My husband, Pete, once asked if I’d be content if I died today. “In other words,” he continued, “do you feel like you’ve accomplished everything you’ve wanted to accomplish with your life so far?”
I met his question with an immediate “Heck no!” and our conversation took a (non-morbid) turn toward all the people, places, and plans we must meet, see, and do before our days come to an end.
I am a self-proclaimed dreamer who has countless goals and aspirations for my life. Despite craving upward movement, steady growth, and zeal for living life to the fullest, I am also familiar with the quicksand of stagnation. The more others around me share stories of their personal lives, the more I’ve discovered I’m not the only one (cue sigh of relief) who experiences the paralyzing nature of being stuck in a rut.
Here’s the hard reality for us dreamers: some of those big dreams we seek after may never come to pass. Moreover, we won’t even get close to touching the periphery of these goals if we aren’t enacting change in our present. I came across a quote years ago that read: “Change is hard. Stagnation is fatal.” These words serve as a bold reminder that growth (or lack thereof) demands work and effort.
We can stagnate in practically all facets of our lives. If you think you might be stagnating internally, relationally, or professionally, here are several questions to ask yourself, along with a few suggested steps toward growth:
Am I experiencing stagnation internally? (In my thoughts, mindsets, faith life, or health):
- Are there self-limiting belief systems and negative words I frequently think or say about myself?
- Am I making unrealistic demands on myself (perfection; unattainable expectations; excessive productivity with no time for rest)?
- Am I simply going through the motions in my faith—has my spiritual life and belief system grown cold and uninspiring?
- Where am I neglecting myself physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?
Steps toward growth:
- Identify any destructive habits and any self-limiting or debasing words you speak over yourself. Awareness is one of the first steps toward change.
- Do the hard work of therapy (or find a spiritual mentor or life coach).
- Learn more about yourself, your unique gifts, and start living out of your strengths (check-out personality typologies like StrengthFinders, the Enneagram, or Myers-Briggs).
- Advocate for your health by having annual checkups and blood tests to check hormone levels, vitamin deficiencies or imbalances (assess diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and decide to make just one change toward healthier well-being).
If you think you might be stagnating internally, relationally, or professionally, here are several questions to ask yourself, along with a few suggested steps toward growth.
Am I experiencing stagnation relationally (with my significant other, friends, co-workers, children, extended family):
- Is my relationship with my significant other or kids growing distant or stale?
- Am I remaining in toxic relationships or allowing the people in my life to get away with bad behavior at my expense?
- Am I opening myself up to getting to know other people? Do I seek to know and understand people who look, behave, and believe differently from myself? Am I closing myself off from relating beyond surface level?
Steps toward growth:
- Take ownership over ways you’ve contributed to relationships gone sour and start taking tangible steps toward closing the gap.
- Decide what transparent and authentic relationships look like for you. Get out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be known by others. Listen to others’ stories and ask questions (as the saying goes, “it is better to build a longer table rather than a taller fence”).
- Surround yourself with people who challenge, inspire, and stretch you. Growth is contagious!
- Construct strong boundaries where they are needed in your relationships.
Am I experiencing stagnation professionally (within my vocation, hobbies, creativity, extracurriculars):
- Am I learning?
- Am I meeting my goals, and where am I procrastinating? Am I contributing toward helping others achieve their goals?
- Am I enjoying myself and feeling challenged?
- Am I producing something that inspires and motivates me?
Steps toward growth:
- Be honest with yourself about whether it’s time to switch jobs. Find someone in your field who can mentor and advise you professionally.
- Reassess your goals and aspirations and realign any that no longer inspire or serve you.
- If your situation allows, go on a retreat or take a day for yourself. It’ll renew your perspective and give you space to think and re-energize.
- Shift around what you can control, making changes in your environment, habits, or people you surround yourself with. Even changing-up your typical driving routes, breakfasts, workouts, or music selection can propel you forward out of the rut.
Despite the positive changes taking place in my life, I am still a “sometimes-stagnator” (after all, I’m human, and everyone stagnates at one point or another)! But I have come to embrace the notion that real growth is a slow process and we often won’t notice we have moved from point A to B until time has passed. Small, intentional steps—with large measures of grit and grace—can be just the boost we need to dynamically transform ourselves to a life well lived!
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