Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again. ~Abraham Maslow
Re-invention is my word for 2021. It’s an especially good one for people in the second half of life. In our twenties and thirties we “invent” ourselves, in essence. We figure out how to do the things that adults do: make a living, keep ourselves alive, maybe raise a family. In the process, we face plenty of scary decisions and experiences that are not really optional.
The problem with midlife is that now we mostly have a choice about whether or not to take on new and scary growth experiences. And, given the choice, the ego will almost always choose the safety of the known over the unknown. Though the soul is always whispering “Grow, grow,” the ego is just as determinedly putting on the brakes, pulling back against the risk (or even just the inconvenience) of trying something new.
In Abraham Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs” few people reach the stage of self-actualization. For one thing, it’s kind of a First World problem, isn’t it? I try not to forget how privileged I am to even have the option of concerning myself with personal growth! But aside from that, the urgency of the needs decreases as you go up the pyramid, and it’s easy to simply let inertia take over. No one’s gonna die from not being self-actualized.
At least, not on the outside. The inside is a different story.
One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, says that in the first half of life you build the container, and in the second half of life you fill it. Filling the container is what I’m trying to do as I re-invent my life. I’m trying to figure out, on the deepest, most authentic level, who I am and what I want.
A tool that’s been helpful is the free VIA Character Strengths Survey. It tells me that my top five values are:
1. Love of learning
4. Appreciation of beauty & excellence
From this perspective I understand my love of travel, and how excited I get when I have something new to learn. To “fill my container,” the activities I choose have to reflect these values. They would look very different for someone whose top value is creativity, for example, or leadership.
Self-actualization doesn’t look the same from one person to another, but if you take the time to build outward from the very core of your being, the life you re-invent will lead you there.
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