(Written by: Srinjana Sriram, Edited by: Sahana Prabhu)
As a patron of academia, I like to believe that at one point through the educational career of each student, a realization dawns upon all of us, and goes something like this:
I don’t care about my grades. I don’t care about my extracurriculars. I don’t care about competition. I don’t care about what the system wants and most of all, I don’t care about others’ expectations of me.
All I care about are my expectations and as long as I grow, I am fine.
And thus, we all embark on the journey that is ‘self-growth’. However, at the end of each week, I often find these two words crippling my self-esteem.
What is self-growth? Am I growing? By how much have I grown? Has anybody noticed my growth?
That, my friends, is anxiety. Recently, I chanced upon a discovery and I decided to share it, so that all of us may feel a little bit less alone. As usual, I was asking myself how much I have grown and I realized I was trying to measure something without a ruler while wearing sunglasses at night time.
There are two main problems with the concept of self-growth. Firstly, a lot of us don’t know how to define self-growth and even if we do know what it is, we struggle to measure it. Of course, I am no expert, so the following definition may not apply to everyone, but I can only hope that I can encourage you to go about self-growth more constructively.
To me, self-growth is when I have found a problem within me and have chosen to actively address it. It is when I have made constructive changes to my lifestyle to maximize my potential, i.e self-actualization.
Now, the challenges that this model of self-growth poses are, the lack of an objective view of ourselves and the relative nature of our problems and secondly, that we have measurable potential. The problem is that we perceive ourselves the way others perceive us, so self-growth becomes inexplicably difficult to achieve as our self-reflection image grows murky.
We don’t care about others’ expectations of us. We care about ours, but our very own expectations are built off of others’?
Well, what’s wrong with perceiving ourselves the way others perceive us? While we cannot extricate ourselves from society and its opinion, we must not forget that we shape society. Society has biases and you are not insane for wanting to rebel against the system. We cannot and must not lose our individuality, identity, and freedom of thought.
So what do we do? Expose yourself to different ideologies, standards, expectations, and societal values, to figure out where you stand. Find the numerous problems within yourself and find even more solutions to them.
But when do we stop, when have we reached our potential? The problem is, we can’t determine that either. As we reflect, grow and change, our potential changes. The potential of a tadpole to roam land is not the same as a frog’s. We not only become capable of many newer things but, the degree to which we become capable of those things also changes.
So in reality, we keep growing. We don’t stop growing once we have maximized potential because there is no maximum potential. The most we can all hope for is happiness. Instead of optimizing ourselves, we can only satisfy ourselves and in the end, isn’t that all we want? Isn’t that somehow the optimal outcome as opposed to the traditional maximization objective?
This infinite process of growth is not something we should fear or reject. Rather, we should take solace in the fact that we are complex beings, who have no end or beginning, who have the privilege of being transient as opposed to being static.
So pat yourself on the back once in a while, learn about the world around you, see growth as a journey, not a destination, experience life and find what makes you happy.