Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Personal Growth: Tackling the Self-Help Universe

By Lisa Guidarini

Whatever the immediate cause, over the past few years I’ve been what you may call a nutbag about issues involving personal growth, branching out, and trying new things. That’s weird for me because I’ve never been like that before. And when I say never, I mean NEVER. I’ve always been a little scared, a little hesitant, and a lot reserved. The definition of the word “homebody” had a picture of me next to it, which was kind of embarrassing since they used my DMV photo.

Part of this new exploration came as a result of having suffered losses and another part from world-weariness, but the biggest part came from the joy that is long term depression. What started to help me turn all that around was a little thing I’ll call “chemical courage,” or “better living through chemistry,” when I finally sought the aid of anti-depressants to help me get back to the “me” lurking in the depths somewhere. I knew she was in there. When it was quiet I could hear her scratching around, shredding papers for her nest. Plus, at night she kept escaping and eating all my cookies.

Getting professional help for my depression issues allowed me to think clearly for the first time in, well, forever. And that gave me a little inkling as to what I might have been missing all my life. The takeaway lesson was “Life’s short; you better do more shit.” I finally began to realize I’d better get my ass in gear. I knew I’d probably have tomorrow, since I was feeling okay and all, but I also knew you can’t count on next week because that doesn’t even exist yet, save in the extended forecast. And we all know how unreliable the extended forecast is. Don’t get me started.

Over the past few months my yearning for self-improvement and personal growth morphed into an insatiable need for reading self help books. Why’s that? Well, it’s all tied up with the other life stuff, but basically I had some issues to work through before I could really tackle that living issue full-force. Issues are the baggage we all carry around on our backs. For me, I anthropomorphize that concept into a monkey that’s always clinging to my back. Sometimes he’s hanging from my neck, occasionally he grabs me around the waist, but he’s always there, sister. He’s always hanging around, kind of like that obnoxious co-worker who just never seems to get the hint.

A big part of my new plan for growth included really digging into my ideas on spirituality, digging out the part of me that’s jaded and getting down to what I truly can believe in, because that’s taken a real knocking, too. I wasn’t sure I could believe in anything that wasn’t concrete anymore. All my belief in a “beyond,” or a meaning to any of this life stuff, had all but evaporated. At the same time, I regularly do a lot of thinking about the Universe, how huge it is, how volatile, and how mysterious. If you think about that long enough it can make your brain explode, especially if you get on the track of “but what MADE the stuff that formed into the Universe in the first place?” I feel my head starting to throb already. I don’t know about you.

Unlike a lot of people, I’m comfortable with knowing I don’t know everything. I’m fine with unanswerable questions, and the whole Universe thing is definitely a big, unanswered question. But what I’m a lot more anxious to know is how to make the most of myself, how to tap the resource that is my mind and wring a lot more creativity out of it. The self help books help me with that. Some of them, I’ll admit, are cheesy and Dr. Phil-y, but there’s also a lot of wisdom to be found there, too. I highlight what I think I can actually use and chuck the rest of it aside.

At the same time I’m reading the books I’m also doing a lot of writing in my journal. I find that a necessary outlet for both my creativity and my sanity. It also helps me remember the key points in my reading, those sentences I highlighted when they struck me as useful. And I’ve already referred back to the writing I did when I started the whole project, wondering that I’m the same person who started out sounding so, well, messed up. It’s good to see there’s been progress. That’s an encouraging sign.

Personal growth is an ongoing issue. If you ever find yourself thinking you’re done with it, that you’ve reached your limit, that’s a good sign you need to get your butt out of the house and do something. Because without continued growth there really is no life. That’s what life is by definition.

The trick is to keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re on the track you want to be on, and that you realize though it’ll never be perfect you can guide it how you’d like it to go. Just remember to take care of yourself during the process, nurture your soul or your higher self or whatever you choose to call it. Because this is the only you you’re ever going to have, and probably the only life. So it may as well be the very best you can make it. If it means getting help then get help. Life is all too short, and so very precious. Find the you in you, and get out there and live it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are certainly a wealth of books out there to help us on our quest to discover our "true selves."

I'd be interested in knowing which ones you've found meaningful - keeping in mind of course that every individual will repond to different authors and approaches based on their own particular set of circumstances.

I enjoyed your article, Lisa - thanks for sharing the insights and information :)