The Growth Spiral
What if the proverbial ladder of success wasn’t really a ladder at all?
And, that we all have our own?
I’m all about connecting dots, piecing things together and making more sense out of life and, so, I tend to see, feel, think & act a bit differently than most.
Yesterday, a number of random occurrences happened and, before long, mud was being slung up all around me from my wheels spinning. So much so, I even woke up several times during the night and wrote down key thoughts that my subconscious mind felt were important enough to wake me over.
The occurrences yesterday included a meme I read, a post with thoughts from a friend, a chance conversation & a clip from an audiobook that caught my attention.
Coincidence? Maybe, but I digress.
Okay, so let me put a few thoughts out there to help this visualization.
First, in my opinion, the ladder of success is inaccurate and can be superficial. It’s a phrase thrown around loosely like pennies into a wishing well. And what does it mean? What do the rungs represent? How tall is it? The thing is, the answers are different for everyone. Success is subjective and has no true definition either, so it’s really an arbitrary point.
I’m starting to think the ladder of success as a ladder of growth and man, it’s quite the sight.
I don’t tie it to money or rank or title. Growth. As a person who learns and adapts to new circumstances. As a person who gains new skills and makes new connections. As a person who matures and becomes more reliable and trustworthy.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting, messy and thought-provoking. Feel free to join me and step down off the ladder of success you’re climbing as I explain the possibilities. You might just stop and look at everything and everyone a little different.
Imagine that everyone has their own spiral staircase they’re climbing. It’s their own and there’s only room for one person.
Can you picture it?
If not, think of the “Stairway to Heaven” image made famous by Led Zeppelin and then make it a bit more twisted so that it creates a spiral.
“Why the spiral?” you say. I’m glad you asked.
The spiral is the path each of us takes through the world. A journey. When we’re infants & toddlers, the steps are small and our base is wide. We take a lot in, slowly, and learn, but we don’t look back or down as we’re building our foundation.
Some people have a much wider foundation than others.
With each major milestone, completion of an activity or sport, graduation, social experience, birthday, conversation, book read, a new connection & memory is made.
We’re all gathering pieces of the puzzle called life and making some kind of “world view” out of it. Authority figures you’re surrounded by are your biggest influences at this point. Your parents, your teachers, your coaches, respected peers, your heroes, etc.
With every new connection you make, you grow a little bit and your thoughts change. How you see the world changes.
Before long, your spiral of steps has come “full circle”. As a teenager, it happens. You’ve learned and grown and climbed several steps, only to complete the circle.
Now, looking back and down you can see things from a different perspective. The same world, a different viewpoint, if you will. You think you now “get it”, and you do, compared to how you used to think.
Your body’s different. Your voice is different. Your hormones are different. Your thoughts are different.
Things you used to care about seem less important. Toys lose their meaning. People that are older don’t seem as smart. The world isn’t as scary in some ways and scarier in others.
Every interaction in the world is a chance to learn and step up. As teenagers, our staircases really start to take shape.
Some people take things slow, avoid new opportunities, are not open to learning, don’t read much or have open dialogue, and just go about their way without challenging themselves. In fact, they get uncomfortable with changes and want everything to remain as it always was. Their spirals will be long and wide, and will take along time to ever come back around again.
Others, will step up, quickly, and absorb as much as they can without regard to anyone else. They’re learning & growing, but it still takes a while to come full circle. New realizations help bring it back around.
Perhaps a new relationship or job? With each new “something”, our world view changes. The more we experience and reflect on, and become responsible for, the more we connect and the more we grow.
Growth in the late teens to late 20’s is heightened. For a lot of people this includes being out on their own for the first time, making decisions without parents, having real consequences, and making life choices.
Now, it starts getting real. Fast. New career. Step up and possibly come full circle. Wedding. Step up and possibly come full circle. Buy a house. Step up and possibly come full circle. Have a baby. Step up and possibly come full circle.
I say “possibly”, because sometimes people just step (maybe not even up) and don’t stop to look around and see how much their “world view” changes.
And, be careful of falling into society’s norms of where you should be, or what you should be buying or what you should do next because it’s what everyone who’s anyone does.
This is you & your journey. Your stairwell. Your story that’s being written right now. There are no timelines. There is no race other than the human race. You step when you’re ready to, or not.
The more we take on that we’re willing to understand, think about & truly absorb, the more we grow and we step higher and higher on our staircase of growth.
We mature as we step up and bring things full circle. We reflect on our past and acknowledge our own mistakes and failures and take ownership of them so as to not repeat them. That’s growth, in and of itself.
As functioning adults, our full circles can include new realizations about parenting, about food, about health, about medicines, about politics, about others.
At each point where we’ve come full circle we have the opportunity to look down and see how far we’ve come. To reflect on older versions of ourselves and to think of how our “world view” is different, again.
We can also look up, and envision a new future. A different world with new knowledge & experience where we can do things differently or better.
We can also look out and offer assistance to others. Maybe someone is stuck and needs a hand? Maybe someone’s stepping down and needs some encouragement?
With every step we have choices. Do we keep stepping up or do we like the view from here? Do we go back down because we liked it better before? Do we adjust and try to make something different for our futures?
Step up, down, or sideways.
Now, as interesting as this is, we also start seeing others for how they’re “moving on” in their lives. Are they stepping up and growing or are they stepping back down. It doesn’t make us better or worse, but it helps us understand our own journeys and who’ll be there with us.
One more twist to this. To live a well balanced life, everything that makes you “you” has to step up when you’re ready and it all comes full circle at the same time. Realizations in our lives affect everything about our lives, good or bad, so it’s important that we take care of ourselves mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.
Growth stops when we stop stepping. When we’re no longer interested in learning or going new places or meeting others. And, learning isn’t a “school” thing, it’s a mindset. It has nothing to do with grades. Learning can happen anywhere, at any time & from anyone. Don’t ever got that.
When nothing changes, nothing changes.
At some point, though, most people will start stepping down. As we step down, we let go of responsibility. We let others do as they need to without taking ownership of it. We cut back to a bare minimum, a downsizing of sorts, until we’re once again comfortable.
At this point, we can look back up and celebrate where we once were, what we once had, the experiences we had, the trips we took, the conversations, money, etc. We can smile and be proud or we can choose to start stepping again.
Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up over them.
Life’s about choices. And attitude. If we want to grow and step up, expect that the world will soon look different to you. The way you see others will change. Others will change as they go, too. People, everywhere are out stepping on their own staircases and some will out step you and others will get tired and just stop.
It’s okay. It’s their journey. Live yours. Keep stepping until you can’t, but always take the time to look back and down and pat yourself on the back for how far you’ve come.
You’re the only one who knows your journey, inside and out. Use it as your “stepping stones” and push yourself to your own personal “high”.
I believe in you.
Oh, and one last thing. Be careful of “elevators” – circumstances that bring us new highs and lows, quickly. Sometimes, we don’t know which direction we’re going nor which floor we’ll get off on. Being promoted too quickly. Coming into a lot of money overnight. Major accidents. Abrupt ends to relationships. Unplanned pregnancies or death of friends or loved ones. We’ll all experience some form of these at some point and we have to be careful to not take the elevators. The fall is much too hard. Take the necessary steps to learn, even if they’re steep.
The phrase “spiraling out of control” has new meaning to me now. Are you seeing the same?
So, to summarize, perhaps we should stop calling it a ladder of success? It’s your own personal staircase with beautiful spirals. It is what you make it. And so is mine.
Step up, down or sideways, just keep traveling – life’s a journey you only get to enjoy once.
Let me know if this is at all helpful, intriguing, encouraging or resonant. And, feel free to join in on the journey and the conversation. If I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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