Top 10: Growing Pains

Migraines are REAL.
Kohler, WI. 2019.

If you’ve spent the proper amount of time celebrating The Princess Bride, you might recognize the following quote, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something”. Welp. Things That Make You Go ‘Hmm…’ for $1,000, Alex!

Embarrassment, regret, and shame are some of the ugliest emotions that are universal to the human experience. While it is certain that we all feel the intensity of such pain in varying degrees (and for different reasons), it is nice to know that we are not alone in the ‘suck’. Because, when we’re in the thick of it; our brains lie to us and tell us that we are isolated and unworthy. Quite unbecoming for a pile of gray mush if you ask me.

It took an embarrassing amount of heartache, failure, and sheer misery to raise an internal awareness of these Top 10 Growing Pains. While each day provides an opportunity to hold true to these sentiments, it is difficult to operate on all cylinders at all times. We’re only human afterall.

The following list of Growing Pains aims to highlight just how connected we are in the experience of ugly emotions. No matter who you are, where you’re from (#BackstreetBoys4Life).

Self Care is essential. Growing up, my mother strictly enforced a ritual ‘treatment night’. This ultimate healing cocktail consisted of equal parts face mask, deep conditioning hair treatment, and a fresh coat of nail polish. Perhaps most importantly, a classic comedy film was required to play in the background (cue The Man Who Knew Too Little and What About Bob?). With time, I learned that ‘self care’ has to go beyond the surface as well. Regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, a reasonable diet, and a dedication to alone time rewards you with more energy to deal with the fresh bullsh*t each day might bring.

Critical thinking is a prerequisite. Through much of our formal schooling, we’re taught the explicit facts of Western history and the observable laws of the natural world. This encouraged us to interpret the world in vivid dichotomies: truth vs. lie, good vs. evil, etc. But, the real world is often presented in shades of grey (50, to be exact). We each have our own awakening story; the initial moments where we began to question the lessons we’d learned from our friends, teachers, and parents alike. In that moment, the stakes were raised. We were no longer just listening. We began understanding. The sheer existence of documentary culture, conspiracy theories, and endless news sources allows us an opportunity to form an understanding of society on a larger scale as well. Netflix & Podcasts: Wokeness Reloaded.

Love’ is always changing. It is likely that your first love was quite different than your latest heartbreak. It can be tempting to compare the intimacy, passion, and loving nature of each of these experiences. Yet, it is important to avoid doing so. Each relationship is like a fingerprint; with its own comforts, disagreements, quirks, & routines. Instead of mourning the loss of a specific lover, trust the evolutionary process itself. You are empowered to continue to refine your contributions and your preferences. Stay choosy. ‘Settling’ is a sure-fire way to break your own heart in record time.

Hurt people hurt people. Now, plenty of pained people move through life without damaging others. But, many are blinded by their own trauma and must tend to their immediate needs before they can be responsible for those of another. When we choose to share empathy with those who have otherwise wronged us, we liberate ourselves. Instead of stonewalling, we extend our humanity. Brene Brown celebrates this vulnerability, as “we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions”. If you don’t manage your hurt, you won’t experience the light of true love. Lean in. It’s worth it.

Defensiveness is cancerous. We’ve all felt rejection on some scale; whether it be a lost championship, a dream career that never materialized, or a failed relationship that seemed promising. Our unique collection of hardships has required all of us to craft our own survival strategies. However, some of these strategies were just that. Survival. We must revisit some of these coping mechanisms in order to thrive. John Gottman argues that the Four Horseman of the (relationship) Apocalypse are: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, & contempt. If these are components of a ‘make it through the day’ game plan, true love and intimacy are not on the menu. We all deserve to share in a world where we can admit our faults and trust our inner circle to keep us moving forward.

Forgive yourself first. If you’re like me, you remember nearly every explicitly rude or dishonest thing you have done in your lifetime. You recall your insufferable teenage self in vivid detail (specifically, the times you disrespected your mother or told a lie just to fit in). But, this obsession does not relinquish a single transgression. Instead, we must have a healing compassion for the versions of us that live in the past. My mom offers a positively genius perspective on this, explaining “only now that you have new information can you make a better decision”. This gentle approach allows us to lend some grace to the past while maintaining accountability in the present.

Excuses keep you stagnant. The path of least resistance is easier, sure. But is it really worth forgoing personal growth? Whether it be in regards to your career, your thought patterns, or your interactions with others… resistance is a sign that measurable growth is imminent. The trouble is, it’s uncomfortable and most of us end up getting a little emotional (even those with XY chromosomes). We have to allow that release. A massively important documentary, The Mask You Live In, details the toxic expectations society infringes upon men and their expression of emotion. Jackson Katz explains “the argument that ‘boys will be boys’ actually carries the profoundly anti-male implication that we should expect bad behavior from boys and men”. So, that’s it. No more excuses for any of us. Open Communication is the New Black.

Presence is key. The people that choose to ‘show up’ in your life are the ones that truly love you. Whether it is the periodical ‘checking in’, a monthly dinner, or the human that wants to share a bed with you every single night; quality time is the most infallible currency. A genuine interest in one’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions cannot be feigned. When someone stops ‘showing up’ for you when it counts – it is important to let go. You deserve an inner circle that recognizes your undeniable value.

Happiness isn’t a destination. Many of us are accustomed to the busy ‘go, go, go’ expectations of an ‘always available’ society. In lieu of the discomfort of a moment to ourselves, we often fill our days with social obligations and other task-oriented commitments. This can be a dangerous feedback loop regarding our self-worth. We become surprised when otherwise impressive accomplishments don’t actualize our value. Once we accept that we have the power to validate our invisible attributes (thoughts, feelings, values, etc), we can settle in to the longer journey instead.

Growth is a life sentence. Probably the most difficult noble truth I’m warming up to is: your present self isn’t your best self. Each one of us has room to grow in our own unique capacities. Accepting this idea does not mean we have to accept total defeat. Instead, this means we must commit to a long term relationship with ourselves. Maya Angelou proclaimed her commitment to growth as a promise to, “not merely to survive, but to thrive. And, to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, & some style”. Now THAT is the BDE I’m here for!

Possibly the greatest impact of these personal Growing Pains was the solidification of a (major) sense of humility. No matter the intentions, expectations, or preparations – life is always ready to serve us a swift kick in the butt. Savoring the beauty, the humor, the intrigue, and the loving moments in-between is all we can do to keep sane.

“Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome. That’s what Momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad; but, it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning.

Hope Floats. 2008.