The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Trust

When I finished my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I had a literary agent reach out to me and request a full manuscript of my novel. The manuscript wasn’t ready at the time, so I kept working on it, rereading, rethinking, and revising, until I had a solid, workable draft to send. I sent it to her a few weeks ago, and last week, she let me know that she wouldn’t be interested in representing it.

Of course, I was disappointed. It felt like a squandered opportunity. Like maybe I should have worked harder before I sent the manuscript because she reached out to me, after all, and maybe I had disappointed her. Maybe I missed a big shot. Maybe I missed my only shot.

Logically, I knew that wasn’t true, but still, I struggled for a little while with feeling like a failure. Rejection is a part of being a writer, and I will face it 100+ more times if I take the process of getting published seriously, but that opportunity felt different, and I let myself wallow a little bit. Eventually, I realized, that it wasn’t just the rejection that hurt, but the missed opportunity to accomplish something. I told my husband, as he was trying to comfort me, that what truly felt so bad was that I wanted validation through my accomplishments.

I started a new job last month, and it’s different from any other job I’ve had in that it isn’t focused on tasks. For the most part, I am in control of my schedule and I get to decide how to spend my time. I’ve been having difficulty acclimating to this because I go in to work feeling like I have nothing to do since no one has assigned me a specific task, and I leave work feeling like I did nothing to contribute to my team since I didn’t complete a specific task. The rejection from the agent came during the height of my anxiety about this new job, and the two experiences really held a mirror up to my insecurities.

Even though I’ve worked hard on self-acceptance and personal growth this year, I still seek esteem through what I do, rather than who I am.

If I’m too busy focusing on tasks and results, then I will miss chances to be creative and innovative.

When I started to rethink my approach to my new job, I gained some confidence to be curious. I gained some trust in myself to approach my supervisor with ideas, instead of asking her for more tasks. I redefined my work day as a chance to experiment, instead of an obligation to produce something.

That newfound trust is something I’ll have to keep working on in every area of my life. I’ll have to keep trying new things.

I’ll have to keep going for it.

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That trust won’t be static. Some days, I’ll still feel anxious. Some days, I’ll still ache for validation through accomplishment, and that’s okay.

When it comes to writing, this trust is highly valuable.

If I miss opportunities to create and innovate because I’m too worried about creating a product, then I miss the whole point.

If I trust myself to write the story that’s in my heart (sorry for the cheesy cliché, but I can’t figure out any other way to say that), then I’ll write something that matters; then I’ll know when enough is enough and my manuscript is ready; then I’ll trust myself to go for it.

Some days, I’ll let rejection wash over me, and some days, it’ll get me down. Some days, I’ll sit down to write and feel great about even just a few words, and other days I’ll feel shitty for not finishing something; regardless, I can keep training myself to trust in the process.

I can teach myself, through my words and my actions, that I’m valuable with or without an accomplishment to show for the day.

I can redefine what accomplishment means.

I can trust that my definition of what’s good is good. I can let less productive days be merely blips in my existence.

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What could you gain from trusting yourself? What insights could you glean from focusing on process over product?

The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Purpose

I did a Teal Swan meditation.

If you don’t know who Teal Swan is, then this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but I clicked on her video with a tinge of desperation in my heart, which is exactly the kind of vulnerability she consciously attracts.

Teal Swan has been called a Suicide Catalyst after her first client committed suicide under her care. She approaches mental health in a very unorthodox and dangerous manner. She’s been described as a cult leader, and after learning more about her, I have to agree.

When I clicked on her video about finding your life’s purpose, I raised my metaphorical hackles in skepticism and self-protection. I rolled my eyes at the lulling waves background behind her and her tendency to talk in circles, but I kept listening, interested to hear how she advises her followers to find their purpose. Unsurprisingly, she asks that you find the “negative imprint” of your life, or the cause of your pain. She’s known for this kind of shadow work, which can take people to very dark places.

Nevertheless, I closed my eyes as she led me through a meditation to find this pain.

At first, the word that came to my mind was loneliness.

She warned me that finding this negative imprint would not be an enjoyable process and that when she first did it her skin felt like it was burning off her bones. While I did not have that intense of a reaction (and I’m doubtful that she did herself), it was painful to meditate on loneliness, but that didn’t feel quite right.

There was something underneath that loneliness, and I ultimately ended up recognizing my negative imprint to be shame.

She then advised me to consider the opposite. She gives a rather convoluted explanation about how we can’t know anything without first knowing its opposite, and the video is edited with images of segregation and the civil rights movement as an illustration of this, which I found odd and off-putting in a video about personal purpose, but I stuck with it because for all my skepticism, this meditation did seem like it could be useful. I did some brainstorming on the opposite of shame, and the word that most resonated with me was dignity.

The video ends with a hopeful feeling that this meditation will have helped you find your purpose, but Teal doesn’t give much explanation about how you’re supposed to use this knowledge. She has a tendency to take people to very dark, vulnerable places and leave them there. I do feel like the idea behind her meditation is useful, and I’m curious to see how I can employ the idea of dignity into an exploration of my life’s purpose, but I would be weary of recommending this meditation to anyone since Teal doesn’t provide much support for using the knowledge to your benefit. (I wouldn’t recommend Teal Swan as a source of help or inspiration in general, anyway. While she might have some nuggets of good advice here and there, she purports more harm than good).

When I googled “How to Find your Life’s Purpose,” I wasn’t very impressed with any of the other videos I found on the subject. It isn’t a topic that can be easily distilled into the “10 Tips” format that is so common online.

Even though I knew Teal’s reputation, I clicked on her video after scrolling through other videos with beefy men in the thumbnails because I’ve been wondering about my life’s purpose a lot. It’s a topic that consistently comes up whenever I talk about my sorrow and insecurities with my husband. Just last night, I was telling him how I often fantasize about being a cop or being employed in a profession of authority because I feel so sensitive and out of control so much of the time, and it’s nice to visualize myself in a role that requires so much confidence. He told me that he finds his confidence in his purpose. He is passionate about helping kids and families because of the pain he endured in his childhood, which aligns with Teal’s message about finding that old pain and reaching for its opposite. I still don’t recommend her meditation, but, it does seem like the general idea has some validity.

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Shame has been the scourge of my existence for as long as I can remember.

Some of my earliest memories are heavy with this burden, and many of my current experiences in life are dictated by my desire to avoid feeling shame or embarrassment. When I think about the opposite of this, I think about self-respect and dignity. I envision myself as someone who has confidence, even when I make mistakes, and I see myself using that confidence to do good work.

I used to have a tagline on my blog which read:

Demystifying and dismantling shame through storytelling.

Recognizing the power shame has had over me is not a new revelation, and I’m not too sure yet how to build my sense of purpose around its opposite, but I’m excited to explore it.

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Is your life driven by a sense of purpose? How do you act on that purpose?

The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Exploration

When I started this series, The Fundamentals of Personal Growth, I wanted to write in a different way. I wanted to get outside of my own personal story and do the typical type of “How To” blog post where I tell you what to do, but I don’t feel good about that anymore. I started this blog avoiding you, and I did that because I find the directive to be an egotistical way to write, as if I can ever tell you what to do. As if I have some answers that you have never thought of or sought for yourself. If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve been deep in a rabbit hole filled with naturopath scammers and con-artists, and in this rabbit hole I’ve begun to wonder about the fine line of writing blog posts in the directive and pretending to be an expert. Now, I’ve never touted myself as an expert, but I do find it slightly uncomfortable to tout any level of authority over a subject which I can know only from my own personal experience. Personal growth is just that – personal – and so I’m going back to my original idea behind these blog posts, which is that all I can do is write about my experience and how I’m navigating my own journey of personal development and growth.

This week, the fundamental is exploration, or perhaps the process of finding myself.

I was a freckly, shy and quiet little girl.

I grew in to a freckly, shy and quiet teenager, and because of my outward appearance I felt as though people often presumed me to be a bookworm. I readily accepted that label (whether it was true or not) because it fit with my shyness, and later what turned out to be anxiety, which was really what kept me quiet. Truly, though, I couldn’t get through a book and remember anything I’d read. I had so much anxiety that reading was merely a façade.

I’d have a book in front of my face, and I’d be looking at words, and I suppose connecting them to their context in the sentence, but really, my mind was racing with other thoughts about how ugly or lonely I felt, or about where I was going to escape to at lunch time.

It wasn’t until my senior year in high school, when I took a college level composition class, that I started to wake up to myself a little bit.

We wrote five papers in that class, and we got to choose our own topics, which allowed me to explore ideas that mattered to me. It allowed me to try new things. For example, it was during that time that I tried going to a Unitarian church as research for one of my papers. I will forever attribute that class to being the catalyst for me developing critical thinking skills and learning to explore and communicate my own opinions.

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background image source: Seb and the Sun

It wasn’t until college, though, that the bookworm label felt like something that could be true for me. It wasn’t until Dr. Nye shared his passion for Milton and Jane Austen that I started to find some passion of my own. It wasn’t until I got to read YA novels for actual assignments, or when I got to write my own YA novel for my undergrad thesis that I started to find myself in that presupposed bookworm label.

The bookworm label (or idea of myself) was never really wrong, I just needed to cultivate some confidence and inner-peace, through exploring and communicating my own ideas, to find out that reading and writing were a refuge for me.

I remember having weekends dedicated to reading Jane Austen, and I no longer felt that dread that I’d felt in high school. I could finally relax enough to parse meaning from the words. I remember even looking forward to laying in bed all day with an Austen novel.

While I wouldn’t boil myself down into a bookworm, I would say that books have given me a tremendous ability to explore my interests and figure out who I am.

Writing has done quite the same, but this process isn’t done, and it will never be done.

This fundamental requires a lot of experimenting, and that can be hard for me sometimes. I’ve built up quite a complex over feeling like a quitter, and exploration ends up in a lot of dead ends. I’ve had to learn that giving up is a lot different then moving on. Sometimes I try something new and it just isn’t right for me and I move on, and that’s okay.

Moving on, though, can feel bad too because sometimes I get this crazy idea in my head that if I can just get to a point where I have “found” myself, then I will truly be happy. If I have to move on, then it must mean that I haven’t found myself. I’ve come to realize, though, that happiness lies in that process of exploration. Sometimes fear and anxiety lie in that process, too, because self-exploration requires me to go outside of my comfort zone, but there isn’t some golden pot of aged-to-perfection happiness at the end of the process because the process never ends. For that reason, I don’t have a four-step plan to share about this fundamental. There are no steps because self-exploration is a part of every step I take.

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What does self-discovery look like for you?