Personal growth; life’s weird and wildly successful fertilizers

Today’s WordPress prompt actually is an interesting question to ponder on. We tend to live our daily lives very future-oriented, focusing only on what should be, and not very much on what is. On the other hand, we also often tend to dwell on things from the past, and although this often is related to what is, we generally tend to focus on the explanations for all things bad. What I like about today’s prompt is that it focuses on the relation between the past and the now, but it does so in a positive way.

What experiences in life helped you grow the most?

Today’s prompt

For me, there have been a bunch of experiences – some pretty dramatic, others less so – that pushed growth, often unintentionally.

Loss – I have learned through hours of therapy that losses in the past have been a strong driver for growth in my personal life. This needs a bit of backstory in order for it to make sense. I ended the relationship with my father when I was eleven years old, after four years of turbulent back-and-forth between two parental sides. There were various reasons for this split, but for me what drove it mostly was that balancing my separated parents was very confusing at that age. It brought me in a perpetual state of sadness and not understanding who was right or wrong about the other party. I remember very well the conversations with social workers about a solution – a three month trial turned into an open-ended termination of contact. I haven’t seen my father since. Alright, how does that contribute to growth, you may think – as I thought when therapists pointed it out. The fact that the relationship never ended definitively (as for instance would be in the case of someone’s death), there has always been the expectation that one day he would show up. I know I would have if my kids had decided to cut me out of their lives. I cannot deny that this may have potentially been the strongest driver of growth for me in my life. I am in no rush to make him proud, that’s not it. Rather, I have always wanted to prove what I could reach without him in life. Growth and success is my way of saying “I didn’t need you”.

Money – Growing up as one of the poorest kids around, raised by a single mother of three, I have always felt treated weirdly by other people when I was a child. Maybe this was because how often this theme was raised in our family at the time? It sometimes felt as if people were saying that my future was doomed anyway, although it was not spoken out. It was a way of treating us… Because how would I ever build a better future in my life under these conditions anyway? I always thought it was horse shit and that everyone that really wants to can actually make it in life, and have fought in my own ways to get me to where I am now. For a long time I believed that if I could do it, everyone could do it. I have come to realize over the years that this is not true; that despite some unfavourable conditions in the past, I have still been in the right place at the right time a lot. I have experienced a lot of privilege, simply by having the physical and mental capacity to do the things I do, and to live in a country where studying is affordable even if your parents have no money, and to have met countless fantastic mentors on the way that appreciated my weirdness and my sometimes difficult persona.

Push – I have written excessively in the past about support and mentors, and how they have pushed and shaped me as a person. Much of my academic growth is the result of people believing in me and people not believing in me. The first one is obvious. Being backed by people that truly believe that you can do something is an amazing experience. Many mentors think this is what they do, but few actually really do this. It takes a certain empathetic personality to offer real support, especially in dark periods in life. Particularly in my various study theses I’ve felt that several people believed in my capabilities, which ultimately pushed me to apply for a PhD position. I’ve had three great mentors in my PhD, that each in their own way pushed me for growth. I’ve also had my fair share of influential people that clearly did not believe in me. Maybe it’s the aforementioned experiences with loss that have triggered this ‘I don’t need you, I can be good without you’ attitude that these people spark in me. Looking back, lots of growth has happened to prove such people wrong.

Happiness – No growth can happen without happiness, at least in some areas in your life. That’s just the way I feel it anyway. Despite having had some pretty rough patches in my life, I’ve also been blessed with great happiness. The happiness always brought balance. My life partner has brought me happiness and joy for many years, and she’s this person that always has kept her calm, even when I fought the darkest demons. Our kids, which came into our lives a bit more recently, are another great source of happiness. Not only does their happiness balance out my stress. It also has become a new life goal in and of itself. Everything I do is ultimately for one reason – to provide them with a balanced and happy life. I will grow to make them grow.

Culture – For me, traveling new places and experiencing culture near and far has always been a source of inspiration and creativity. And a lot of perspective. Whether it’s the absolute culture shock of exploring Chinese Yunnan province, or absolutely shitting my guts out for two days after eating undercooked pollo a la brasa in the Peruvian Andes, it always taught me things about myself and improved my perspective on the world. (I sometimes did fun things too…)

Therapy – maybe this one should have come as the first. Without any doubt, getting to know myself, learning about myself and to embrace myself, including the spoiled and rotten corners, has been a goddamn blessing. Therapy doesn’t make you broken. Everyone needs therapy. I see examples all the time. Therapy is owning life. Therapy is growth! I would recommend it to everyone. I will never remove it from my schedule. Prioritizing mental health means growth in all areas of life.

What else? There’s probably more, but this is enough food for today’s post.

What’s your secret to growth?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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