Transitions Coaching Blog

Thoughts. Reflections. Intentions.

Personal Growth: Should we chart it out or allow it to occur organically?

By Jennifer Tucker, Writer and Content Creator  |  August 12, 2022
Personal Growth: Should we chart it out or allow it to occur organically?

Courage, growth, connection, compassion, and curiosity.
These five values are the heartbeat of Transitions Coaching and guide our interactions with each other and with our clients. Over the next few months, we’re taking a deeper dive into each of our values to explore how they also emerge in leadership.


I logged in to LinkedIn recently and was met with this headline in my daily wrap-up notifications: “How do you take control of your own growth? Chart it out.”

Immediately, I balked at the idea. Surely, real growth doesn’t happen by following a formula or a carefully constructed plan, I thought. Real growth occurs organically, inspired by the natural flow of things and our need to adapt.

Then I saw a flaw in my thinking.
Maybe it’s not one or the other.

Perhaps growth isn’t something we either plan and execute or allow to occur spontaneously and serendipitously. Possibly, the most impactful, inspirational growth lies somewhere in between.

That idea may be a lot to wrestle with, especially for those of us who tend to one end of the spectrum or the other. Your take charge, get-it-done leaders who love to map a path from Point A to Point B may have a hard time letting personal growth take its natural course. It may be hard for them to relinquish control. Then, there are those who prefer to live in the moment and believe everything happens for a reason. They might prefer to “cross that bridge when we get there” and have a tough time taking hold of their own development.

At one point in my life and career, I leaned toward taking control of my personal growth.

I was motivated to succeed by climbing the so-called corporate ladder. At another (more recent) point, I shifted toward a come-what-may attitude. In fact, as evidenced by my initial reaction to that LinkedIn headline, I downright rejected the idea of trying to manufacture the future. I think I saw it as inauthentic, as somehow manipulating outcomes—and that didn’t sit well with me.

Now, I know where my resistance to “charting” growth came from. I remember year after year being asked to self-assess my strengths and weaknesses, to write S.M.A.R.T. goals, and to create development plans. We’re all familiar with these techniques designed to help us “grow,” “develop,” and “advance” professionally. It’s what’s always been modeled for us—or pushed upon us—often in lackluster and uninspiring ways.

Sitting with my reaction and with my not-so-pleasant memories of development plans past, it became clear to me that our assumptions about when and how growth happens depend on our definition of what growth is.

In all likelihood, each of us has a very different view of growth because it is highly personal.

What one of us wants to do or be is naturally—and appropriately—different from what someone else aims for.

One person may see growth as showing greater patience with their kids on a hectic weekday morning. Another may think of growth as conjuring up the courage to express dissent in a meeting at work. And someone else may consider growth to be training for and completing a 5k run, a 20-mile bike ride, or a 2,000-foot elevation gain hike.

I think the best definition of growth—one that can apply no matter the milestones you aim to achieve—
is this: better than yesterday.

Whether it’s happening consciously or unconsciously, proactively or reactively, the single truth about growth is that you’re changing, improving, adapting, and expanding. Each day, you’re different than the day before.

So, if growth is simply being or doing something different and better than the day before, how much or how little intent should we put behind it? Should we make it happen, or do we wait for it to happen?

It’s up to each of us individually to decide. We can take the reins and make a choice to change, or we can intuit an opportunity and allow ourselves to adapt. Growth can be inspired by so many different things—from the chance for a promotion you know you’d love to have to an unexpected steep hill when you turn a corner during a hike.

When we’re faced with these opportunities, we can act with as much or as little intent as we choose.

But to ensure we keep pushing in a positive direction, there are a few things to bear in mind.

RECOGNIZE YOUR TENDENCIES

A key part of growth is gaining self-awareness, recognizing our strengths and our tendencies. The better we understand how we’re “programmed,” the better we can anticipate—and, when needed, redirect—our feelings and behaviors to suit the situation at hand.

I consider myself to be fairly self-aware. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I’m cognizant of my inclinations and habits. For all that self-awareness, though, I don’t always pause and correct course when I’m leaning into a tendency that should perhaps be adjusted.

EXPAND YOUR THINKING

Personal growth begs us to look at what we’re doing or how we’re doing it and think differently. It encourages us to seek out different points of view and try on different hats.

I realized that even in my reflection on my notion of growth, I was growing. I was challenging my beliefs, considering different perspectives, and opening myself to a new way of thinking.

EMBRACE A NEW APPROACH

Sometimes, thinking differently and opening our minds will also prompt us to move in a different direction. It may illuminate a new approach or encourage a path we’d previously resisted.

It’s still not 100% comfortable for me, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can be more proactive about my own growth. I realize that by reflecting (and sometimes acting) on what I’d like to improve upon or pursue, I’m not manufacturing or manipulating an outcome. I’m simply gaining some momentum.

As individuals and as leaders, we’ll encounter countless opportunities in our lifetimes to embrace our own growth and to inspire growth in others.

I’ve always believed that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways we can impact others, and in the context of personal growth, that couldn’t ring truer. If you’re a people leader, think of it this way: how “inspired” does your team feel when you remind them of the deadlines for completing their self-assessments and turning in their annual development plans? How inspired could they feel when they witness you reflect, rethink, or try something new?

So, does the polarity I first perceived really exist when it comes to personal growth? Does it have to happen according to a carefully mapped plan or occur spontaneously as we adapt to the world around us? As much as we may be predisposed to think and act in one way or the other, it truly can be both. The balance we find between the two will serve us on our personal journeys and may also inspire growth in those around us.

We can chart our course and take it at our own pace.

The most important thing is that we keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think John Steinbeck put it perfectly when he said: “Just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out.”

You can learn more about Transitions Coaching and meet our team here. And if our values align with your own and you’re interested in exploring more of the tools, resources, and support we have to offer, reach out to us today.

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