I ought to spend more time at the gym; spend less time on NETFLIX; eat more broccoli; go to bed earlier; focus more on my career; be a better partner, parent, colleague or leader. The growth paradigm, with its ideals of ‘faster, higher, longer’, has instilled a basic condition where we constantly strive for personal optimization and drive. Often, this makes us forget to sense ourselves and think about what is really meaningful for us, the way we are, with our unique differences. What if we are actually good enough exactly the way we are?
‘What if …’ That is one of my favourite phrases, because it inspires me to wonder. I often wonder. Especially, I wonder about the growth paradigm and whether its dogmas and ideals have pushed us away from a much more coherent understanding of our place in the world that would hold much more meaning for each of us.
The growth paradigm that we have lived under in recent decades has made it legitimate and prestigious to strive for constant personal optimization. We are constantly driven to go onwards and upwards, achieving more and more, as illustrated, for example, by the constant attention we shower on our mobile phones or computers instead of being present where we are. Under the growth paradigm, being present in the moment has become almost unthinkable. And to keep up with the people around us, we tell ourselves that we had better flash our drive and enthusiasm, reflecting society’s ideals of boundless energy and capacity.
But what if that’s not where we are supposed to search for meaning? What if our efforts to achieve the ideals of the growth paradigm are really just making us more sad and frustrated than we realize? What if it is really the discourse of the growth paradigm – with its dogmas and ideals – that has led us astray, caused us to believe in an illusion that simply goes against nature and the way our bodies and minds work. Causing us to take anti-depressants because of the constant need to self-optimize and live up to expectations that are so far removed from our true nature that they make us stressed, depressed and incapable of making sense of our lives?
Look to the fruit tree to learn about leadership, following and self-management
What if we are really supposed to find the path to meaning, well-being and wholeness somewhere else entirely? What if we could learn from our bodies and from nature? The fruit tree is one of my main sources of inspiration.
The fruit tree blooms, yields fruit, goes into hibernation, only to start all over and get even stronger the following year. It gives while it grows, it has a natural rhythm, and it needs room to breathe. Exactly the same is true of human beings; we too are incapable of ‘peaking’ all the time, as required by the growth paradigm.
With inspiration from the fruit tree, I like to view human beings as organisms in a larger, coherent cosmos, able to find meaning and unfold our potential when we are allowed to give while we grow. We need room to breathe in our everyday life and time to consider, intuitively and continually, whether what we are doing makes sense and provides meaning.
Give yourself a check-up: are you giving while growing?
So wherever we are in life, I think we need to insist on maintaining an intuitive approach to ourselves and our life. We need to preserve our ability to ask those intuitive questions that the growth paradigm has made us forget. What brings meaning to my life and makes sense to me – exactly as I am? At work,in my family, with my friends. Who said that pursuing a career is the only way to live? What if the sense of having a purpose in life, a calling, could be an equal or even greater source of meaning?