Personal Growth from a New Perspective

Self-help books, new age rituals, skill building, knowledge gathering, psychoanalysis, deep introspection. These things have stood as guiding pillars in my life. I ended up majoring in psychology, not because I had any idea of how to turn that into a career, but because it utterly fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the things I was learning in my classes. I never had to study. My brain naturally absorbed and integrated every scrap of knowledge I was given in those four years of riveting education.

The pursuit of knowledge never needed to have a higher purpose for me. It was an end in and of itself. I LOVE learning, especially about the mind, my own mind more specifically. I am truly blessed with this passion for academia. Learning is a hobby that can never get old. There are a limitless amount of things to study. Learning something new never fails to light me up inside and send me into that blissful flow state. The rest of the world falls away as I become engrossed in new knowledge and sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone who will listen.

Society has a way of twisting my intentions though. I get bogged down with the motivations of humanity as a collective, or at least what the media portrays as our motivations. Everything we do as a species seems to be directed at some ultimate end goal, whether that be a physical reward like wealth or simply becoming “better” in one way or another. We lose the moment in our fixation on the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, “Wait, why am I doing this again?” Any answer besides “I enjoy doing it” fills me with a dreaded sense of obligation, yet just doing something for pleasure can overwhelm me with existential doubt. “What’s the point then?” As if any point besides pleasure and happiness could make an activity matter more.

When I get too caught up in focusing on outcomes or “bettering myself” through my personal pursuits, I eventually get burnt out and want to give up on everything. It really wears you down mentally to spend every day trying to reach some self-growth goal, implying who and where you are right now isn’t good enough. I never seem to reach whatever goal I’m aiming at, not that I’d be any happier if I did, because what then? No, the real purpose is found in the experiences themselves, in the very act of growing.

For example, when I began my daily practice of drawing during the pandemic, my intention was clear. I like to draw. It makes me happy. It helps me connect with my inner child and reminds me of those carefree days of doodling in my school notebooks or sketching manga with my best friend. That was it. Pure and simple. And it did bring me so much joy. Without trying to, I saw myself getting better and better. I didn’t care how my art stood up against the art of others, or what I was going to “do” with all these images. I found innocent satisfaction in the miracle of the mind and body’s ability to improve at anything that you choose to practice.

After such a long time doing this, however, I began to forget what the purpose was. Instead of wanting to draw everyday, instead of it being a time of rest and relaxation, it became a duty, just another chore, something I had to do. I started getting stressed about not somehow making money off of my work. I got jealous and disheartened rather than inspired by the work of others. I was distraught and frustrated at my lack of progress. I felt stagnant and full of self-criticism and self-doubt.

I am writing all of this down as a reminder of the remedy, if and when this cycle should unravel again. The first thing I need to allow myself to do is TAKE A BREAK. Not drawing for a few days, a few weeks, even a few months, does not mean I will never draw again. It just means I need a break to give myself the space to want to draw again. Forcing myself to do it under some assumption I have to keep practicing to get better makes no sense when the point isn’t to get better, it’s to have fun. Getting better is just part of that fun, but is meaningless on its own.

The second step after a reasonable break, is to try something new. I cannot express the joy I have rediscovered through this step. Trying something new is a great way to shake myself out of stagnation in anything, but especially art. Not only do I have to focus more, it breaks me free from my strict expectations. Whatever I create doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve done. It doesn’t have to top yesterday. I feel mentally accepting of the fact that I won’t be incredible at what I’m doing. It’s the first time I’ve even tried! When I do something new or in a different way than usual, I escape the fear of failure, while also opening up the possibility of surprising myself with success.

I think most of us end up running our lives entirely on autopilot. Then we wonder why we are so unhappy. I’ve come to realize, without changing anything externally, I can completely shift my experience of daily life by just shifting and/or re-centering myself on my intention. Sure, I enjoy doing things that largely fall under the umbrella of “self-improvement,” but that doesn’t mean I do them because I’m not good enough, or because happiness lies at some personal perfection finish line. I like getting better, not because I’m “better” at the end, but because it’s fun to play with that edge of your own ability. It’s exciting to see what I’m able to do whether that be mentally or physically.

So, future Rachel, if you’re reading this, don’t forget! Whether in art or anything else you choose to do, happiness and purpose are not to be found in results. The joy and the meaning are inside the very moments of creation, of learning. You don’t have to know the ending. All you have to do is follow the feeling. The feeling of curiosity, of playfulness, or even the feeling of laziness when you need a rest from it all. No final product matters if you have to be consistently miserable to get there.

Motivation

Most days I feel like I’m dragging myself through life. Very rarely is there anything I feel myself wanting to do. I manage to get a lot done, but it’s more out of a sense of obligation (usually to myself/my OCD) than motivation. I’ve met so many people in life that seem to happily buzz around getting so many little projects done every day, with little to no mental effort. In fact it seems to refuel them rather than drain them. What gives? Why can’t I do that? I’m left endlessly wondering.

I have a few theories. One is that I commit myself to so many “have to’s” every day that I have hardly any energy left to feel motivated to do more. Perhaps not allowing myself any significant amount of true rest time, leaves me perpetually too burnt out to experience that sense of internal drive I so long for. But what if it’s just how my brain works? Maybe I’m just someone who is lazy and disinterested by nature. I think this last theory is really what keeps me from further investigating the first one. If I stop the momentum from years of diligent daily tasks, what if I never feel like picking them back up again? Then I’ll just end up doing nothing! That fear keeps me filling up each and every empty moment with something whether it’s ultimately in my best interest or just gives me the illusion of being productive in some way.

Part of the problem is being paralyzed with too many options. There are millions of things, big and small, that I’d like to accomplish one day. When the time comes to actually choose one to work on, I get distracted by all the others and start doubting myself. Which is most important? Which should I do first? Which matters most to me? Which would I enjoy more? Would I really enjoy any of them? What’s even the point? Then I usually default to an autopilot task just to find relief from thinking about it anymore and spiraling into an existential crisis.

I guess one of the few things I do feel motivated by is coming up with plans. I LOVE to make new schedules for myself, to-do lists, goals, ideas. All of that stuff is so much fun to think about and fills me with a seemingly endless supply of energy directed toward completing all my lists. However, when I find myself facing putting my plans into action in the moment, I lose all of that drive in an instant. It’s much more fun to plan to change your life than to actually change it. The idea of becoming a master piano player is way more exciting than practicing the scales for hours on end.

So here I am again, at this familiar impasse. My internal stand-off. I want to feel more motivated, but I’m not motivated enough to uncover and take the necessary steps to get there. Pretty ironic, isn’t it? Let me know if you have this same struggle or if you’re someone more like the people I mentioned earlier who don’t seem to have an issue getting into new projects with passion and enthusiasm. If you happen to have any tips or tricks from either perspective, I’d love to know!

The Artist

I'd love to know how others write
do they have a plan before
they put pen to paper or
place their fingers on the keys
do they know where they're going
as they embark upon this daily journey

For me writing is a chance encounter
with my secretive inner self
I never know what she has to say
until I sit down to listen
the conversation begins in silence
shyly unraveling in slow motion

Revelations of private wisdom
glimmering behind the veil
of the person I pretend to be
that funny feeling of never knowing
what's inside my own mind until
I give it space to surface

The stifling self-criticism that bars the door
to my still, secluded, subconscious sanctuary
tells me a masterpiece must have a plan
fills me with fear of wasting time translating
an underwhelming message
that doesn't matter

But conversations do not have blueprints
you can't predict which will change you
or save you suddenly from yourself
it's always worth it to take the risk
even if it's just for the pleasure
of having someone to talk to

So I faithfully open the door each morning
hoping that the artist within arrives
to tell me something beautiful 
even though some days she stands me up
she is a busy woman after all
with lots of better things to do

Alternate Ambitions

The internet is great at giving us a false perception of the way other people live and conduct themselves from day to day. Despite this flawless image YouTubers and other influencers give off, one thing still seems real to me: their ability to focus their talents and efforts and present them in a consistent format to their followers. They find their content niche and stick to it diligently until they manage to build up a following.

This is an impressive feat in my opinion. My creative interests are so scattered and fluctuating. It’s pretty apparent if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time. I can never seem to pick a theme or pursuit and stick to it. I have far too many things I’d like to work on. I realize that I can’t do them all. If I want to monetize these creative outlets for myself or create cohesive finished products for a personal brand, I have to focus my energy on one thing at a time. Focusing on one thing, feels like abandoning all of my other interests though. I tend to lose momentum and start feeling stuffy and stagnant when I work in one arena for any amount of time.

I should consider myself lucky. Maybe these influencers really only have a small set of interests or talents, and that’s what makes it easy for them to narrow down their creative range to catch a consistent audience. I’m truly blessed to have so many passions and creative gifts that I could turn into a personal or career path. My biggest obstacle is wrangling my attention and fixing it on a single endeavor to complete a bigger, well thought-out project. Maybe on some level I’m just afraid that if I devote too much time and energy to one creative medium and don’t receive a return on that investment, I’ll feel like a fool or a failure.

Just for context, here is a list of all of the things I’ve been swirling around in my head that I’d like to work on:

  • Podcasting (no idea what of the thousand topics I’d be able to settle on)
  • YouTube (same issue)
  • Online/Livestream Yoga
  • Private Yoga lessons
  • Vegan mentorship
  • Art (selling prints, commissions)
  • Writing (Poetry, short-stories, fiction, non-fiction)
  • Positive Affirmation Coloring Book (publishing and marketing it)

Obviously I can’t expect myself to actualize all of these possibilities. The vague idea of each and every one of them fills me with excitement, inspiration, and motivation. When I get down to the details and the physical steps I’d need to take to turn these ideas into something concrete, I become paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. I may have a lot of creative energy and valuable talents, but I have no idea how to market them or myself in any meaningful way. The idea of creating a mediocre finished product leaves me feeling awful. There is also a fear that by turning any one of these ideas into a business would rob me of the joy I have just doing them for fun.

If I had any money at all, I would likely go out and find myself a manager or someone to help me stay on track and advertise one of these skills. However, anxiety over money is the only reason I’ve been so eager to find a way to profit off of these ideas in the first place. For now, I’m planning on finishing the steps of publishing my positive affirmation coloring book. I’ve already got 30 drawings to compile for it and a good idea of who I would be able to market it to in my community as well as online. I’m just stuck in the limbo of trying to navigate self publishing and perfecting the tiny details about compiling them into a presentable book.

When I find myself struggling with these practical steps, I can’t help but feel pulled to abandon the idea all together and chase a different goal. Logically, I know I’ll eventually face the same problems with anything I try to produce. At the end of the day, I think lacking self-confidence is what’s holding me back. As I continue to try to move forward towards securing a self-determined future for myself, I’m going to try to imagine what I would do if I were confident. A confident person doesn’t get bogged down with the little details and agonize over making everything utterly perfect. I have great ideas. I’m extremely intelligent and talented. And I am going to make something incredible to contribute to the world. That’s the kind of energy that’s going to carry me forward into the next phase of my life.

Inspiration or Intimidation

Looking to others
can be a source of strength
to see success in someone you admire
can light a fire deep inside

Learning to savor
the achievements of others
as if they were your own
is a skill that cannot be understated

Compersion means celebrating
the joy of those around you
and what could be more beautiful
than that selfless sensation?

But comparison is the thief of joy
self confidence seeps away 
in the face of constant observation
of those you believe to be better

The fluttering chest and flushed face
I used to feel from absorbing the images
of those perfect women I adored
left me broken and starving

What used to inspire
became a reminder
that I could never be enough
no matter what

To protect myself
I turned away from the world
deleted all the sources of self doubt
but there is always someone to envy

Someday I hope to learn
how to bloom into my own best self
without feeling burdened
by who I'm not

Something Worth Giving

Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.

Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.

I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.

Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.

Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?

Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?

I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.

Through the Eyes of Another

I don’t concern myself much with what other people think about me. I can never really know what they think, or have any control over it. For me, it’s always seemed like people think better of me than I think of myself anyway. It often feels like everyone around me believes in me more than I believe in myself. If anything, considering what other people think about me makes me feel guilty, as if I’ve been deceiving them. They don’t know how incompetent and weak I truly am. I’ve somehow given them the impression that I’m worthy of respect and admiration.

There are very few people in my life whose opinion I genuinely value. When it comes to most people, I assume they are just not smart enough to realize how worthless I really am. Recently I’ve started to spend more time considering the high regard those closest to me still maintain. Surely I don’t think they are too stupid, or don’t know me enough. Some of them might even know me better or in a different way than I know myself. So what am I to make of their perception of me?

I may not have much confidence in myself, but realizing that people that mean a lot to me do have confidence in me, has been transformative. I’ve been trying to think of myself from this outside perspective whenever I begin doubting or getting down on myself. When I’m faced with something that I don’t think I’m capable of, I think of how a loved one might see things differently. For instance, my friend at work, whom I deeply respect and admire, has complete and utter confidence that I’ll be able to do what he does and interview the kids we see. He seems so sure that I’ll be a great interviewer one day and be just as important in the lives of our clients as he has been over the years. When I begin to feel crushed under the weight of my own disbelief and self-doubt, I think of him reassuring me.

I may not have faith in my own abilities, but when I remember that those I have complete faith in do, I feel so much better. If you’ve never tested out this fun thought experiment for yourself, I would highly recommend it. The next time you are facing an intimidating goal or task, try to imagine someone you love and admire knowing that you can do it. Their confidence will surely be a great support. If nothing else, thoughts like these inspire me to do my very best and exceed my own expectations just to make the people who believe in me proud. It gives me the courage to try despite the intense fear of failure that would normally hold me back.

Narrowing Focus to Broaden Success

There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.

Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.

It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.

I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.

I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.

Devotion

It’s an incredible feeling to be devoted to someone or something. There are many causes that I feel passionately about: environmentalism, feminism, veganism, etc. There are far less people that can illicit that same feeling of motivation and energy in me. When those people do come along, I am captivated by them. There is nothing more spectacular to me than having a relationship to such a magnetic, awe inspiring person.

I think part of the reason that these charismatic figures in my life take my breath away so easily is because of the comparison to all the other people I encounter. It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of the human race. I find our species to be particularly vile in most aspects. In addition to that, the vast majority of the population seem utterly dull to me, exhibiting no personality whatsoever. So when I meet someone that draws me in so completely, I can’t help but be amazed.

In general, I view myself as a pretty spineless, selfish, stingy, resentful person. I usually do what’s best for me and don’t feel compelled to help others unless I have a good reason. This small group of special people that have been sprinkled throughout my life have a transformative effect on me, though. It’s as though they inspire me to be who I’ve always wanted to be. I genuinely want to go out of my way to be of service to them in any way that I can, despite any personal inconvenience. The mere thought of their acknowledgment and praise brings me such pride. It brings me immense pleasure to be positive and helpful to them. But somehow it’s even more than that. It’s honestly a sensation that I can’t adequately describe.

I am so grateful to have known even the handful of these people that I have. I am grateful to have a few of them in my life right now. For someone that has a difficult time relating to most people, it is a special kind of joy that I feel in response to these deep, meaningful bonds. These relationships are some of the most cherished parts of my life. Few experiences rise above them. I feel there is almost a spiritual, cosmic connection that we share. Something so genuine, so unique, simply beyond words.

I am so moved by my encounters with these people and the devotion and admiration that arises in my heart for them, it makes me reconsider my perspective of human beings all together. I’ve been considering the way that some people view Pit Bulls as viscous, violent dogs that should be banned. However, just because some Pit Bulls are trained to fight, and all have the potential to cause severe physical injury to others, does not make them inherently bad dogs. This seems so obvious to me and I have nothing against Pit Bulls due to the ones that have been raised to be aggressive and dangerous. Why then is it so hard for me to apply this same logic to my own species?

Why do I hold humanity down to it’s lowest common denominator rather than it’s highest potential? I guess I’ve just been raised to give more agency to a human than a dog, despite now knowing that we are all equally a product of our genetics, environment, and experiences. When it comes down to it, even human beings have very little choice or “free will.” And this is just another area in which those I am devoted to help me strive to be a better person.

It’s inexpressible the gratitude and appreciation I feel knowing that these important people accept me for who I am. They’ve seen my many flaws, but I never feel judged by them. It feels safe to be imperfect. I feel seen and understood and empathized with in all of my complexity and eccentricity and idiosyncrasy. The idea that anyone could ever see who I really am and still love and respect me moves me so deeply. It makes me want to extend that same grace, that same compassion and forgiveness to others. To learn to see the good in everyone, rather than focusing on, and condemning them for what they lack.

At the end of the day, these rare people light a fire inside of me. They help me grow in so many ways. They help me see the world with fresh, loving, curious eyes. They give me hope. They make me yearn to some day be able to extend all that they’ve offered me to another person. To someday be that spark, that object of inspiration and devotion to someone else. To give someone else that same feeling of being seen, of being appreciated, of being understood, of coming home.

Pushing Through Inspiration Stagnation

It feels like it’s been a long time now since I’ve felt passionate about my creative endeavors. Sitting down to write each morning used to be one of my favorite parts of the day. Now it feels as though I am just going through the motions. I’m not particularly proud or excited about any of the posts I’ve made this past month. I think that is partially due to the pressure I put on myself to perform. The longer this dry spell goes on, the harder it is to just relax and allow myself to enjoy the act itself rather than the product that’s produced.

Inspiration and the creative process are very amorphous things to me. I really don’t know what causes me to feel motivated and excited about my work one day and completely disinterested the next. Sometimes I’ll sit down with a great idea only to find myself unable to get my ideas out on the page. Other times I’ll sit down with absolutely no expectation of creating anything worthwhile and discover I’ve come up with some of my best work. The only thing that seems like a constant is that the more I force it, the more impossible it seems to find that flow state.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about this and I really liked the way the guest speaker described the creative process. Sitting down to create isn’t about productivity or expecting any particular outcome. It’s about making space. It’s about getting out of the way and allowing the universe and whatever else might be out there to flow through you. Many artistic geniuses throughout history have been hesitant to take credit for there most renowned works. When asked how they came up with them, they say that it was as if they had no control over it. Some unknown energy was simply moving through them.

In times when you don’t feel particularly inspired to make art in whatever form that may be, don’t get too discouraged. There is no need to try to force that creative energy to flow. It’s out there and it is within you. Time spent on creative endeavors even when you don’t feel motivated, still is not time wasted. In these moments our focus should not be on whether or not we produced an impressive or moving work. The point is to sit down and make yourself available to whatever force it may be that possesses us and causes us to create miraculous things. All we have to do is be there, go within, and wait. You inspiration, your muse, will surely find you again. Just have patience and allow.

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