Personal growth is not Instagrammable
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There’s this ‘On This Day’ feature on Instagram that shows you your Stories and Posts from this-day-that-year. It’s been around for a while BUT it is safe to assume that with the premium nostalgia has further accrued ever since COVID-19 became a part of our everyday lexicon, resharing memories is now an added pastime, making for the bulk of social media updates for some, if not most.
‘Hashtag: Not All…’
A bulk of ‘my’ social media memories comprise of:
feet superimposed on floral pathways;
my backpack making a rather gracious substitute for my countenance;
my naïve attempts at street-food photography that now serve as a photo-journal of all things devoured; and of course,
a visual documentation of natural and cultural monuments visited.
Those memories neither spark nostalgia nor activate ‘hashtag: wanderlust’ within me. Shocking? Yeah, well, I don’t miss Travel. I miss my freedom of movement, for sure but coincidentally enough, I stopped romanticising about train tickets and that next passport stamp a short while before COVID-19.
Nostalgia in the time of COVID-19
Know what I miss though?
Intertwined within my digital footprint are also memories from the many Be You For You workshops that I’ve hosted. Workshops that have also taken me places – literally and figuratively – but in a rather unexpected fashion! The memories from these workshops are a reminder of the people I have met since 2016 within the safe spaces I have been cultivating to make self-expression less alien.
These memories comprise of:
boomerangs (is it still a thing?);
still-shots of folks with secretive grins midway through liberating their thoughts on paper, unbeknownst to the camera lens trained on them;
some more still-shots and clips of shared camaraderie between folks who’d only just met each other a couple of hours ago on that day;
of feedback and testimonials left behind as souvenirs for me to cherish.
This is what I miss.
I miss being physically in the same room as the people who choose to show up for themselves. I never ask participants to share anything they write during these workshops but occasionally someone will trust me and their co-participants enough to want to offer us a sneak peek into their lives.
I miss those moments of unadulterated vulnerability, where no one is being performative - not at that moment, at least. I miss it because that quality is such a rarity in a world where there’s a premium on everything that can be airbrushed and uploaded.
Is personal growth Instagrammable?
You see, there’s very little to show - across one’s socials to gather bragging rights - from having attended a workshop or a program on expressing and beginning to take a closer look at oneself and one’s narratives.
That’s because personal growth can neither be airbrushed for the aesthetics nor is it compatible with vanity for Likes! Neither does vulnerability have a filter. Nor does it need one.
Because personal growth is not Instagrammable!
And because I’m well aware of the perils of ‘hashtag: vulnerability’, I’d like to interject my train of thoughts – albeit only momentarily – with a quote by Brené Brown, better known as a shame researcher, among other things, who said:
“Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them… We don’t just lead with, “Hi, My name is Brené, and here’s my darkest struggle.” That is not vulnerability. That maybe desperation or woundedness or even attention-seeking, but it’s not vulnerability. Why? Because sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story. The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement.”
TL;DR: There is a difference between vulnerability and oversharing.
Now that I’ve shared with you not just what I miss about the pre-COVID-19 world but also what it is about vulnerability that I specifically cherish, allow me to further elaborate on why I think ‘personal growth is not Instagrammable’:
1. Personal growth is not a singular Eureka moment
Nor does it always include the luxury – not in this day and age what with its water-shortages - of immersive baths in tubs unlike Archimedes of Syracuse in ancient Greece, with whom the word Eureka is usually associated!
On the contrary, personal growth is a series of AHA-moments spread across the length of time only to be strung together much later and usually, in hindsight.
Although, if you’re like me, then personal growth is more a series of repeated AHA-moments derived from similar if not exactly identical incidents. It’s this feeling of hearing yourself say ‘I’ve been here before’ a lot against the backdrop of events that have a repetitive, familiar quality to them.
Lent a book to someone only to never receive it back …for the zillionth time?
Left waiting at a coffee-shop for someone only because you are punctual …also for the zillionth time?
Found out that your secrets aren’t secrets anymore …yet again, for the zillionth time?
Found yourself muttering to yourself on countless occasions, ‘Why do I never learn?’?
That is ‘the series of AHA-moments spread across the length of time’ that I’m referring to. It’s like déjà vu – except, it isn’t an illusion but a lived reality that you’re remembering while wondering to yourself what that missing piece of lesson is that you need to get a strong grasp of just so that you don’t find yourself in what feels like the equivalent of the “I’ve come to bargain” scenes between Dr. Strange and Dormammu. Remember that?
2. Personal growth is not linear
In my pre-therapy avatar – which is all of me before 2015 – I had bought into the idea that ‘progression’ is a clean, upward, and forward-moving graph. I had imagined – and had ample evidence around me to believe – that I was progressing only when I was moving onwards and forwards. I like to believe that I have gotten somewhat wiser since…
I now understand that progression in the context of personal growth is like untangling an entangled bunch of Christmas lights. One moment you’re untying knots at what seems like the tail-end of the pile but you then find yourself somewhere in that vast-and-endless in-between – without any recollection of when or how. And then, of course, there are still other times when you start to realise that what you are attempting to undo is actually a knot within a knot. Quite Nolanesque but minus the grand cinematography, if you’re asking me.
And all of this is, in fact, quite normal. Strange then that it has neither the PR skills nor the budget of those ‘clean and sanitised forward-moving graphs’, leaving the rest of us with varying degrees of shame for not having pretty charts to make a show of the work that goes into making personal growth happen.
My added two rupees on this would be to make the untying of knots on your metaphorical Christmas lights more frequent than merely an annual exercise in disentanglement!
3. Personal growth does not have a finish-line
Because it is not a race nor a marathon!
But another one of my firmly held notions from my pre-therapy avatar was this romanticised idea that once I got to Point B - this proverbial Garden of Eden side of my then existing challenges, I would be okay and as a consequence, everything else, i.e. my life in general, would be okay.
The challenge is not with getting to Point B; with appropriate dosages of perseverance, patience, and resilience – most of us get to our respective Point Bs. Because even though our default behaviours can seem hardwired into us, the wonder that is neuroplasticity can often come to our rescue.
“Neuroplasticity is the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information.”
So, though it takes many rounds of trials and errors, getting to Point B is usually a matter of patience and energy you have at your disposal and more importantly, time alone cannot be the yardstick by which the distance to Point B needs to be calculated.
Especially because on arrival at Point B, you are likely to notice that this isn’t the Garden of Eden you’d imagined. Not yet, at least. Point B is not the end of a quest because Point B is not a fixed goalpost. It is now the new vantage point from where you’re better able to see other aspects of yourself and your life that may be in need of increased and improved understanding …and possibly, even change!
Personal growth, then, is more like the rings of the onion with a rather elusive centre. This, though, is not meant to discourage anyone from the pursuit of growth and personal transformation. If anything – and I say this from reflecting on personal experience – treat this disclosure as a gentle reminder to not get so attached to the process of continuous self-improvement that it assumes the tone of perfectionism.
4. At best, personal growth might be like the bokeh effect
Yes that “blurred quality or effect seen in the out-of-focus portion of a photograph taken with a narrow depth of field” – that is what I liken personal growth to. Aesthetics aside, it is that very out-of-focus quality of the ‘bokeh effect’ that I have usually experienced shortly after my own triumphs with growth.
Out-of-focus is not an attribute one expects to associate with experiencing a moment of growth and yet it isn’t until some lapse of time that we are able to distinctly point out to all the critical moments that have transpired in bringing us to a new Point B.
Anti-climactic, right? I know… but for me, it usually gets more blurry before it gets any clearer.
I don’t know about you but stumbling upon these realisations – long before penning them down like this – has made me wonder whether we’ve gotten our understanding of growth all wrong!
I mean… in a world where the word ‘growth’ is mostly synonymous with academic and career progression for men and procreation for women – while erasing everybody and everything else that does not concur with those binaries and truisms – ‘personal growth’ seems more synonymous with a renaissance. Minus the artworks
Because to parse away at the playback of the stories we tell ourselves, takes truckloads of nerves and commitment towards one’s own self
Nerves and commitment that cannot be cultivated in a petri dish nor programmed by Artificial Intelligence
Making all of this far from glamourous.
Ergo, personal growth is not Instagrammable.
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