Growth isn’t linear. We don’t (usually) just learn a lesson and then it never comes up again. So, these 6 things I’ve learned recently aren’t necessarily brand-new lessons. What interesting to me though, is that a lot of people I’ve talked to seem to be working through these same lessons, albeit in slightly different packaging. Which is why I decided to share my experiences with each of them. If you find yourself dealing with something similar, maybe some of the knowledge that I’ve gained will make your path a little smoother. Or at least help you to feel like you’re not the only one going through it.

1) Words Matter

Through several different avenues, I’m learning (in a deeper way) to be more specific about the words I’m using to define myself.

For example, I’ve had people tell me over the years that I’m childish because I enjoy watching cartoons, reading young adult and kid’s books, and doing crafty things. I took this in and thought that I was a childish person. I was talking to a new friend one day and I said, “But I’m pretty childish”, in reference to something I liked. They said, “Childish? I don’t see you as being childish. Child-like maybe, but not childish.” I had never made that distinction before, and the word child-like resonated so much more with how I really saw myself than the word childish did.

Another example of this type of word swap, that I heard from two different people in the same week, is that they were both called impulsive growing up. This came from certain members of their family, and anyone who was close to those members of the family. But when they really thought about who they were as people, they both realized that they rarely did anything that would be considered even close to impulsive. BUT they both held things closer to themselves until they really made decisions. So, what seemed like impulsivity to some was actually just the fact that no one knew that they had been thinking about something for a while before they actually did it.

But also, they both said that they can be very spontaneous at times, deciding to go on a trip at the last minute or something like that, but even in their spontaneity they still made plans. This is another thing that people were pointing to when they called them impulsive. But there’s a difference between being impulsive and being spontaneous.

The words that we use matter because they can evoke feelings within us – feelings such as peace, shame, happiness, sadness, etc. – and determine how we see ourselves in that moment.

Two of the words that people often use interchangeably, especially in reference to themselves, are the words lazy and rest. They’ll say, “oh, I’m just being lazy” instead of “I need to take a moment and rest”. This is partially because some see any type of rest as a form of laziness. If they aren’t go, go, going, then they are being lazy. This is also partially because society tends to give us this message. But in reality, our bodies and minds NEED rest. The amount of rest we need changes with the season, what we’re going through, and how we’re feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Telling ourselves that we’re being lazy brings up feelings of shame and guilt. While seeing the fact that we need to take a break, giving ourselves permission to do so, and calling it what it is – rest – gives us more of a feeling of peace. It allows us to acknowledge how our bodies are actually feeling versus ignoring and shaming them for not being able to handle more and more.

My therapist gave me a similar word swap – using the word “wish” instead of “should”. I was saying things like, “I should have said no sooner”, “I should have seen this coming”, “I should have known better”. She told me that using the word “should” evokes feelings of shame. We’re ashamed of the fact that we didn’t do better. But in most cases, we did the best we could with what information and capacity we had at that moment.

Using the word “wish” – as in “I wish I would have said no sooner”, “I wish I would have seen that coming”, “I wish I would have known better” – allows us to acknowledge the fact that, yes, we wish it would have gone a little differently, but with the understanding that hindsight is always 20/20. We can’t go back and change what happened and beating ourselves up about it isn’t going to change anything either. It’s just going to make moving forward that much harder.

2) Sometimes watching the same tv shows and movies, listening to the same songs or playlists, and reading the same types of books over and over again, is our way of self-soothing.

Do you ever find yourself wanting to watch movies or tv shows that you can already recite word for word? Or maybe listening to the same playlist over and over again? Or even reading the same books, or the same types of books?

I generally enjoy reading almost any genre of books. I also tend to mix these genres up, reading a mystery, then a light-hearted romance, then a biography or some other non-fiction book, and so on. But sometimes I find myself reading nothing but light-hearted, predictable stories. Not the same ones, but similar enough that some people might get bored. It used to really bug me that I would get stuck like this. I would try to force myself to read something different; to snap out of it.

But then I realized that the times I was doing this, were the times in my life that were the most chaotic. And it turns out, that what I’m doing is actually helping myself.

Doing things that are predictable and known is our way of helping to regulate our nervous system during times of stress.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you lean towards easy-going books, tv shows, and movies that always have a happy ending like I do. You may love the horror genre…but during times of chaos, you’ll likely lean towards watching the movies that you’ve already seen a dozen times, or the shows that you’ve watched before because you already know what’s going to happen. Things may still scare you to a point, but not in the same way that they did the first time around. 

So, if you find yourself doing this, go with it. Don’t try to force yourself to read, watch, or listen to things that don’t resonate with you during these periods of time. Give yourself permission to coast for a bit before adding anything new or unexpected in these areas. Because it’s likely that things outside these realms include more than enough unknowns for the moment.   

3) You don’t have to be able to see the entire path ahead of you to keep moving forward. Just focus on the steps that are directly in front of you, and appreciate the beauty that’s around you in the moment.

You can’t know what you don’t know. What I mean by that is…Until a time machine is invented (and even then, it’s debatable), we can’t go into the future and gain knowledge that we don’t have. So, we have to make the best decisions we can with the knowledge that we have now.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard (from The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer*)

*This is an affiliate link to my shop. If you choose to follow it and make a purchase, I may be compensated, with no additional cost to you. If you do, thank you.

Imagine you are walking through a maze and you see an opening coming up. You haven’t quite made it far enough to see if it’s an actual hallway, or if it leads to a dead end. To take your next step, you have to make the decision about whether to keep moving towards that opening, knowing that it might turn out to be a dead end, or to turn back and go another way.

This is the way our life is…we have to make the decision to step forward with the knowledge that we have now, because that’s all we have. We can speculate, we can make educated guesses, we can ask others around us for advice, but even if there are those who have been in the same situation before, our experience will be different because WE are different. So, we can take all of that into consideration, but we have to make the decision based on ourselves, what we feel, and what we see – based on what we know to be true in that moment.

Otherwise, we’re just standing still staring at a wall.

And if this is where you need to be for a while, that’s fine. Just acknowledge that in not making a decision…you’re still making a decision to stand still. Doing so will help you not to feel so stuck. Because (going back to #1: Words Matter) you’re CHOOSING to stand still, rather than being frozen by the circumstances.

4) Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you’re not capable.

Courage is being scared, but doing it anyway. And if you’re not at least a little bit scared, then it’s not really an act of courage. Because if you aren’t scared, then courage isn’t needed. A big part of what gives you this courage, is the understanding that the word “scared” does not equal the word “incapable”.

Going back to the maze example above, the real strength behind being able to make those decisions without knowing what lies ahead, comes from knowing that we are capable of handling whatever it is that’s around the corner. Whether it’s a hallway or a dead end, we can handle moving forward, pivoting, and deciding what to do next.

5) Not everyone wants to do better. Not everyone wants personal growth and healing.

And before I go any further, this is not a judgement on anyone. To each their own. We all have to choose what we want our lives to look like, and how much we’re willing to do to make those things happen. My way of doing things doesn’t have to be your way.  

I found this interesting when I realized it though, because I think I’ve just always assumed that everyone does want to heal their past and grow, but that’s not the case. Some people are perfectly ok with how their lives are going and they have no intention of ever delving into things too deeply. Like a lady that commented on one of Mark Groves’ Instagram posts recently, who said she was “choosing to stay in her ignorance [of the situation] because she couldn’t handle the grief and inner work that would come with learning the truth”.

It made me a little sad for her, seeing the situation that she was in, but staying is her choice in this moment and I have to respect that. She has reasons that are all her own for doing so.

The important thing for me, is understanding that not everyone chooses to grow and heal because then I have more information to make decisions for myself about what I am and am not willing to tolerate. If I know that someone doesn’t choose this path for themselves, then it also gives me a better idea of how I can support them.  

6) We learn just as much from failing as we do from succeeding.

I was taking a class recently, doing some of the assigned exercises, and there was one that I just couldn’t figure out. I tried and tried. Finally, I gave up for the moment and decided to come back to it later. As I read on in the literature, I found out that the whole point of the exercise WAS to fail.

While this sounds completely counterproductive (and it was slightly frustrating in the moment), it’s actually something that we could all benefit from.

Failure is a part of life, and one that I think that we often completely misunderstand. When we fail at something, we tend to think that it makes us a failure as a person. But this isn’t true. The only thing failure tells us is that we either didn’t put in the effort, things didn’t go as planned, or that we just aren’t meant to do something.

It’s like the quote: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” The same goes for failure and success. If you’re judging by whether or not the fish can climb a tree, then you’re going to consider it a failure as a whole. But fish weren’t meant to climb trees. They were meant to swim in the water. Similarly, we aren’t meant to be able to do everything and do it perfectly. If that were the case, we would all be the same and the world would be a pretty boring place.

If we can learn to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a comment on who we are as a person, then we’ll move forward so much more quickly in life.

I genuinely believe that the more we share things like this with each other, the better off we’ll all be.

Because when we try to struggle alone, thinking that we’re the only ones going through something, it makes everything so much harder. While our circumstances may be different, many of the lessons that we learn throughout our lifetimes are very similar. And even if they are completely different, just sharing the load with someone can lighten it.

If you found this helpful, and/or would like to share your experiences with any of these lessons, you can find me on Instagram – @thenovelturtle – and send me a message.