I am always looking forward. Always. It is something that I have always naturally done, and learning to be fully present and in-the-moment has had to be more intentionally developed in me. Where I am right now in life, the future looks great. I am on a good solid sustainable path and I like who I am and I like where this path leads. That being said, as I focus forward I also know that to have the journey play out as I foresee, I will have to continue growing as a person. People often assume that inner growth is seasonal or optional, like after a relationship breaks and they wallow for a bit then connect with someone new; this is often inaccurately seen as “growth”. Similarly, how we often think that with this better job, or this new home, or this new relationship, or this next New Year, or Monday, or the weekend… We assume there is rest and everlasting happiness on the other side of ______. I have come to realize that a truly great life is attainable, but that each step forward- each phase of life- will require a different (better) version of yourself than the last. That whole, living 90 years or living 1 year 90 times, thing. Continuous growth is a requirement for true happiness.
There is a part of me that is bothered by that fact.
Part of me that wants to have done enough and be able to just relax and get comfortable here. Part of me seems to always be trying to settle and stay and get cozy and stop striving. Looking around at others I am betting it’s a very normal thing to give in to that desire that wants to lull us to sleep; to stagnate. Maybe it isn’t some complex psychology but actually just our brain’s nature to choose pleasure over pain? Working out hurts, so just grab a blanket and the remote and enjoy life huh? Hm.
Another part of me however, is stronger now than it used to be and it demands more. Not in an insatiable way but because it seems to truly believe I can do more and have more and be more. More of a lot of things. More healthy, more knowledgeable, more kind, more patient, more effective, more caring, more adventurous, more peaceful, more wise… so much more.
“Why stop here?” it asks.
“Look around you. Comfort, settling, ease… can you find anyone remarkable in a life of stasis?”
I’ll be real, I am not someone who believes that the majority of people are special or good or worthwhile. Sorry if this disrupts your own world views, but I believe the majority of people are unhappy, unintelligent, and unremarkable. Not to say that they will always be, or that they’re worthless, or somehow less than. Nor do I hold that because they are unremarkable they don’t deserve respect. I respect everyone I meet, not because of who they are but because of who I am. Most people are unremarkable. Just relaying an observation. I have however, been able to meet several people that are remarkable. Not always in the same ways or for the same reasons, but remarkable in that they are different from the majority.
I met a nurse a year or so ago that seemed a little unique at first, just because she was very intelligent. She is an ISTJ 😉 Getting to know her I realized she was remarkable because she always gave her best, had good intentions, was always learning, held herself to high standards of care, and did all of this despite what others said of her or what the pressures of her coworkers would prefer of her. She stood steadfast to her own standards even when asked to slow it down a bit since she was making the others feel less than. She remained kind and focused and efficient and accurate even though it made her unaccepted in some social work circles. She refused to be less so that others (who had chosen stasis) could feel like more. Instead she spent her free time helping young nurses learn pharmacology and pathophysiology and proper nursing skills. She read stories to those who were sick and lonely. She encouraged her coworkers to be their best and empowered her students to believe in their best selves. She is remarkable.
I also know a remarkable young man. As an ENTJ he had always been an alpha socially. Not always beloved but always respected. I have known him a long time but seeing him grow into a remarkable man has been a privilege. He is remarkable because he is always learning, always asking the hard questions, always seeking true understanding, always trying to be a better man and a better dad, always striving for more, and never willing to settle to suit those around him. He has learned to harness his aggression and focus it on his objectives and not those in the way. He has taken the time to accept the power and effectiveness of true kindness, respect, and humility (not easy for an ENTJ). He too has been on a journey of growth and refuses to settle for mediocrity. Like my other friend… this makes him both respected and distanced socially because he is unlike the rest, and that makes people uncomfortable. So though he’s the first they’d want by their sides in an emergency, they can’t be around him too long without questioning their own selves, and that doesn’t feel good. He is remarkable.
I know a truly remarkable ENFJ (who is also a nurse =). She too is always growing and learning and working to be her best self. She is remarkable because she is always focused on others needs and authentically aims to meet them. Not from some psychotic need to make herself valuable to others or to give her some codependent identity to feed from, but because she genuinely cares for others and wants everyone to be as happy inside as she is. From her I learned to respect kindness in an entirely new way. There’s a counterintuitive power to her kindness. Being kind truly kind in an often harsh and cruel world is not weakness or immaturity (as I once thought) it is strength. It is strength that allows her to be treated like dirt by a patient and go unflinching into their room time and time again with the genuine intent to make them more well and more comfortable. It is strength that allows her to wholly forgive others for hurting her. It is strength that allows her to actually wish well for those that underestimate or belittle her for her gentleness. It is strength that causes her to reject the constant pressures to do and feel and be just as bitter and miserable as the rest are. She is remarkable.
I am lucky enough to have met these and a few more remarkable people, and I am thankful that my journey has taught me to even be looking for them. The goal though is to learn from them all. I too, am remarkable. I too am always learning and growing. I am obsessed with personal growth and development. But I got here because my life had become something toxic and unsustainable. I decided to start pursuing inner growth because I felt I had to. I got clean because I had to. I got out of my marriage because I had to. I got counseling to do the work to fix my emotional chaos, because I had to. I went back to school because I had to. I became a nurse because I had to. I researched personality psychology because I had to. I adopted better parenting techniques because I had to. I can do anything I have to do, afterall. But here I am now emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and financially stable…
For the first time, I could stay right here and have all of mine and Charlie’s basic needs met.
Our basic physiological, safety, and love/belonging needs can be met with all I am and all I have now. But both esteem and self-actualization require continuous growth; maintained health. Homeostasis. I do have all of these stages of the hierarchy of needs currently. I have high self-esteem, a reputation of integrity, strength, freedom, and a desire to become my best self. But I also know that I can’t keep those things and remain here as I am indefinitely.
Like the physical body, true living requires homeostasis; the condition of optimal functioning for the organism. We should aim for a sense of harmony in this crazy life. A way to come back to ourselves after chaos hits, which it always does and always will. A life with balance, harmony, equilibrium, stability… homeostasis. When using this analogy I think the word optimal best describes how I relate a well-lived life to the term homeostasis. Living organisms thrive within their homeostatic environments; they change and adjust to chaos as needed and then return to their optimal functioning. Similarly, a living person can only thrive within a homeostatic life; adjusting to chaos as needed and then returning to their optimal living. Following that analogy, meeting and maintaining all of our needs should allow us to live an optimal life.
My point here is that I don’t have to keep working toward more. There isn’t abuse or chaos or pain or poverty to push me to do more. I can stop striving and be mediocre and fit in well and still have most of our needs met. There is nothing now to force me forward. I guess what prompted this post was fear of some sort. Fear that maybe I can’t do what needs to be done without an external force. Fear that I will drop the ball this far into the game. Fear that with all of the responsibility of raising Charlie and providing a good life for us and keeping us on a sustainable path, I might not choose to keep growing and I will fail us. Fear that I will get tired and choose stasis. Fear that I will settle for a mediocre version of myself, and that it will teach Charlie to do the same. Fear that I will never know how great a mom, nurse, writer, and woman I can be, because I gave in and allowed myself to be lulled into a painfully average existence; where I survive better than most but know nothing of thriving.
I’m afraid. I do not have to keep growing in character. I do not have to keep learning. I do not have to get my nurse practitioners license. I do not have to get a book published. I do not have to put my work into the world for the public to judge. I do not have to get out of my comfort zone and build deep friendships. I do not have to spend time every day exercising. I do not have to save money to be safe financially. I do not have to keep working my issues and uprooting faulty conditioning in my psychology. I do not have to move from where I am right now ever again to survive. I can stay right here. I can rest.
But to live my optimal life I cannot stay here. To raise my daughter to live her optimal life, I cannot stay here. To have a life that gives back someday, I cannot stay here. I cannot stay. I will not stay. I will fuel the part of me that knows the value of growth and the detriment of stagnation. I will stop feeding this immature fear that responds to the pressure to stop here. I will stop yielding in social moments that allow me to shine because it might make me less liked. I will learn to be authentically kind, humbly empowered, and unapologetically focused on growth, no matter who it unsettles. I know who I am. I know how most people live and I know that with all the power I have I will fight to live fully. I want us to live full, passionate, empowered lives and that just doesn’t happen by default.
I must keep growing.
Stasis is something reserved for death, and I am choosing to live fully. Optimally.