When we grow…
Growth. It’s one of my favourite topics for many reasons, but this week I’ve been thinking about it because a friend was talking to me about her struggle with feeling misunderstood on her journey.
She explained to me that she’s done a significant amount of work on herself in the past couple of years. By “work”, she clarified that she changed the way she thought about herself, changed her relationship with her body, and let go of many beliefs which were previously keeping her stuck. She’d challenged herself personally and professionally. And she was somewhat taken aback that what she saw as valuable evolution within had unexpectedly left her feeling disconnected from friends with whom she had been very close for a long time.
I could see she was flummoxed. Her transformation had been hard won through her own sweat, tears, and the odd tantrum and here she was feeling confused about shifting further away from her people because of it. They are the ones who were usually by her side through it all. And, now it seemed like they were distracted at best, and unavailable at worst.
Personal evolution is not predictable. For some people, it happens only as a side effect of ageing and it may not be recognised or celebrated. For others, it’s front and centre on their priority list. They deliberately seek out lessons from change and challenge as it arises, actively shaping themselves on each path they take.
When I was at school, I remember reading “Pick-a-Path” novels that were written so you could choose where the story would go next. I’d like to say that we are always in complete control of picking our next path in life, but it’s not true. Instead, our lives play out on a metaphorical ocean where we can control which direction we sail, but not the weather to which we are exposed. It’s always a combination of direct influence over our future, and responding to what life gives us along the way.
We are not alone on the ocean though. Our lives exist within a social system (family, friends, colleagues – anyone that plays a role in our lives long-term). Each person in our social system is also sailing their own little boat – influencing their own lives while responding to what life gives them. The fleet around us is constantly moving, as are we within it.
Our “fleet” generally includes friends who have similar values to our own. It’s sharing the things that are important to us that make us feel connected. A complementary value system is the fabric of a friendship that has you feeling like Jane really “gets” you.
(A note on family: Usually, we are raised in a family to have certain values. We grow up to share the same values as our parents and siblings. But sometimes this is not the case. Some people have parents who practice values that they actively avoid as adults. There is a saying that goes, “You can pick your friends but not your family” and it perfectly epitomises the adults for whom family was an example of what not to do.)
Where am I going with this? I’m saying that we form long-term bonds with people because the things we hold dear, and the way we approach the world is similar. They are our “tribe”. The people we seek out for company and counsel.
The course changes…
The thing we often forget is that we are all growing over time, some of us consciously and purposefully (like my friend), others not so obviously. Each of us is out there sailing our boat in a way that works for us at the time. If you and your friends have been sailing alongside of each other for years, then it follows that it’s going to get tough to stay together as a fleet sometimes. We can get out of alignment. We may change course. Life may happen and change course for us. And at the end of the day, we may be left feeling separated from the ones who had once been a pivotal part of our journey.
This is the case for my friend right now. She feels separate. Disconnected. Different, even. She is different, within herself, but she feels unrecognisable to the people who she usually feels are the ones that see her completely. And because of this, she in turn struggles to recognise them.
At this point, I wish I could present a piece of binding magic, the powers of which would return people to each other. But, of course, it’s not that easy. In the absence of my magical powers, here are some things to consider for your journey and those of the people in your fleet:
Sometimes growth is so personal that it needs to be done alone. That means that you may not wish to share it with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. Parts of it might hurt. Important growth is like that. And some people cope better with pain if they have space to process it before they share it. Distance like this is often temporary. Remember it’s not just you that needs space through some chapters – your tribe might, too.
New = Threatening.
Just because you feel like a new and improved version of yourself doesn’t mean every person around you will see you like that. Some people might be threatened by your transformation. Growth can be uncomfortable for some because it holds up a mirror for what’s not working in their own lives. This kind of confrontation can fracture a friendship when someone grows at a pace that the other person is not yet ready for.
Just because you feel like a new and improved version of yourself doesn’t mean every person around you will see you like that.
Life happens and sometimes it happens so catastrophically that we are irrevocably changed by it. We may end up heading in a completely different direction to the rest of our fleet. In cases of trauma, grief, loss, or some other disaster, we may be forced to grow in a way we didn’t ask for, but that leaves us very different to our old selves. Those differences can sometimes become chasms in existing relationships. It’s also worth noting that healing from these events can go either way. Sometimes healing causes us to grow apart, sometimes it causes us to grow together. These changes are not wrong. They just are. And they occasionally mean that we don’t fit in with the old fleet anymore.
It’s your path.
Expecting others to always “get it” when no one will ever sail the exact same course as you will leave you with a case of the disses: disappointed, dissatisfied, disconnected. We all want to be understood. We want to be seen and heard because sharing ourselves helps to make sense of our own journey. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes the only one that can understand your journey is you. Mind your expectations.
Stay or leave.
Sometimes feeling disconnected is a sign that we need to work harder to reconnect. Perhaps it’s information that you have been a little absent in the friendship, or that your friend may also be feeling distant. Do you need to work harder? Does the friendship need more of you in some way?
On the other hand, if this feeling has been happening for a long while, perhaps it’s a sign that you have sailed your courses together and it’s time to go your separate ways. Not all relationships, whether they be family, friends, or lovers are meant to last our entire lifetimes. Do you need to let go?
Celebrate your own growth.
The truth is, no one needs to understand your journey but you. Seeking validation from others may undermine the inherent value in your evolution. Celebrate your own transformation. You know how far you’ve come.
Here’s to connection with ourselves and with our people. And here’s to respect for ourselves and for our people to love more when needed and let go when needed on the journey.