Three Keys to Personal Growth

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Two years ago, I moved to Chicago and began one of the most transformative periods in my life.

I didn’t expect radical change. I didn’t move to Chicago the way that some people move — running from the past or looking for a fresh start or searching for something they can’t articulate.

I was happy in my old life and probably would have continued to be happy, would have continued to learn and grow where I was. But in 2015, I decided to go to graduate school in Chicago, and moved my little east coast life to the midwest.

I wasn’t nervous. I’ve moved by myself before. I knew that it might be challenging, but I also knew that I could figure out how to make myself happy in this new situation.

A high school teacher that I really admired once told me that she thought the biggest growing period in her life was when she was 17–22. I trusted her judgement, and I have always felt like I am a pretty mature and self-aware person. So when I was 22, I thought that that was it. That I was “grown up”. That I had myself figured out.

Only a 22 year old could have this stupid thought.

Life doesn’t work that way.

Here are the three factors that I believe led to this personal growth.

Experience

Moving by yourself means a completely new experience and a new way of life.

Suddenly, I was living in a different region with different customs than I was used to. The way that people talked and acted was not entirely foreign, but it was different.

There was a whole new landscape to explore. The city itself has a million things to do, and driving around the midwest is completely different than driving around the east coast.

I was also meeting all kinds of different people, largely due to ultimate. I started making new friends from all over the country and the world.

It was a truly diverse group of people. I had some friends who were five years younger than me, others who were fifteen years older than me. I had friends who had had entirely different experiences in their lives than I did. This taught me a lot about people and the human experience, and I made an effort to learn from them.

Meeting new people and going new places taught me a lot about other people, and it taught me a lot about myself. I had reason to take a step back and re-evaluate my belief system, who I am, who I want to be, and how I communicate with other people.

Education

In addition to this informal education, I underwent an intensive formal education.

I have always been interested in English Literature, and studied it from high school to college.

But my post-college experience was different. I was in a Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse program, which isn’t completely different than English, but is certainly distinct. For the first time in my life, I was studying:

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics
  • Culture
  • Social justice
  • Psychology
  • Human communication
  • Discourse

What I learned made me see the world in a different way. It made me see myself, how I was raised, and who I might become differently. This program was the catalyst for a new way of thinking.

Reflection

All of our great opportunities to learn are worthless if we don’t take the time to reflect on them.

Of course I made lots of friends, but day-to-day, I spent a lot of time alone. That was the perfect opportunity to process all of my new experiences.

Sometimes, I was forced to do this when writing for my grad program. Other times, writing on Medium allowed me to reflect on what was happening in my life. And sometimes, I’d just do a lot of thinking. Maybe driving to an ultimate tournament, or while in the shower, or walking to and from a friend’s apartment. Seriously, I’d specifically walk to my friend Molly’s apartment instead of taking the train because it gave me 20 minutes to think and process what was happening in my life.

I didn’t just use my free time to zone out and consume entertainment. That can be fun and has its place, but it is also important to use your free time to reflect and create. That’s why I started writing on Medium — to try to make sense of everything that I was experiencing.

What I Learned

Right off the bat, moving to Chicago taught me that:

Personal development is a lifelong endeavor. It never stops — and it certainly doesn’t stop when you turn 22.

Learn From People and Places

People are amazing. Don’t take your relationships for granted. Whether it’s a new friend or someone you’ve known for years, make an effort to be present with them and learn from them.

A place can have a similar effect. Allow yourself to learn from the new places that you experience.

Don’t Take Your Education For Granted

It’s cool these days to dismiss formal education.

“I’ll never use this in real life.”

“The education system is messed up, so why should I even bother?”

“I’ve graduated so there’s no need to keep reading books.”

Mistakes! Even if you don’t invest in a degree of some kind, you will learn things from books, lectures, and online programs that you just can’t learn from the people in your life. Take advantage of education.

Take Time To Be Alone, and Make The Most Of It

People can’t rush from one experience to another and expect to get the most out of these experiences. Make time for yourself to be alone and process information. Make time to sleep and allow your brain to process information. And when you are alone, don’t distract yourself from the hard work.

I’ll never give up watching the Yankees and having a beer after a long day, but I also designate two hours a day to learning, thinking, processing, and growing.

Writing about the ideas I get stuck on 📝