The ABCs of Self-Love: G is for Growth: how to find your life’s meaning. really.



This Blog Crawl of Self-Love is hosted by Molly Mahar of Stratejoy. She believes in the transformational power of radical self-care and so do I. Find out more about The ABC’s of Self Love Blog Crawl + Treasure Hunt here.


So there’s this thing called a ‘growth mindset’ and this other thing called a ‘fixed mindset’.

If you have the former, you believe that things like talent and intelligence are not fixed at birth; that with work and effort, you can improve. You can invent and reinvent yourself.

You can grow.

If you have the latter, you believe that growth is not possible. You are who you are, and that’s the end of it. Instead of expanding to become more of what you want to be, you contract around those frozen beliefs about yourself.

You protect your self-image at all costs.

You avoid challenge. You look for the easy A. You don’t work hard when you don’t see the point. You sidestep anything that might show you up as quote-unquote inferior – because then you’ll be stuck with that inferiority, no way out.

Life is more interesting with a growth mindset.


Most of us tend to have a mix of the two; in some areas we believe we can grow, and in others we believe we are stuck in permanent positions.

Those beliefs shape our actions which shape our life.

They serve as a prism through which we filter the world.

Our subconscious draws our attention to the things that our beliefs have primed us to notice, so that we are constantly interpreting the world in a way that supports those beliefs. Between you and ‘objective reality’ is your own personal paradigm, to sift that reality and serve it up to you.

It aligns your reality with what you want to see – and blocks out what you don’t.

Change your beliefs, change your paradigm, change your world.

The question is how?

In the book CREATIVE THINKERING, Michael Michalko observes

Habits, thinking patterns, and routines with which we approach life gradually accumulate until they significantly reduce our awareness of other possibilities. It’s as if a cataract develops over our imagination over time, and its effects only slowly become obvious…

You cannot will yourself to change your thinking patterns any more than you can stop your foot from changing direction…You need some means of producing variation in your ideas. …

One powerful “means of producing variation” is: an antagonist.

A struggle.


I write fiction (when I’m not writing blog posts). Fiction concerns imaginary people who undergo a series of events and revelations that changes their paradigms and alters those characters forever.

This kind of change doesn’t come easily; an old sense of identity has to die, so a new one can rise from the ashes.

It’s that shift in identity – and how it enables the protagonist to overcome obstacles and face down antagonistic forces and achieve her heart’s desire (or not) – that shapes the ultimate meaning of the story.


Sometimes you seek growth; sometimes growth comes at you and for you like a heat-seeking missile.

Growth can announce itself with mess, discomfort, increasing pain. As children we learn our strategies of survival: our paradigm. Then one day we enter a place where those strategies no longer work for us. They hold us back or threaten us, they turn from angels to inner demons; we have to separate ourselves from them so that we can adopt new ones.

If we don’t, we stagnate.

We get caught in the repeating loop of our own history.

We sabotage ourselves and get preyed on by others.

Growth can announce itself with unease, with desire. There’s something (or someone) you want to have – or something you want to escape. There’s someone you want to become – and someone you need to stop being.

That desire is strong enough to push you out of your comfort zone and into a new act.

You struggle and you fight and you fail. Difficulty mounts. Your antagonist breaks you down, pushes you to the edge, strips you of everything you thought you knew – but it’s in that death, that moment of surrender, when you release the old beliefs and turn toward the new.

Your actions change accordingly.

You can do what you couldn’t do before — and the world finally offers up the prize.


One way to plan a novel is to reverse-engineer it. You look at the climax, the final showdown between your protagonist and your antagonist: exactly how does the protagonist prevail? What kind of person must she become, in order to prevail? What quality, what way of seeing the world, does she need to possess at the end of the novel and lacks in the beginning? How does she achieve that quality?

Then you can backtrack your way to the beginning, finding the moments to demonstrate that growth, that change, in your character.

One way to plan your life is to reverse-engineer it. You dream up a vision for your future. You imagine yourself having already achieved your goals.

The nature of goals is to force us to stretch: we need to acquire new skills and develop new aspects of our character.

In the beginning you may doubt yourself, think that the person you know yourself to be couldn’t reach such a lofty destination. And you’re right.

But what you need to remember is that the journey changes you.

The journey finds ways to turn you into what you need to be.

Which is why it’s important to ask yourself not only, What do I want out of life?

But also, Who do I want to become?

In that transformation – from who you are into who you need to be – you just might find the meaning of your life.


You can always fake it ‘til you make it. We have a funny way of growing into what we only think we’re pretending to be. Thought and feeling may generate behavior, but it turns out that behavior can generate thought and feeling.

As Michael Michalko observes:

Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions, we trigger the emotions we pretend to have and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

You can change the way you see yourself, and the way others see you, by your intention and by going through the motions.

Your pretense can change your psychology.


Growth can announce itself with little, seemingly superficial changes that audition a much larger change.

You can bring this about yourself: change your hair, change your dress. Fashion can serve as the thin end of a wedge that separates you from your past.

The makeover is a popular staple of television: when the woman (usually it’s a woman) changes her look, it’s understood that her life also changes. A new identity is cut and trimmed and styled into being. Growth happens from the outside in. And it’s not very threatening: if you don’t like it, you can always go back to your previous hair color.

But now that you look different, how are you received? Now that people receive you that way, who can you meet and what can you take part in? Now that you can engage with new people and events, how do you feel about the person you are becoming?

In his book TRANSFORMATIONS, Grant McCraken muses on how a generation forced the growth of an entire counterculture (bold italics are mine) :

They were growing their hair a little longer in the back, going to the occasional rally, listening to new music. And even as each of them was trying on novelty, the response of the world, and the meaning of the novelty, were changing. Working en masse, millions of Oscars created a more receptive, less risky environment for one another…[They] reset the tolerances and moved a culture toward change. The great change of the counter-culture came from millions of little gestures, tiny departures, modest risks brought together into a magnificent aggregate.


McCraken also writes about people he calls “playwrights” (we would call them “change agents”) who get “under” culture to rewrite its beliefs, its very rules of perception. He uses Ani DeFranco and the way she subverts traditionally feminine notions of delicacy and beauty as an example of someone who “is not only working on her persona, but on the culture that defines the persona.”

[Change agents] may be driven by inklings of cultural developments in the works, but they are traveling alone, driven by their own initiative and inclinations, haunted possibly by their own demons, writing from their own needs to their own specifications. Playwrights like DiFranco are inventing themselves, but in the culture of commotion their creations sometimes recruit avant-garde followers and even mainstream enthusiasts. From their efforts to invent themselves can come substantial changes in the global culture.

McCraken calls these followers and enthusiasts “off-Broadway players” who use the playwright’s work to “take their leave from the traditional order of things” and create lives according to the playwright’s innovations.

They “inhabit worlds that the playwright has opened up.”

The playwright becomes a light to steer by.

Her followers change their music, speech, clothing, residence and “invite and suffer the disapproval and sometimes the hostility, even violence, of the mainstream world.” But they are better protected than the playwright, because they travel in a group. They are not, as DiFranco is, reconstructing cultural categories and cultural rules. They grow and transform in ways that make them members of this group. (In contrast, the playwright stretches, grows and transforms to rebel against a group.)

McCracken observes:

Their collective effort, their community, can begin to move a culture’s center of gravity.

But this [change in the culture] is not the achievement of an individual. The off-Broadway player is engaged in a personal transformation. Only the playwright accomplishes cultural transformation.


DiFranco would be what Michael Michalko calls a “self-created individual”, who seems “more alive and creative than others.”

In the world of humanity, a person who is talking, walking and working can be alive and self-creating or lifeless and drab. This is something we all know, yet never talk about.

What makes some people seem especially alive and others seem lifeless and drab?

He compares these individuals to the emperor moth, with its wide and magnificent wingspan.

But first, the moth must be a pupa in a cocoon.

One day a small opening appears in the bottom and the moth struggles to force its body through it. The struggle takes hours. The moth often seems stuck.

But this struggle is how the pupa forces fluid from its body and into its wings; it prepares those wings for flight.

You could help the pupa by enlarging the hole with a knife or scissors so that the pupa simply slips out:

But it will have a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. In fact, the little moth will spend the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It will never fly.

In a novel, the antagonist serves a similar function. The antagonist is whoever or whatever traps, restricts, and opposes the protagonist; what the protagonist must struggle against to escape.

As Martha Alderson points out in her book THE PLOT WHISPERER:

External antagonists challenge [the protagonist] throughout the story and especially in the middle. They know how to push her, to ignite her flaws, to create gaps of imbalance, and become what she must overcome for ultimate success.


It’s the struggle that makes us strong, and readies us for flight.

It’s how you grow through and out of it – the meaning you make of it – that can not only shape yourself and your creative work (and your life) — but inspire others.

They see themselves in you and your struggle. Your meaning becomes their meaning.

They might seize on that meaning and create communities around it. They might even create a movement.

They might shift the center of the culture.

Feb 12, 2012

11 comments · Add Yours

This is the true meaning of self-awareness: the knowledge that we are constantly changing, constantly evolving or devolving as the case may be. We are what we believe. Brilliant post focused on shining a light on the inner works of the psyche! :)


Love this post. I’m fascinated by the intersection of love, personal growth and activism. This is a beautiful exploration of that place.


Ah – how much I needed to read this!
I’m going to be turning the big 3-0 this year in September, and my birthday present to myself is going to be a large tattoo of a moth on my arm.

Mainly meant because my theme of this year has got to be ‘transform’. We all have to strive to be the hero of our own story. No one but us can do that.


“Life is more interesting with the growth mindset.” A wonderful post. I wish this was emphasized in school, instead of (or at least along with) the memorization of facts and that need to stick to what you appear to be good at.


Coincidentally, I just finished Drive by Daniel Pink this weekend. He features many of these concepts in his discussion of what motivates us. So glad to have these recommendations for further reading.


Love the post. Wondering what genre of fiction you write?


Took a moment to go read about you.What an interesting life you’ve had. Blood Angel isn’t the genre I would normally read. But I enjoy your blog so much that I think I’ll give it a try when I get back to the States.


Ooooh. This is definitely not a once through post. Thank you Justine for blowing the concept of self-love and growth wide open. I’m in awe. And have lots of books to add to my library request list!

“But what you need to remember is that the journey changes you. The journey finds ways to turn you into what you need to be.”

This comforts (and motivates) me in the perfect way. I’m not a big fan of the phrase “fake it til you make it” but I am a fan of acting outside your comfort zone, even when it’s scary and uncomfortable. Remembering that the *journey* will change me as I step into the unknown is the perfect comfort (and go kick some ass, Mahar) mantra.

For you and *this*: Thank You. May we all find our life’s meaning through growth. XO


Growth vs fixed mindset has been on my mind for a few days. I have always wondered why as humans we needed something to force us to change, as if that was a bad thing. Perhaps, it’s not, perhaps it’s a good thing.

“Sometimes you seek growth; sometimes growth comes at you and for you like a heat-seeking missile.”

That resonates with me. I was so meant to read this.

Too much to take in, will have to read again later.


I agree, life is more interesting with a growth mindset. I’m really delighted that you’ve touched on Dweck’s notions of growth versus fixed mindsets. I theorize that engaging in creative design work can help those with a more fixed mindset shift to having more of a growth mindset. I hope to test this theory soon by measuring, before and after, the mindsets of individuals who are taught design thinking. Ideally, I would like to know if certain parts of the design thinking process contribute more to a growth mindset over other parts. For instance, does having empathy for another account for a mindset shift more so than, say, the ability to productively brainstorm, or take feedback constructively?

Thanks for this thoughtful post.


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