“Life is Change. Growth is Optional. Choose Wisely”
So, growth is on the agenda. Indeed it is! We experience it literally and see it locally in town at the #kbhlæser festivalthese days. We celebrate it here on the Ark Review by dedicating not to few a pieces to the theme. I see it every day in Facebook ads about mindfulness courses that promise to save my spirit, body and soul from going mad in a mad(dening) world. I see it on Linkedin, where articles and vids on professional improvement are shared, discussed and commented on to highlight an urge to keep moving forward. Change is for the better!seems to be our go-to motto. For God’s sake, whatever you do: Don’t. Move. Backwards. Or what is potentially worse: Don’t stand still!
On the political agenda, growth is accentuated in terms of the constant want and need of financial progress, in our work lives in terms of an increasing focus on productivity and return-of-investments, on rising sales. Growth as a concept has even sneaked into our personal lives in our mutual expectations of one another. Apparently, true friendships are the ones where we can ‘grow together‘ and accept the inevitable changes to our personalities over time. Where we can accept and love each other – even for developing into an ass and still say I love you for who you are. In literature, Bildung(one’s cultural and emotional education and the German equivalent of the Danish term dannelse) continues to be a favourite theme. Growth is all over the place and I, too, feel the push to be part of that conversation.
Allright. I will.
But. Ever the Humanist Academic, my initial response to such topics is always etymological and inquisitive: “Growth you say. Great. Growth meaning…?”
For God’s sake, whatever you do: Don’t. Move. Backwards. Or what is potentially worse: Don’t stand still!
I won’t pretend to know the answer to this (or any such) question, because as a Humanist, I know how these things – like all things – are a matter of interpretation, the eyes that see. But of course, I cannot ask yousuch a question and then continue this mental burp without consulting the OED, my true (academic) companion and to laymen also known as The Oxford English Dictionary. And as usual, OED offers a poetic and metaphorical redemption in its definition of growth: “the process of growing physically, mentally or emotionally […] Remove dead leaves to encourage new growth.” Dead leaves is a cheesy metaphor, but then again. True story, right? I mean, growth has to do with something becoming bigger or taller or longer (there’s that obsession with size again!), with increase, development and improvement. Growth has to do with an almost metamorphic movement from something that becomes the old to something new.
… sometimes the challenge is not to let my carry-on history be the heaviest suitcase on the airplane, but I am who I am because of the life I lived and the choices I made.
But, does this OED example mean that growth cannot take place without getting rid of or leaving something behind? And how do you actually do that? I mean, my life events, my history, my memories, the people I meet will always be a part of me. Agreed, sometimes the challenge is tonotlet my carry-on history be the heaviest suitcase on the airplane, but I am who I am because of the life I lived and the choices I made. I cannot remove it, but I can find a way to live my life without making my history an impediment to my future progress. There’s always this choice. To let go. At least that‘s what I read in a book about positive psychology and mindfulness, about living in the now. Forget the past. Be here now. Breathe.
On a personal note, I feel growth very literally and biologically these days, as I am physically growing another human being inside of me, thus gaining both weight and new perspectives every single day without (really) making an effort – apart from eating a lot of bananas and flødeboller. In my prenatal yoga class, I am actually learning how to breathe – and roar like a lion, which, apparently, might come in handy during labour. It’s weird. It’s exhausting. It’s very yoga orange and zen. It’s exciting and all very mind blowing. It’s new. I’m learning and I’m changing. I’m moving. I’m growing.
Personally, I’m advocating the “Fail Forward”-phrase wherever and whenever I can … Be brave. Introduce an everyday Ooops.
And this is the supposedly true spirit of the growth mindset. As opposed to the fixed idea that growth is hard work and all about being resilient, open and flexible, the understanding that your personal qualities and abilities can (or should I say must?) change informs this viewpoint and stresses how you should face problems as challenges. Always persevere in the face of setbacks. “Embrace failure,” says the bumper sticker! Personally, I’m advocating the “Fail Forward”-phrase wherever and whenever I can. As effective learners, this is how we develop our intelligence, this is how we get smarter, this is how we grow. Be brave. Introduce an everyday Ooops.
… there’s not a single one of those girls, who weren’t Fat Dorothy in the fifth grade or once were sad that she wasn’t like the other girls. Everyone has a weeds past…
A couple of months back, I had a photo shoot with a professional photographer (don’t ask why, I just did), and before our session, apparently I was awarded an hour with my personal make-up artist to do the hair and make-up thing. We started talking and it turns out that this girl was a writer in her spare time. Great, I said, my line of work. So what do you write? Poetry was the answer.
At this point, I fell victim of the stereotype notion that make-up artists weren’t the poetry kind of people, but what do you know. I learned something that day. For the next thing the make-up poetress said was this: I’ve written a series of poems about weeds (and that’s weeds as in ukrudt, mind you). Weeds? Yes, she said, inspired by my work here at the studio and at fashion shows. I see a lot of very beautiful girls every day and they all aspire to become roses. But what they don’t know is that I don’t really notice the roses, I look for the weeds in-between, the weeds past that is also part of their journey. I tell you, she said, there’s not a single one of those girls, who weren’t Fat Dorothy in the fifth grade or once was sad that she wasn’t like the other girls. Everyone has a weeds past, and so I want to celebrate weeds, because they can bloom under the most unlikely of circumstances, and yet they are seldom praised for the effort. Unlike the rose, which is carefully planted, cared for and gently cut, caressed, kissed and praised, weeds get the harshest of treatments with chemicals and boiled water. People are annoyed by weeds. Nobody likes weeds, and no matter what type of acid chemistry we throw at them they still manage to grow through concrete pavements and in the driest of dirt.
Now there’s a struggle. Growing through concrete. Heavy shit.
This image resonated deeply with me. It was totally unexpected and in the moment incredibly poetic and beautiful, and since then I have thought a lot about weeds (!) and of growing under uncomfortable, impossible or straining conditions. My winter with prenatal nausea on a daily basis has emphasized this quite uncomfortably, and I have repeated the phrase “it’s just a phase” often. Still, I draw energy from the idea that improvement is about changing beliefs, and guess what. The growth mindset enablesthis change. If we remove the dead leaves and think differently about effort and difficulty – and I mean this in the most un-hippie kind of way – growth (and I guess, beauty, too) will find a way to shine through. To change. You.
(Originally published in The Ark Review, March 9, 2017).