This is How We Grow


Through dirt.
Through repetition.
Through failure.
Through hard places.
Through persistence.

Over a year ago I was at a personal development seminar and we did a visualization exercise – I closed my eyes and had to imagine myself getting into a boat and this boat took me down a river. The river was time and as I sailed down it time was passing. I got out of the boat and saw a house and I walked up to the house and knocked at the door. When it opened it was me, 10 years from now. My older self leaned over and whispered something to my present self.

(Are you completely weirded out yet?!)

The speaker leading us through this exercise wanted us to write down what the older self whispered, but in my mind my older self didn’t whisper anything to me, she wasn’t any older or wiser, she hadn’t accomplished anything, she was the SAME me – only older and more tired.

I hadn’t changed or grown.

I wanted to throw up. I was gripped with fear – is that going to be true?
Will I grow?

As humans we long for growth. We long for change. New projects, obstacles, lessons and challenges. This longing is kept in balance with our inner fears and love of comfort. However, no matter how much we fear change, we will shrivel up and die (not literally but emotionally and spiritually) if we don’t change and grow, or at least attempt to change and grow.

Being stuck is absolutely horrifying. Even more so when you see others who are doing what you cannot do and growing where you are not growing.

So, how do we do it? How can we change? How do we grow?

This is a topic that many – many people have written many –  many books on (The Power of Habit and The Slight Edge are two of my favorites) but here is my experience.

Step 1: Exposure

You can’t change what you don’t know to change. Step one for me is always exposure. I am exposed to a new way. I see a better type of living and usually it blows me away!

I remember one of my very first personal development books was The 15 Laws of Growth. Each law that was presented was revolutionary. I’m reading this man’s writing, the laws that he has in place for growth – laws like a monthly review of his schedule and mapping out a growth plan amongst other practices and my mind is being blown. People actually DO this? People actually have a PLAN for growth?


Step 2: Trial (and Error)

After being exposed to this new way, whether it be personal growth, a fitness plan or cloth diapering, if I am convinced that this is something I want to try, I usually jump right in. I research what I need to get to implement this new way.

Of course, because I have never done it before I am clueless as to the pitfalls and costs that await me. More often than not, I go strong for a bit and then fail. Things start to unravel. My lack of experience shows and I go back to the old way.

Only it’s not the same, because now, in the back of my mind I’m discontent with the old way – even though my first attempt failed, I’m ruined! I can’t stop thinking about the new way and the growth I want to see.

Step 3: Deeper Knowledge

After my initial failure, I usually try to think through (sometimes subconsciously) why it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s obvious (like when I started cloth diapering and didn’t have a travel wet bag for my dirty diapers and had to use a regular plastic bag instead. Never did I get that smell out of that diaper bag) and sometimes it’s not so obvious what needs to change.

Regardless, I tend to jump back in to the learning phase to get more information. Now that I know the pitfalls, I am more targeted in my research and training. I know the questions to ask those who have gone before me. It’s learning on a totally different level.

Step 4: Try, Try Again

After my second go-round at learning it’s time to jump back on the horse. This takes a fair amount of courage, especially at the end of my last attempt and this is typically when I have to decide and count the cost whether I REALLY want this growth in my life or not.

Many times, I see someone doing something and I think: “Oh, that looks like a fun idea.” but after trying and failing and researching again, I decide this just isn’t something I’m willing to spend THAT much time on.

If, however, I have decided this IS something I want, even with the costs and the effort it will take, I have to try again. Things usually go better, but I still feel like a newbie, I still feel like I am just *barely* executing – not mastering, but at least squeaking by.

Step 5: Refining

Over time I start to gain mastery of whatever it is I’m trying to do, and then I get discontent and I think: “How can I do this better?” I get more instruction and training and then I implement them.

Learning and then doing.
Doing and mastering.
Learning more and then doing.

Things never stick the first time.
I’m never a master after my first try.
Reading that very first personal development book – those 15 laws, I felt like my eyes were crossing and the principals were crazy, extreme and quite frankly, unbelievable.

Would you believe, nearly 3 years later I am, almost effortlessly, doing almost every single one of those laws.

It’s an ebb and flow. A learn and do. Pushing through dirt. Moving through failure. Learning what doesn’t work and what does. Watching life change and then having to learn all over again. Doing and getting into the business of change and then pulling back and reading and learning. Always going deeper, always seeking to improve – but most important of all: being patient.

I’ll probably have to hear something 100 times before it sticks. I’ll probably do it wrong the first 50 times, but just like a baby who learns how to walk, I can fall and get back up and fall and get back up – each time my balance improves. Each time my muscles strengthen.

How do we grow?

Inch by inch.
Through dirt.
After many mistakes.

If you are standing at the bottom of what seems like an insurmountable mountain – changes you want to make in your life that seem impossible. I’ve been there! I’ve felt overwhelmed, and then dipped my toe in and flailed about and then took a break, and then tried again.

Inch by inch – we all grow the same way – patience, hope and hard work.


  1. Vanessa! You would not believe the timing of this. Not 10 minutes ago I woke to feelings of “sameness”, discouragement, feeling stuck and craving the change I had mapped out for this new season, and but feeling at a loss how to make it all “stick”. I could go on and on. God gave your words as a gift to me this morning…I’m amazed. Thank you. I can’t tell you how powerfully they hit me. ?

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