Words by: Leeann Bushnaq Art by: Carla J. Romana
From the outside, the path to any kind of success, growth, or progress takes one of two routes. We see growth as scraping through the rubble. We see it as the might it takes to overcome setbacks and dig through the lowest of lows to get to the peaks. Or, we see it from the “started from the bottom now we’re here” perspective.
We recognise the growth that’s exponential. Not only do we recognise it, but we laud it. It gives growth an invigorating and inspiring narrative. What do we do when our experience with growth doesn’t follow either of the paths we glorify and fawn over as a society? It’s a hard one to pick apart; a hard one to accept and appreciate. It leads me to credit my growth to anything but myself. When it’s not a case of gruelling hard work, my instinct is to credit my progress to the superstitions I follow. I’ve tried time and time again to take my growth for what it is, despite it sitting outside the bounds of the growth that we’re fed by the outside world. My climb has been steady. I’ve been faced with the occasional low or plateau, but nothing severe enough to categorise me into either of the two routes. I choose to call it incremental growth.
There are a handful of superstitions that I swear by and have embedded into my thinking, and my life. I’ve refused to change my mattress, denied myself a new desk chair, because part of me thinks that if I lose these objects, I lose my intellect, and any academic growth that comes with it. I went six years in high school vowing to cut my hair on the same date each year, and resisting the need to change my school shoes all because I felt like that’s what would get me through high school. I wear the same baby blue t-shirt and quarter zip jumper to each university exam, and play tennis with the same all yellow racquet, all with the intention of maintaining my growth. I stopped wearing my navy blue shirt because it always happened to be the shirt I was wearing when things didn’t go my way. The list goes on; although it’s not tangible, it just works somehow.
It’s impossible to understand incremental growth until you’re the one experiencing it. And even then, something about it doesn’t feel real. It’s difficult to reconcile and even more difficult to take pride in. I’ve always felt like somewhat of a fraud if I’m not suffering in growth; or if there isn’t a lightbulb moment that catapults me into a growth period. It’s easier to attribute our growth to our hard work alone when we’ve dug ourselves out of ruins to get to where we are.
Sometimes I fear that the trajectory of my growth will take a downward turn if I change elements of my life, even if they are unrelated to my personal growth. Other times, I find it hard to believe that things have panned out the way they have for me. So, I use superstitions as a form of protection. Sometimes, it feels like I use superstitions as a way to shield myself from the guilt I have about the upward growth that I’m so fortunate to experience. But there are times where I want to feel proud; times where my growth could instead be based on my merit. And this serves as a reminder that I don’t have to have the same path to prosperity to feel like it’s earned, rather than in the hands of superstitious behaviours.
Reflecting on growth sits up there, equal first with “describe yourself in three words” as one of the most painful reflection exercises to partake in. But it’s time to start looking at growth without feeling unworthy or feeling ashamed. It’s time we credit our growth to ourselves. So, whenever we think the path to growth takes one of two routes, let’s challenge our thinking. Let’s be prepared to unlearn that our growth only comes from us when we go from zero to 100 — where we work for what we want. Perhaps a superstition, a belief in faith, or luck helps us reconcile the growth that we experience, but we also create it for ourselves. Don’t invalidate your growth because it looks different; even if your growth isn’t the same as societal conventions or mental images of growth, it is not any less yours.