I’ve been working my way through the daily journaling questions in Hannah Braime’s book, The Year of You . One morning recently, I wasn’t satisfied with any of the answers I was writing down. I thought of you and wondered how you might respond.
How do you measure personal growth? How do you know when you’ve grown as a person?
Would you take a moment right now to think about how you’d answer? I’ll share some of my thoughts, but then I’d love to hear from you.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve hardly grown at all. Other times I’m astonished by how much I’ve changed. How do we measure our growth? It’s not as simple as stepping on a scale or holding up a ruler.
Is it even important to try to measure how much we’ve grown? I think the answer is both yes and no. It matters to know that we are growing. Personal growth can be subtle and hard to see. We’ll easily get discouraged if we can’t show ourselves that the work we’re doing and the risks we’re taking are making a difference in our lives.
At the same time, getting caught up in trying to measure our growth can lead us to worry that we’re not growing fast enough or consistently enough. It can lead to shame and self-criticism—keeping us focused on where we don’t believe we measure up instead of on where we are and where we want to go.
When I started considering how to measure personal growth, some of the first things that came to mind were ways we try to measure that aren’t really helpful metrics at all.
We can’t judge our growth by its consistency. We will not grow at the same rate every day. There may be seasons of obvious growth, but there may also come fallow times when it seems like nothing is happening. It just may be that those times of stillness are actually a necessary part of the growth process—resting, restoring, integrating, and preparing for whatever comes next.
Growth is not a straight line. It takes many twists and turns as we make mistakes, explore possibilities, and outgrow things that once served us well. The more we grow, the more possibilities open and, at the same time, the more clarity we gain on which possibilities might be right for us.
While we often think of growth as moving forward to the next thing, repetition actually plays an important role. We don’t just wait until we’re ready and then take the next big step forward. Rather, growth looks more like taking the next shaky, uncomfortable step and practicing this new way of being over and over until it becomes part of who we are.
Sometimes this means practicing in retrospect when we didn’t show up the way we wanted. Often it means dusting ourselves off and trying again. Just because we don’t get it right every time doesn’t mean we’re not growing.
Sometimes issues we thought we’d dealt with will come up again. This doesn’t indicate a lack of growth. If we’re paying attention to nuance, we might see that we’re ready to meet those issues from a slightly different place. Maybe we’re ready to go another layer deeper or push our comfort zone a tiny bit further.
Our growth can’t be measured by our level of happiness or ease. We want to think that once we’ve grown enough that we’ll have arrived and have outgrown all our problems. It’s true that some things that feel impossibly hard now will become easier with growth and there is definitely joy in growing as a person and becoming more of who we’re created to be. But that doesn’t mean our lives will become free of hardship. Difficulty comes to the stagnant and the thriving. Growth is often growing into the next challenge. In fact, discomfort is an integral part of growth as we stretch beyond what was.
When we’re still not where we want to be, it’s easy to discount how much we have grown. So how do we measure something so nebulous and subtle? I have to admit that I’m still not really sure.
I think that an important piece is an honest and generous comparison with our past. It’s not helpful to measure our growth against where someone else is or where we think we should be. But a look at how we showed up in the past will often reveal that we are no longer the same as we used to be, even if the changes are subtle.
We might notice shifts in how we talk to ourselves, how we engage with our emotions, or how we live out our values. We might measure our growth by how willing we’re becoming to risk discomfort in order to work towards something we want or do what we believe is right. We can get a sense of our growth when we notice how we respond when things don’t go how we’d hoped or planned.
Sometimes it shows up as being slightly more willing to feel a difficult emotion. It might be an increase in noticing what is going on for us instead of shoving things down before we’re even fully aware of them. It can be becoming incrementally more perceptive about what’s going on inside us while also being less focused on ourselves.
Sometimes growth is what we add to our lives. Other times it’s more about letting go. It shows up in how we move through things that once would have derailed us. We see it in the way difficult experiences become part of our story instead of the thing that defines us. As we grow, we may need less external validation to trust in our own worth.
I want to know that I really am growing as a person. At the same time, I don’t want attempts to measure my personal growth to become one more way I’m striving to be enough. How can we monitor our growth in ways that help us continue to grow? I’d love to know what you think.