Looking Back to Move Forward
I am often so focussed on goals and lists and moving forward that I forget to look back.
I forget to celebrate the good, the unexpected, the accomplishments, the little nuances that quietly shape us. All of this is growth, and it is powerful. And I often let growth slip away, unnoticed and uncelebrated.
Bottom line, I need to change my habits. I need to use self-awareness (Wow, look how far I’ve come!) and growth to power me forward and over the next hurdle and the next. All I need to do is take the time to notice what growth looks like—and the growth in me. But I’m often too busy. We all are.
The What: Glimpses
But sometimes I do notice growth—by chance—and it looks like this:
I was cleaning out a kitchen drawer last week and I came across a “to do” list I had written shortly after we moved back to British Columbia two years ago—a long list of settling in tasks. I realized that over the two years, I (or we…often a collaborative effort) had accomplished each one: an idea or a daunting project or a whim. Each one has been quietly conquered. Growth.
The other day, I heard myself on a podcast recorded shortly after my memoir was released in the fall, 2020. I spoke of building a website. My words were brave but in fact I had no idea how to do this and no idea whether I could. Nine months later, I did. It exists. Talk about a birth! Growth.
I discover pictures on my phone—ideas I’ve captured re. landscaping or writing prompts—and I realize I’ve taken these inspirations forward. I’ve created a forest out of driftwood; I’ve written that marketing article. Growth.
So you see, I glimpse it now and then, in passing, often in the process of cleaning up, deleting, creating space. But in the moment, I don’t see it for what it is: progress and growth. And I don’t consider how it can help me to move forward.
The So What: Why Celebrate?
So, what’s the point and the power of celebrating growth?
Knowing that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and pushed through fear (website) or judgment (Seuss-like forest) or fatigue or uncertainty buoys and propels us. We need to be stretched in order to bounce.
Who needs to celebrate?
We all do, but what I’ve noticed is that as parents we do it for our children—growth charts, milestones met and toasted—yet we don’t do it for ourselves. We nurture but that scaffolding falls away when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Our energy is directed outward, not inward. We stop measuring our own growth as adults. We’re so focussed on sculpting our children that we’re stingy with ourselves.
The Now What: How Do You Measure Growth?
Occupational therapist, author and international speaker, Kim Barthel, spoke to my son Erik about self-awareness and growth. She asked him how he notices growth in himself. He tells her it is a purposeful practice: he keeps a growth calendar.
Kim tells Erik that what he keeps is truly called a “keeper.” It is how we build on growth, keep it expanding. Click the image to listen to their two-minute conversation.
“I like to write down new things that I do on a calendar. I call it my Growth Calendar. And that way I can visually see how far I’ve come…”
In What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism I walk alongside Erik on a west coast beach and we talk about growth and what it looks like—and its transformative and uplifting effect.
“We walk, leisurely sloshing through the incoming tide, deep in thought. Growth, I decide, is multifaceted. Acknowledge everything. That can look messy and bleak because it’s where the heavy emotion lies. But sometimes, it’s where the light comes back in. Where you least expect it.”
(What’s Not Allowed? p. 303)
So if I knew I ought to be harnessing growth and using it to propel me forward, why didn’t I apply the formula to myself? I ask myself this now. And I’m not sure why not. Perhaps it’s time to look back—to power forward.