When it comes to building our identity, our society’s socialization process has us entering into adulthood perceiving ourselves in a way that focuses almost exclusively on externals – our work, our relationships (romantic ones in particular), our material/financial status, our friends, and family. Consequently, how we learn to know and value ourselves comes almost exclusively from what is reflected back to us from points outside ourselves. Consequently, the connection to our inner compass (that small voice deep inside that just knows) becomes disabled and all that we’re capable of becomes obscured. We are given a mold to fit into, not a freedom and openness that encourages our own unique way of being in the world to unfold. The mold we are given is a kind of one size fits all template for proceeding through the stages of life, with adulthood becoming a matter of ticking off all the right boxes – college or the military, getting a job, purchasing a home, getting married, having a family, and then retiring. So that rather than any serious attention given to our personal growth and development, progress and success is measured by how well we navigate through and work within this conventional template. In other words, our success is measured by not only having ticked all the boxes, but also on having ticked the very “best” ones. Which is why, when we experience feelings of failure and stagnation, we often believe these feelings are the result of not getting all or the “best” boxes in the template checked off. And ironically, those who manage to tick all the boxes, yet still find themselves experiencing a lack of fulfillment, often wind up feeling stifled and oppressed by the very same template – the job they’re afraid to leave, the business they’re afraid to start, the marriage they need in order to feel complete, the children they feel pressured to have, etc.
But here’s the thing, our individual growth, or any growth for that matter, requires organic, unpredictable change and expansion into the unknown. As human beings, this expansion beyond the known or status quo, the unfolding of our potential, also means exploration and discovery. And if in the process of our growth, we allow ourselves to gravitate towards establishing a life based on what we actually want for ourselves, rather than what we’ve been socialized to want, it’ll probably involve a bit of experimentation as well. Unpredictable change, exploration, discovery, experimentation – these are all concepts that don’t lend themselves very well to timelines, templates, and conformity. Consequently, while living our lives in close accordance to conventional patterns often provides us with a useful, rather comfortable framework for getting on with our lives, we shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that simply navigating within this framework means that our growth and development is taking place. The vehicle of our growth isn’t this kind of conveyor belt existence where we simply allow momentum and predetermined expectations to move us along. No, the vehicle of our growth is our own souls, the uniquely organic process of following its wisdom. Our souls are always sending us messages urging us towards what nourishes and grows us so that we can discover our gifts and talents and unfold our potential. We just have not been taught to listen to and honor those messages.
However, just because we have not been taught, doesn’t mean that we can’t or that it’s too late to learn. Learning to listen to and honor our soul’s wisdom simply requires that we take the time to be still, get quiet, and allow ourselves – mind, body, and spirit – to gravitate towards what feels good and nourishing to the deepest, purist part of us. And here’s the thing, allowing ourselves to be guided by our soul’s urgings doesn’t have to be some big, monumental shift (though of course, at times it just might). Just a gentle, progressive sway in the direction of our own unfolding is really all that is required. Being still, getting quiet, deeply listening, and taking intentional steps based on the wisdom we receive is how we can tend to our own growth and potential.
Imagine your unrealized potential as an actual living thing (a bird, seedling, child, etc.) Visualize your potential in whatever form comes to you. Then ask yourself: What does it need to survive? Visually represent it as a drawing or describe it with words.
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