How Do You Grow?

In an ideal world, we would keep improving, getting better nearly every day. For that to happen, though, you need to know how to grow.

Most of us start our growth as toddlers, under the care of our parents. We learn to talk, then to read, and we start to learn about the world around us.

That growth continues in a more formal academic environment: school. We have classes and textbooks, homework and essays. Elementary school is followed by high school, and maybe college, and possibly even more advanced schooling, like law school or medical school.

Some people manage to grow best in this sort of environment. Learning this way might include multiple advanced degrees, extension school, or even just adult education classes. A structured learning environment, with lectures, exams, and homework suit some people very well.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What book has had the biggest impact on you?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘How do you show thanks?’


After graduating, we might also learn on the job. For example, our co-workers or a mentor might help us grow, and some employers offer classes on appropriate subjects.

Additionally, there is self-guided learning. An individual might read extensively on their own, attend lectures, or even just have in-depth conversations with friends from all walks of life.

Growth, of course, is not limited to learning. You might also grow by overcoming past trauma, or recognizing your own biases. Knowing your own shortcomings, and determining how to minimize them or even turn them into strengths, can be most beneficial.

All these, and others, are ways to learn and and expand your horizons. Do you have a preferred way? How do you grow? And what would you recommend to a friend or family member?

Related questions: What experience helped you grow? How do you learn? What are you doing to improve yourself? What do you wish you had learned as a child?

4 thoughts on “How Do You Grow?”

  1. Most of my growth comes from listening, reading, and storytelling.

    I listen to my wife and her fantastic advice about how to live each day to the fullest, letting the non-social justice negativity in the world roll off my back. That is, she helps me understand how not to let others’ negativity impact me too much. I benefit from the knowledge and/or wisdom of my colleagues and allied elected officials as we strategize how to make advances possible through changes to public policy. I get into deep conversations with Lee Urton, the other keeper of this blog, as each week, he shares what he’s been learning through his readings of the past week. And I learn by listening to my therapist as she teaches me brain tricks as well as how to let go of (or live less ruled by) the adverse impacts of my past.

    Reading-wise, this year I have been learning a lot about the systemic racism ingrained in this county — its history and its current institutions — and how it extends privileges to people like me. I’ve also been reading and learning a lot more about America’s food system, how it benefits large farms over small ones, produces goods that are incredibly unhealthy to individuals and communities, and how the marketing of harmful goods is leading to new generations’ likelihood of becoming obese as well as suffering from life-shortening diseases. And I’ve been learning a lot about mental illness and mental health, as well as how I can extend kindness and compassion to myself and how proceeding with mindfulness will help me as I navigate each day.

    For the examples listed above, primarily, as well as the simple experiences of everyday life, I learn or retain what I’m hearing or reading by turning it into storytelling. I communicate best not by sharing facts and figures — at least in isolation — but by creating narratives/stories that can be shared, providing context, plot lines, and characters that bring my learnings to life.

  2. I find that for me, growth is best produced via self-direction. Which is odd, since I excelled in school — I was valedictorian of my high school class and top graduate in my department (mathematics) in college. So clearly I do well in the lecture/textbook/exam model.

    And yet, once I left school, I never went back. And I’ve never been tempted to. I’ve never had a therapist or any sort of professional coach. I do a lot of reading — much of it non-fiction — and I get a lot out of introspection and time spent, well, thinking.

    There is a real freedom to being able to follow whatever my interests happen to be at the time. I’m not beholden to any agenda, or forced to learn something if I am too busy, too tired, or just otherwise not motivated. I can go at my own pace, and learn — and grow — when I am ready to do so. I think this is the way many of us first experience growth as a young child, before we go to schools. I’m in control of my own fate, and if I suddenly decide to spend an entire year reading and learning about, say, the history of Sesame Street along with Jim Henson and the Muppets, there is no syllabus that says I can’t.

    Which is not to say that I do it alone. I might direct my own growth, but I do it in concert with many many other people. First of all, there are the authors of the books I read, which are themselves often explaining or distilling the work of still other people. There may not be anyone that I learn more from than my spouse Marsha. I also have a lot of conversations, with lots of fascinating people. I have some remarkable friends, including Michael Dahl, who shares with me the maintenance of this blog.

    Which brings me to the way I actually do most of my growth: asking questions. Formulating a good question helps distill your thinking in so many ways. You first have to think enough about a topic to realize what you don’t know. Then you have to phrase the question just right to make sure you get the information you are looking for. Then — perhaps most importantly — you need to listen carefully to the answers you get, which may not be the answers you were expecting. Finally, from those answers, you can draw conclusions and recognize patterns, which is where the real act of growth happens.

  3. One way I continue to grow and learn is to be in nature. I am studying trees recently, learning to recognize the local trees by their general shape and bark as well as leaf shape. I worry about children who do not get to explore nature as much as we did in the past.

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