Choosing Personal Growth in the Age of Stagnation

by Brad Isaac on April 5, 2010

life growth

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” – Richard Dawkins

I’ll grant Richard Dawkins‘ views on life and death are controversial, but I still love this quote.

To me, it asks several important questions. Only the naive among us will never consider them and what they mean.

What is life exactly?

To me, life isn’t just waking up, breathing, eating, and muddling through your daily work. I think of that as stagnation.

Where life is the act of growing.

One may say “I’m growing. I grew by 20 pounds last year.”

That’s not the type of growth I am talking about, fatty. I mean growing in mind and developing your natural talents…Becoming more than what you are today — Getting smarter, stronger and becoming an expert in something.

If you aren’t growing, you are stagnant. Stagnant by definition means not advancing or developing.

When we talk about stagnant water, what do you think of? Water that is sick, murky, possibly infected with tapeworms. You don’t want to be infected with tapeworms do you?

Stagnant humans have their own murkiness. They might drink too much alcohol, suffer from depression, or worst of all settle for much less than they are capable. Much of the unemployment and recession woes are a symptom of people becoming stagnant. Not all can be blamed on stagnation, but a good portion can. People simply became too comfortable and trusting that what was easy would be there forever.

Becoming comfortable is a quick way to stagnation. The story goes as follows: He got a job. Liked the job. Did his work. Went home and watched TV for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, aside from that being the second most boring story on the planet, only eclipsed by The Great Gatspy, what can he expect if the company he works for is downsized? What if he gets laid off? What if his retirement account is raided like what happened with Enron? I guarantee, comfort will be the furthest from his mind. Panic will be the new best buddy.

But aside from avoiding calamity through growth, there is a joy we can experience too. Advancing our knowledge in our strong areas can be a lot of fun as well as lead to job security and advancement.

Increasing our expertise often leads to internal self worth and the respect of other people. Try it for a month and you’ll see. Pick up a challenging book that would increase your knowledge in your chosen field. Study it like you are preparing for an important test. Then come back and comment about how you feel.

I guarantee, if you study you won’t get tapeworms!

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April 5, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Great post, Brad. And I agree.

I recently was put out of an engineering job. I decided that it’s time to develop some skills I wasn’t able to in the defense industry. I’m going to get my Real Estate license. It’s something I always wanted to try. I also want to try working under commission. I’ve always had jobs where I got paid the same no matter how good (or bad) a job I did. I want to know if I can actually succeed under conditions other than a base pay.

Brad Isaac April 15, 2010 at 9:09 am

@Eric, sorry you were laid off of your engineering job. But so happy you are looking at it as an opportunity. You aren’t giving up like many are at this time. You’re furthering your education and learning about something you always wanted to do. For that, it appears losing your job was an opportunity. :)

P.S. The housing market is way down now, but won’t be forever. Hoping by the time your real estate license goes through the market will be ripe with opportunity!

April 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm

This year I started a blog about decluttering and organization. It is now my muse. I am learning more about the subject and applying it to my own life. At the same time I’m also teaching others how to get better at it.
With this experience I’m also developing my skills in writing and online marketing. Maybe in the future I’ll be problogging, maybe not. Only time will tell.

April 7, 2010 at 6:31 am

I do like your article! You touched a very interesting and involving topic, which is at the same time philosophical one. What do we live for? What should we do to live correct? And all these questions. I would like to say that I like you quotation very much, there is so much meaning in it. It makes us think about our life aims. I completely agree with you that the most awful thing is stagnation. We have a risk to turn into a thoughtless creature. The main thing in life is self-improvement and self-development in moral aspect I mean.

April 24, 2010 at 5:43 pm

You and I have a similar view of life. I chant my mantra daily “Grow or Die! Those are the choices!”. I was, for a long time, surprised by the numbers of people who can’t or won’t understand what has always seemed to me to be so clear.

April 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Hi Brad.

I like the part at the end where you say “Study it like you are preparing for an important test.” That is a great way to gain expertise and prevent stagnation in any field. We don’t approach most things as though we will be tested on them, so we don’t learn them at a valuable level, and so the time spent learning them is mostly wasted.

You are right that lack of growth = stagnation, which is a terrible state to be in when opportunity is in our hands. A river that isn’t moving becomes dirty, and flies come around, and so on. We are the same.

May 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I am one hundred percent agree with your article. We should always learn even when we are old.

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