Reflections on Growth

by Iyabo Onipede

When I think of growth, I think of two ideas that are diametrically opposed to each other: On the one hand, growth is a progressive movement forward towards an expected end. This type of growth is linear and one dimensional. On the other hand, the other type of growth is a topsy-turvy growing edge that ends up not where we thought it would but can feel expansive, refreshing and good at the end of it. It feels unrooted and ungrounded and often, we find it hard to grasp its ultimate destination. This is multidimensional and comprehensive. It usually does not feel good at the moment but at the end, if we look back, it really was to our benefit.

Every day, I wake up with the first type of growth in mind as I anticipate the sequential and orderly “must dos” of the day so I can feel accomplished and satisfied at the end of the day. However, those days barely exist. Yet, I want them daily. The second type of day? Every single day!

It’s a paradox.

Often, we think of growth in terms of children and how they grow in height and look different over time and magically become adults at age 18. Yet, science tells us that the brain does not mature, or is not fully formed until at least 25 and sometimes even into the 30s. Then they stay static (really?) until midlife when they reverse and start aging. Right? Wrong.

Brain plasticity tells us we can grow and change over our entire lifetimes. We can become artists at 80 and learn new languages even into our 90s.

I am a serial entrepreneur. I will always work for myself. I love it. I live for it. However, it is the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. The greatest learning, I have ever experienced, was launching, sustaining and growing a business. It is also a daily opportunity for growth.

I encourage my clients to think of growth as expansion. That adds a different spin to it. Somehow, growth takes up a linear trajectory in our language and in our internal ideas around growth. We look at numbers and we make targets based on a time-space continuum. This year, I will make X dollars and next year, I will triple that amount.

“Expansion” takes us beyond the language of linear growth. It envisions us moving vertically and horizontally. Its language creates images of growth within and without. It reshapes us and redefines us: “This year, I planned to make X dollars, but I made XYZ. What does that mean for me? How can I use this information to redesign my next steps?”

You see, we can only anticipate growth through the eyes of planning but when that growth, or rather, expansion happens, it requires us to reflectively revisit our anticipated growth and keep in step with the raw data that emerges.

Growth is what we plan on. Expansion is what actually happens. Enjoy it. It is natural. Count the gifts within it.  

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Iyabo Onipede is a Leadership Coach based in Atlanta, GA.