going! Allowing the inevitable discomfort of growth is what allows you to reap the benefits of that later.
If the answer to those questions is “no,” it’s either because you’re not stretching yourself to try something new at all or you started trying but then got stuck. If this is where you find yourself, pay attention to your thoughts. What are you telling yourself that setbacks mean about you and your ability to do this? Are you telling yourself that you just can’t?
Growth Requires Positive Thoughts
Since our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings drive our actions, we can’t take positive action from negative thinking. Berating yourself for not knowing how to do something doesn’t work. Negative thoughts are make us feel stuck, not motivated. Only positive thoughts (that we actually believe) can propel us to move forward and grow.
Growth Makes Life Better
I don’t want to suggest that we should always be growing in every moment. Sometimes we just want to enjoy the ease of our current comfort zone. For example, there is still considerable room for improvement in my driving in Spain. I avoid the incredibly narrow streets in the center of the city completely. I’m sure that my neighbors find it amusing that I park right in the middle of the two parking spaces that we’re allotted in our parking garage at home, because we only have one car here and it’s faster and easier to park that way.
But life is better when we live mostly in growth mode. By choosing growth instead of comfort, we ultimately expand our comfort zone and find ourselves doing more than we knew we could. Yes, it’s painful, difficult, and uncomfortable. But it’s so worth it.
Go forth and grow!