11 Years of Growth

As part of my website update project, I planned to spend a day or so cleaning up the first two years of my blog (2004 to 2006). I started blogging with WordPress version 1.x, and blogging was still a young medium in 2004, so I wasn’t sure where to go with it.

During those years I used the blog like many people use social media today. It was a place to share updates with friends. Those early years were full of posts with broken links, resources that are no longer available, and temporary announcements with no enduring value.

Later on I began posting articles directly to the blog, and I focused on writing timeless content.

As part of this update, I wanted to give the archives a better signal-to-noise ratio. Keep the good stuff, but remove the junk.

After I cleaned up the first two years, I decided to keep going. I spent more than a week cleaning up the complete archives (11+ years). I deleted more than 100 posts, mostly time-bound announcements like workshop reminders, long-expired promotions, etc. I also reformatted many posts to give them a more consistent style, and I fixed numerous formatting errors. So the new archives will be a lot cleaner.

Some people would say it’s better to keep those old posts for the extra search traffic they might generate, but they’re not the type of posts that people would normally link to or search for, so I think the traffic impact will be minimal.

For this update my top priority has been to improve usability. Cleaner archives make for a more usable site. When the new site launches, there will be less junk to sift through.

Reviewing the past decade

I’m glad I did this refactoring, but it was more difficult than I expected. Imagine reviewing the past 11 years of your life and recalling every significant work project, personal growth experiment, travel experience, etc. It was emotionally intense.

This was the first time I’ve reviewed the entire blog since I began blogging. It gave me an unparalleled, forest-level perspective. I saw a large chunk of my life outside of time, with different threads weaving through it like a tapestry. I saw how small seeds planted one year became major parts of my life in later years. One day I’m recalling 7-minute speech contests in Toastmasters. A couple of days later, I’m doing my first 3-day workshop. And shortly thereafter, I’m speaking internationally and doing many more workshops. I saw the whole thread outside of time. The intention and the reality were one.

I had some intense dreams at night during that review period, as my mind connected dots it hadn’t previously connected. I saw connections between ideas and intentions in 2007 becoming realities in 2013. I saw goals being achieved and other goals being derailed at first and then achieved in different forms later. I woke up feeling like a different person each day.

When I was done, I asked myself two questions:

  1. What was my greatest growth experience during those 11 years?
  2. What was my greatest growth lesson during those 11 years?

Cherished growth experiences

To answer the first question, I started coming up with answers and comparing them. I kept asking, If I could only keep one change from the past 11 years, and every other part of my life had to be rolled back to 2004, which change would I keep?

My answer may surprise you. It surprised me.

At first I thought it was writing a book and seeing it published. That’s probably in my top 5, but it isn’t #1.

I also thought it might be learning public speaking. That’s another top fiver, but still not #1.

Building a successful personal growth business? Traveling internationally? Exploring open relationships? Uncopyrighting my work? All good, but not #1.

The one change from the past 11 years that I cherish the most was finishing my marriage. If I could only keep one change during the past 11 years, I’d keep my divorce and surrender all the other changes — the blog, the book, the speaking, the travel, all of it.

I may not have given this answer if I didn’t do the blog review first. Reviewing those early posts from 2004 to 2009 reminded me of what I was like when I was married. I remembered how much I compromised and moved toward the middle to help preserve the marriage and maintain the comfort zone.

The most difficult year for me to review was 2009, the year leading up to the separation in October 2009. I felt stressed while reviewing my explorations that year while I was still tied to the marriage.

When I got to 2010 and beyond, I felt lighter. The heaviness was gone. I remembered how good it felt to be back into alignment with my intuition and to release what wasn’t working.

My favorite year to review was 2013. In that year I did more traveling, including going to several countries for the first time, and speaking about lifestyle and relationships. It was a flowing, free-spirited year of learning and growth mixed with adventure and fun. I embraced many new experiences that year and greatly expanded my comfort zone. Other countries began feeling like home.

Another cherished growth experience was spending 30 days learning music and creating a few simple songs in Garage Band. It was only one month out of 130+ months, but it meant a lot to me. I was never a musical person before then, and to finally dive in and learn some basics was enriching. I played some of my old songs and smiled. I’d love to carve out a few more months of my life at some point to immerse myself in music composition.

Hidden growth lessons

What about the second question? I asked myself, If I could only keep one lesson from the past 11 years, and every other lesson had to be forgotten, which lesson would I keep?

This was the lesson: When I fail to consciously create my own path of growth, I slow myself down and enjoy my life less.

One way that I fail to consciously create my own path is by letting others influence me too much. Another way is by coasting on unconscious autopilot.

I saw marked contrast between times when I made choices independent of other people’s opinions and grew faster, and times when I coasted or went with the herd and slowed down.

When I was learning public speaking, it was helpful to join Toastmasters to build skill, experience, and confidence. But I grew faster when I stopped doing the assigned speeches and sought out my own speaking opportunities. I learned from other speakers along the way, but I got the best results when I broke the rules and created my own style of speaking that works for me.

The area where I violated this lesson the most during the past decade was physical exercise. I did a lot of experimenting with sleep, diet, and detoxification during those years, and I learned a great deal. But I didn’t do a good job of consciously creating my physical journey. I exercised regularly during those years, but it was mainly repetitive maintenance exercise, like running the same route again and again, blended with doing other people’s programs like P90X and Insanity for a few months here and there.

My best years physically were the years I consciously pushed myself to have new physical experiences. That was around 1996 to 1999. During those years I got into distance running and trained in Tae Kwon Do. I lived on the beach and fell in love with the local fitness vibe. I ran in the wind and rain. I ran when I was sick. I kept achieving new personal bests. I especially loved sparring in Tae Kwon Do.

But for the past 11 years, my exercise routine has been mostly that — routine. I often go for a morning run to start my day. I enjoy more mental clarity and feel happier when I exercise regularly. Exercising feels good. I always notice a decline in mental function when I slack off.

This is an area of my life where I’ve been coasting. It reminds me of the people who join Toastmasters, and ten years later they’re still in Toastmasters and still doing 7-minute speeches. They progress a lot during the first year and then coast. They let Toastmasters’ limitations become their limits. They talk about going pro, and five years later they’re still talking about going pro, but they’ve collected more speech contest trophies. That’s basically what I did for exercise. I pushed myself for a few years and then coasted.

I like the path I followed with speaking, where I kept finding new ways to challenge myself each year. I see a progression of growth there year after year. And because of that progression, I enjoyed it more.

I was happiest with my physical fitness when I experienced a similar progression, like when I was building up to longer distances with running or when I was going through the belt ranks in martial arts. I remember how excited I was when I ran 13 miles in two hours… or when I did a jump flying side kick through two boards.

During the late 1990s, exercise and fitness were major threads in my life. They were foreground experiences, at least as important to me as my work. Those were bad years for my finances, but they were good years for my body. I consciously created my physical journey back then. I didn’t merely follow someone else’s program, and I didn’t coast.

Hiring a personal trainer can mix things up temporarily. I’ve done that before. It was fun and challenging at first, but it also felt routine after a while. Whenever I do someone else’s program, even if it’s a flexible program, I always fall out of sync with it.

Personal growth as self-knowledge

Bruce Lee said that one of the benefits of personal growth is self-knowledge. Training is a spiritual journey that helps you discover who you are. I’ve felt this way about other growth threads in my life, such as blogging, speaking, traveling, and relationships. This awareness that we’re on a journey to self-knowledge becomes part of the motivation for having new experiences.

I lost sight of how to align my physical journey with improving self-knowledge. Doing another workout program doesn’t teach me much about myself anymore. Each program reminds me of the strengths, weaknesses, and growth experiences that I’ve already been exposed to. I’ll get faster, stronger, and fitter for a short time. I’ll run into walls and push through them. It’s predictable. I’ll improve physically for a while, but the spiritual gains are weak, so it’s not sustainable as part of my growth journey.

When I was in high school, I hated running because I was terrible at it. I had no endurance and could barely do a mile. Transforming running into something I enjoyed during my 20s was a growth experience for me. The point wasn’t to run farther and faster. The point was to have the experience of turning a weakness into a strength.

Training in martial arts was empowering. I felt stronger and more powerful in my body. I felt safer in the world. I might get hurt, but I wasn’t worried about getting hurt. Getting kicked hard in the ribs was a lesson. Gushing blood from a split lip was another lesson. I learned to trust my instincts and move without thinking.

My fitness improved when there was a spiritual growth lesson inside the training. This has been true of all aspects of my life. I’ve just been better at applying this lesson to other areas.

One way or another, ideas seek expression. Reviewing the past decade showed me that the spiritual journey is woven throughout all areas of life — mental, physical, social, financial, etc. To grow consciously means to deliberately seek out these spiritual lessons to sculpt and elevate our conscious selves. This is something we can seek every day if we choose to, and these are the days we’ll count among our best.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site stevepavlina.com and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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