THREE STAGES OF YOU
Todd Dewett | January 23, 2020
Many people embrace personal improvement, but the process can be difficult. You see, there are only three stages of personal growth: indulging ignorance, building independence, and chasing potential.
All lives begin in ignorance. Too many never escape. It’s so easy. A person is born, told what to believe as a child, and never learns to question. You think as you are told to think. Thanks to innate human curiosity, education, mentors, and other factors, a few people develop the capacity to think independently. Thus begins the exhilarating, and sometimes dangerous, journey of discovery associated with free thought.
Slowly you begin to question your parents, what you’ve been taught, your neighbors and relatives, what you read, and yourself. Your mind is on fire realizing that life might in fact be more than what you initially thought. It can be tiring and confusing, but mostly exhilarating. This is a natural process even though it sometimes feels anything but natural.
When independent thought reaches a certain level, you sense the obvious danger. Do you allow others to know your real thoughts? It’s so risky that many choose to simply live free inside their minds while outwardly adhering to a different collectively agreed upon reality. Eventually, the process of self-awareness and discovery slows down, or ends all together. The fire needs oxygen yet remains imprisoned airtight in your brain.
A brave few decide they must pursue these ideas and questions, risks be damned. They choose to move towards their potential. Again, this is completely natural. When you become aware of your lack of knowledge, you seek to fill it. As you begin to perceive our own personal imperfections, you feel compelled to improve.
The first few years of self-awareness are full of growth, new insights, and evolving beliefs. Ideas morph into goals and forward progress is achieved. However, every individual is different. Their personality – which drives curiosity, resolve, and many other traits that have an impact on this process – varies, as does their immediate context (e.g., access to others embracing this process, the will of their parents, the orientation of their friends, community mores).
Thus, when you begin striving, you face challenges. One challenge is your immediate context. We may or may not have the support of others to question, learn, and grow. Many people simply face social environments not conducive to independent growth.
Another challenge is yourself. As we leave ignorance and begin to explore, we face prolonged exposure to the reality of our intellect and abilities. They are small and finite – a tough reality to face. There are no exceptions to this rule. They apply to every human who’s ever lived. Though there is great variation in human intellect and ability, even our smartest know nothing compared to that which there is to know.
As you face all of life’s normal challenges (e.g., growing up, family and friends, careers, religion, community), the idea of chasing your potential loses some of its appeal. You don’t always receive the support you deserve. You sometimes become complacent following initial growth. Maybe you grow tired of knowing how imperfect you are. So, you coast.
You tire of these learning and growth-related burdens, both real and perceived. You use them as excuses to stop striving. You develop mental routines designed to defend your current state. You no longer feel the need to scratch that knowledge itch.
Eventually, after some period of no longer chasing potential, your self-awareness fades. Ignorance creeps back into your life. You know it’s not intellectually impressive, but you like the fact that it’s easier and safer. It doesn’t require much work.
We all begin life in ignorance. Some escape through self-awareness and independent thought. From there, predictably, we see a diversity of paths. One group continues to self-actualize for the remainder of their lives. Others fall in and out of periods of growth, feeling capable at times of questioning themselves and their beliefs, while at other times clinging to the quick comfort afforded by coasting, or even an indulgence in simple ignorance.
I suppose it comes down to what you choose to value. If you value social harmony and the approval of others, striving for your own unique growth is often difficult. If you value knowing, achieving, and glimpsing truth, striving for potential is your only option. The former makes life easier. The latter makes life more complete. There is no perfect answer to this conundrum. There is only your answer.