Signposts of Growth

I remember when I watched a young couple in a San Francisco park enjoy their two-year-old daughter’s ability to climb up a couple of stairs and throw herself down a three-foot-long metal slide, over and over again.

Back at my hotel room, I felt that same level of enjoyment as my then-25-year-old son described a move he had just pulled off in a large corporation to get himself into an accelerated management opportunity.

These were two examples of the same wonderful phenomenon: personal growth.

Growth is a natural part of the human process, and when you’re trying to make the most of yourself it’s important to recognize the process and the fruits of growth so you can promptly move ahead to your next exciting chapter.

Here are some signposts you have grown:

The Difficult Becomes Easy

If you remember your work and life history, you will undoubtedly recall some specific tasks and projects that were once at the limit of your skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities. Later, they became much easier.

In some cases, it’s not just one specific task or project but a suite of integrated tasks and projects that were once complicated and hopelessly intertwined. Later, you found it far easier to navigate the maze and successfully complete them all.

For example, there was a time when I was editing an investment newsletter that was slated to be published within two hours of each Friday’s stock market close. There were some 21 different trades in play, and for each one my job was to summarize the week’s price action and calculate the weekly profit or loss of that trade’s open positions.

The first dozen times I tried it, I couldn’t meet the publishing deadline. But by the end of the year, every week I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare.

I had grown.

The Opaque Future Becomes Clear

None of us can see very far into the future, but some of us are so busy meeting today’s deadlines and fighting today’s alligators that we don’t have the time, energy, or even the inclination to look up and see what’s on the horizon. In this situation, new problems and challenges come at us as surprises, and we are perpetually operating behind the proverbial curve.

As time passes, however, the pressure to perform eases up. We begin to understand not only the flow and patterns of the work immediately before us, but the subtle indications of what is coming next.

After a while, we begin to find time to intentionally watch the horizon and observe what’s likely in store. We may even be able to set up our resources and prepare for tomorrow’s workload before it inundates us.

This is another sign we have grown.

Puzzles Almost Solve Themselves

Beyond the difficulty of the tasks and the fuzziness of the future we face, there is the complexity of the challenges, projects, and goals we undertake and seek to complete.

Early on, much of this complexity is daunting. Some of it is simply beyond our capabilities. In certain circumstances, however, we may be able to unravel some of it, and occasionally recognize the best way to solve the problem or complete the work, but only after a long and tiring effort.

Later, though, the complexity begins to unravel itself. Through repetition and experience we gradually understand how the various strands of any new situation are woven and tangled together. Before too long, we can quickly spot the proper steps to puzzle out how to proceed toward the easiest, best possible results.

Again, we’ve become more capable than we were before.

The general pattern here is that:

  • You’re thrown into a new and strange situation,
  • You work hard to make sense of it, and
  • After a while, it becomes a piece of cake.

You’ve reached the point where this level of challenge now lies well within your capabilities. If you are to stay interested, to expand your skills, talent, knowledge, and experience, you need to take on more and bigger tasks, projects, and goals in your work and your life.

If you don’t recognize and respect this personal growth, you’ll stagnate and possibly burn out. If you do, however, you’ll be well on the road to continually increasing your level of productivity and success.

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