A puffy snow white dandelion is absolutely irresistible to my six year old granddaughter as she skips across the front lawn to pluck it and blow enthusiastically, sending tiny seedlings airborne on wispy tendrils. “Where will they travel, Gigi? Where will they land?”
This timeless joyful outdoor activity is the perfect metaphor for what I am witnessing in family members and friends who are doing the same with the seeds they are sowing on their own personal growth journeys. Immersive conversations with several close friends have been so inspiring and uplifting. As these women have peeled off the layers of personal narratives that no longer fit, and shed the armor no longer needed, they have become invaluable resources for sons and daughters, for siblings and friends.
I’ve planted a few seeds within my immediate family over the past few years. I’ve nurtured and nourished those seeds with patience, shared personal experiences and even hard conversations. I can see and feel them sprouting now — and it fills my cup with joy, gratitude and hope.
While I wished for these kinds of results in the past, I am now well aware that I had a lot of personal weeding to do first so that I could discover the places where old conditioning, old triggers and outgrown behavioral patterns were stunting my growth and contentment. Now that I am tending my own personal growth in a healthier way, I am able to see more clearly and empathically where others might be entangled or stuck.
My friends are experiencing this very same thing in their immediate families. They share stories of how their adult children are embracing personal growth much as they would a new nutrition plan. They see the benefits of doing this preliminary work earlier in life (in their 30’s and 40’s) so that they don’t end up like Bob Marley chained to a lot of baggage that restricts them from evolving through life.
What are the seeds we are planting? For starters, we are showing up differently. This includes a laundry list of shifts like being curious rather than judgmental, listening to learn and understand, refraining from offering advice and asking more questions to help others solve their own problems. We honor other’s feelings, don’t take things so personally and we hold boundaries. People can feel this difference in how we are showing up for both them and ourselves. It is often described as feeling safe, building trust and fostering a sense of agency.
As those seeds take root, it becomes a lot easier to lean in to each other and share vulnerabilities. It opens gateways to ask for help when needed, or to have those really hard but necessary conversations. Deeper connections are forged in these most vulnerable spaces. A lot of misunderstanding gets cleared and a lot of healing takes place.
To be certain, none of this happens overnight. Meaningful personal growth changes take time, practice and patience. It is the consistency of these changes that become so noticeable to others.
Personal growth work is becoming more mainstream. They are so many relatable, useful and game-changing tools readily accessible to us — through books, podcasts, apps, online tools, classes and counseling. Even my doctor’s office has been highlighting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in managing stress, sleep deficits, inflammation and overall quality of good health. There is also a realistic understanding that personal growth is an on-going process throughout our entire lives, just as caring for our physical, nutritional and mental well being.
No doubt the pandemic, quarantine, and ongoing uncertainty about a new normal has also played a relevant role in awakening many to the ruts and routines that were not serving them well. The Atlantic recently featured an insightful article about why so many people are quitting their jobs, moving their families and seeking a new balance for work and family. This reset may be fertile ground for seeds of self-discovery and personal growth to take hold.
I am so elated when my friends tell me stories of the personal transformations they are witnessing with their adult children. We are all feeling so inspired that this younger generation is learning some of these big life lessons much earlier than we did. It is easy to recognize that they will have better skills, resilience and compassion for whatever life has in store for them as the years unfold for them. Some of these wise young adults also recognize that they can pass along multi-generational issues if they don’t do this inner work. They are motivated to change so that they can free their young children from debilitating family narratives and patterns. In some cases, adult children are helping their older parents heal from their past traumas through their own personal growth work. The effort and benefits can truly flow both ways.
A recent conversation with my lifelong friend Judy had us laughing about needing a “Johnny Appleseed” kind of name for those of us who extol the huge benefits of personal growth work. As I watched my little granddaughter joyfully blowing the dandelion seeds into the brisk autumn air, I realized that it was the perfect analogy. Anyone doing personal growth work and sharing their discoveries with others is scattering the seeds of positive transformation. We don’t know where they will travel and we don’t know which ones will take root — yet we will joyfully scatter nuggets of wisdom, empathy and encouragement every day.
Here’s to those who are scattering seeds of positive change — by sharing their stories, by setting examples, by recommending a book or a podcast, by being brave enough to have hard conversations, by pausing before reacting, by offering grace and kindness, by recognizing that we really don’t know each other’s full life stories and being willing to listen to gain understanding.
Dr. Rick Hanson
Dr. Bruce Perry
Dr. Dan Siegel
Ian Morgan Cron