personal growth

As a gardener, I love this time of year. My office looks over our back gardens. After looking at a brown, dead landscape for the past months, the garden is alive with spring flowers and vigorous green growth.

The 19th-century British theologian and essayist, John Henry Newman once said, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” Again, this spring I’ll be in the garden pruning winter kill and nurturing growth. I am always struck by the parallels to my personal growth and my work helping others grow their leadership, teams, and organizations. Highly effective leaders continuously prune old habits and cultivate new growth.

Stanford University professor of psychology, Carol Dweck, is known for her work on the power of a Growth Mindset. This is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be expanded. She contrasts that with a Fixed Mindset that sees intelligence and abilities as static. Growth is the central focus of my book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. You can read the Introduction on letting yourself grow here.

The founder of MacDonald’s hamburger chain, Ray Kroc, was known for his motto, “when you’re green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you rot.” Here are a few danger signs that rot may be setting in:

  • “We’ve always done it that way”— we don’t challenge our assumptions or reflect on how we should do things now.
  • “I am too old to change”— in The Dog Ate My Homework, philosophy professor, Vincent Barry, calls this fixed mindset “some senior’s socially sanctioned refusal to acknowledge and take responsibility for attitudes, actions, and circumstances well within his or her power to influence.” He goes on to write, “It’s also about dying before one’s time by living half heartedly the time one has left. In this respect, ‘I’m too old to change’ is about all of us who refuse to live by refusing to change; for ‘to change is to mature, (and) to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly’.”
  • Losing our child-like curiosity— our sense of wonder and discovery is replaced with cynicism and apathy — “been there, done that, what else is new?” One of the most prolific artists in history (he created more than 20,000 works) the Spanish painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso, has been called the greatest artist of the 20th century. He once observed, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
  • Learning strictly through our own experience— we can strengthen our growth by learning from other people’s experience. Not only can that be less painful, but it’s also very effective. Books, podcasts, seminars, mentoring, networking, group problem solving, and the like are some of the ways we can learn from others.
  • Creatures of bad habits— it’s so easy to slip into routines that close us off from new approaches and learning. We can fall victim to repeating worn out cliches, platitudes, and dogma. Habits formation is a vital growth/fixed mindset choice. We can be the victim or master of this powerful force.
  • Having all the answers— in his personal journal, the French artist Eugene Delacroix wrote, “Mediocre people have an answer for everything and are astonished at nothing. They always want to have the air of knowing better than you what you are going to tell them…a capable and superior look is the natural accompaniment of this type of character.”
  • Satisfied and complacent— only a mediocre person is always at his or her best. If I am getting very comfortable with my expertise and skill levels, my learning has levelled out. I am not stretching and challenging myself enough. My comfort zone fossilizes into a complacency zone and rot sets in.
  • Fearing to attempt— we know that the turtle only makes progress by sticking his head out. It’s easy to stay in our old habit shell and dream about what we’re going to do someday. If we don’t take steady steps toward our dreams, the walls around our complacency zone get ever higher and thicker.
  • Fuzzy focus— our growth and development should be taking us someplace. If we don’t know where we want to go, what we stand for, or why we’re here, any experience and learning path will do. We just wander around and hope for the best.

As, Brooks Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The New York Times and drama critic, wrote, “The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.”

Personal growth, continuous improvement, lifelong learning…are cliches for many people.

But good intentions often don’t become action. Recognizing when our growth is stagnating isn’t easy. Like putting on weight, it happens so gradually until one day we notice how out of shape we’ve become.

Are you green and growing? Or is your development decaying and starting to smell a little off?