There is a quote by John C. Maxwell which states: “change is inevitable, growth is optional.” I bet if I asked you right now, you could name a few individuals who have remained unchanged for decades. They appear stuck in the same perpetual cycle—usually a destructive or annoying one.
I personally never wanted to remain the same.
Belonging and Growth
While we all want to be accepted for who we are and as we are—and we should be—stagnation is never a good option. We can all become improved versions of who we are today,
I—for one—didn’t care to stagnate. Remaining as I was at 18, 28, or 38…was a daunting prospect.
No, thank you.
On the one hand, there is voluntary change. For instance, this is the change we make when we create positive new habits such as making the bed, eating better, exercising, or doing a happiness project.
On the other hand, there is such a thing as involuntarily refining which isn’t necessarily an enjoyable experience.
Moreover, we also have the option of learning absolutely nothing from life’s experiences.
Remember, growth is optional.
We can indeed remain stuck in our ways, unable—or unwilling—to grow because change is scary and hard, and as a species, it isn’t something we necessarily embrace.
The alternative to change is to remain dormant. Stagnation—in any area of life—is never a positive trait, may it be with bodies of water, business, or relationships.
Yes, basic personality traits usually remain relatively stable and unchanged throughout a lifetime. I don’t believe extroverts become introverts and vice versa—although stranger things have indeed been known to occur. Beyond personality though, we can expand and grow—or, shall I say, be refined.
Being refined has undoubtedly been the case for me, and I would say this fact is very good. I certainly needed it.
My children remain some of the most exceptional teachers in my life journey. The person I was pre-kids and the person I am post-kids is NOT—thank God—the same.
Parents as Teachers
Growing up, I was always under the impression that parents were the teachers. Adults teach young minds, right?
Granted, this theory has a seed of truth. Our kids do learn much from us—for good or bad. For instance, if you are a parent, I am sure you have overheard your kids playing with toys or role-playing and realized they sounded just like you. Sometimes such play created a warm and fuzzy feeling, and at other times, not so much.
Children do indeed learn much from what we—as adults—do try to instill in them. However, they learn much more from observing us. They become a mirror of sorts.
Children as Teachers
As much as we become—willingly or unwillingly—our children’s teacher, I believe we can learn much from them as well. Children are individuals—albeit immature ones—not subpar humans. The fact they are small and need adults to love and protect them does not mean they have nothing of value to offer.
I am in awe of the lessons my pint-sized, wise masters have taught me.
Yes, there is self-centeredness in children but, at the same time, there is also wisdom—the same as for adults when you think of it.
We can learn much from them. For instance, we can learn more about love, trust, laughter, play, authenticity, colorblindness, and so on.
One is a fool if he thinks he already knows all, and also believes he cannot learn from anyone—especially from someone he considers “inferior.” Small does not mean lesser.
Some teachers are inspiring like the Mother Teresas or the Martin Luther Kings of the world. Such individuals are rare, and most of us will never follow in their footsteps although, we can glean small seeds to plant in our own lives.
Other teachers show us who we do not want to become. For instance, the angry driver who zip zags and flips everyone off and still ends up at the same red light as you—albeit one car length ahead. Or, the belligerent man at the checkout counter who complains because the line is long. There is also the woman who thinks she is superior to the cleaning lady and treats her with contempt. Then again, there is the neighbor, two streets down, who spreads gossip mostly of her own fabrication but still wonders why she has no friends.
I could go on, as the examples of human depravity and unkindness aren’t in short supply. Yes, these are the types of people we label as “I don’t want to be you when I grow up.” I am afraid the list of the lessons such individuals impart is infinite—and depressing—and at one time or another, we have probably been THAT person to another human being—or two.
Then, there are the other strangers, those who show kindness and mercy and whose name you may never know.
Remember, Growth is Optional
When it comes to my children, I was not prepared to see them as teachers although the lessons were plentiful and came rather quickly in my parenting foray.
The incredible thing about this parenting journey is that despite my fumblings and my numerous mistakes, my kids have managed to grow into loving, compassionate, and productive members of society. Granted, they are not all grown. I still have a few in the throes of childhood, yet I expect they will follow suit to their older siblings.
Since I was under the erroneous impression that I needed to be a perfect parent for my children to thrive, the revelation that children can indeed flourish despite our ever-present humanness, was a tremendous relief. Had I know this lesson before becoming a parent, it would have saved me much guilt and shame.
I thought—quite a few times—I should throw away my mommy card. I especially felt that way every year, when I received a Christmas letter from a friend of mine. Her kids were first at everything, they could read the encyclopedia Britannica backward at five, and speak fluently in three languages at 7.
Okay, these descriptions may be “slight” exaggerations. However, I felt like a failure nonetheless. At five one of my kids aspired to drive a trash truck because the truck sounded awesome. I must preface I see nothing wrong with being a trash collector. God knows we need them. Nevertheless, I felt shame because I could not be the perfect mother or at the very least THAT mother.
Thank goodness, I stopped reading her Christmas newsletter over a decade ago, and I started to work on me—remember growth is optional.
For me, growth was vital and essential. I didn’t want to mess up my kids more than necessary.
I think children respect growth. Additionally, they are incredibly forgiving.
The parent I expected to be pre-kid is not quite the same as the parent I became post-kid and I could not be happier with this unexpected lesson—I am sure my kids are as well.
At this point, I want to acknowledge those individuals who have remained childless by choice or by fate. Being a parent does not mean one is wiser or better. What being a parent means is that my teachers didn’t show up in the same form as those who are childless.
Our paths are not meant to be identical. Each of us is here to live the life before us and learn our individual lessons—not to compare and judge.
Imagine a vast library with thousands of books, all of them the exact identical copy of one single manuscript.
Imagine a world where we are all the same—equally dreadful.
In truth, libraries offer a multitude of books in various formats and on multiple subjects. Sometimes on the same subject, you will find books with differing opinions. This variety is the very thing which makes library such fascinating places. There is beauty in diversity.
Thank God there is not only one kind of bird, cat, or dog. Humans are not all carbon copy of each other. Teachers come in all shapes and sizes. It just so happens that I participated in the manufacturing of some of my teachers. This choice was my path, but it is not the only path.
The World is Full of Teachers
In life, I have also encountered plenty of teachers not of my own making, some were great teachers, and some were less than stellar ones, yet there was always a lesson for the taking if I was open to learning.
Some lessons were pleasant, some heart wrenching, some infuriating, and some funny. Other lessons, I learned quickly and others I am still learning—a decade later. There are lessons I wouldn’t mind learning again, others I never even want to see or hear about. Ever.
Growth happens IF we are open.
From each lesson, at best, we will grow and emerge as a better version of ourselves. At worse, the lessons will just be aggravating events which like a grain of sand will cause irritation while initiating zero growth. Unless that grain of irritating sand is allowed to form a pearl of wisdom.
Make no mistakes, the lessons will come, this is not optional. The growth is optional, however.
Wisdom from Growth
Allow me to share another quote:
Some people come into your life as blessings. Others come into your life as lessons.
I can’t say I am always in love—nor grateful—for the lessons nor the persons by whom they appear.
I have been known to bellyache—loudly and often. I have also been known to quote from Jesus’ words—in part—as I add my own paraphrase to boot. For instance, this verse from Luke 22:42: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” upon my lips becomes; “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; and you better be willing because I am NOT doing this…no way, no how.” [my paraphrase is bolded.]
The Teaching Continues
Some of my rascals—aka kids—are now being refined themselves as we speak. I must admit, it is a bit amusing to witness. They are getting married and manufacturing more teachers of their own.
Additionally, I am guaranteed an ample supply of teachers for years to come as the models from the second generation appear.
From the looks of things, I shall enter the hereafter well refined. Some will argue—with some valid points—the refining process was more than necessary. On a good day, I am inclined to agree. On a bad day, it’s everyone ELSE who needs refinement.
I am grateful to the beings I call “my kids.” I would not be who I am today if it were not for them.
I have indeed chosen growth.
In truth, for me, growth is a must, not an option. I don’t always—I could even say often—like it but, remaining as I am doesn’t appeal to me either. I want to become an even better version of who I am today.
Simply put because growing makes me happy.
Who has been a great teacher for you?