The Story Economy Blog

Life After Growth Spurts at 5 and 38

Growing upMy five-year-old and I are both in the middle of emotional growth spurts. I think his was triggered by a combination of nervousness over starting kindergarten in a week, and getting hold of the iPad when we forgot to block You Tube and finding his way from a benign video about secrets for clearing levels on Super Mario to a terrible video about the ten most gruesome movie deaths. He is getting older, his emotions and understanding of reality and how he fits into it are growing more complex, and he suddenly sees the world differently.

Like his, mine has been triggered by a combination of things. Many of which I don’t totally understand. But I’m pretty sure watching my dad slowly die is high on the list.

We both keep crying at random times. We are both confused. And neither one of us knows exactly what we need, or what to do about it.

But one thing I know for sure: after the spurt is over, neither of us will be quite the same people.

With physical growth spurts, you leave behind physical markers, like shoes that don’t fit, and height marks penciled on the wall.

With emotional growth spurts, mostly what you have to leave behind are ideas. But they don’t always go gently into that good night.

It’s Not Called a Growing Pain for Nothing

If you read my newsletter enough, you know my rhetorical style well enough to know where I’m going with this. It’s something like: By the way, is your business having an emotional growth spurt, too?

But it feels a little too forced to just jump to: “Hey, you’ve evolved: maybe it’s time to rebrand!” Because I have no idea if you need to rebrand. And at this moment, I don’t exactly care enough to write convincingly about it. I’m still stuck in thinking about why these emotional growth spurts happen at all, in life or in business. I’m thinking about why we can’t just glide along at status-quo speed, under the radar of change. And I’m thinking about timing and cosmic forces: why growth spurts sneak up when they do, and how much we’re supposed to pay attention and make something bigger out of it.

If I just look in my own life, and in the lives of friends, family members, and colleagues I know who have evolved their life situations or their businesses from one thing to another, I see some patterns to what causes these growth spurts.

First is crisis. It could be a crisis of any kind, but usually it means that something that used to work doesn’t work anymore. For example, I’ve seen lots of my journalist friends go through this: we were very comfortable writing for magazines. We were very good at it. And we were pretty well paid. And then it just didn’t work anymore because of factors outside of our control. So lots of us evolved to do other kinds of writing. For me, the transition was painful and scary, but totally amazing, and I’m so grateful to be where I am.

And then there is birth or death—of people or ideas. New babies and lost loved ones, and exciting new ideas and old ideas that you finally decide to put to bed. The birth of both of my kids put me in a totally different emotional space. And the death of a brother showed me things I wasn’t seeing before. More recently, I’ve seen the way birth and death un-ground people to the point that their footing doesn’t feel normal for a long, long time.

Which leads to the last one: seeing something in a new way, and then not being able to un-see it. I don’t mean stuff you learn and then promptly forget. I mean stuff you take into your core and can’t get back out again. My five-year-old suddenly sees the world differently, and he can’t go back. Because of things that have happened with me in the last five or six months, I see the world differently too. And I don’t think I can go back. I sort of want to, but mostly don’t.

So yes, to bring it around to the meat: if you’ve evolved to a place where you didn’t start—a place that feels substantially different than the place you did—you probably need to start talking about what you do and why you do it in a different way, and represent it visually in a different way. Otherwise, you’re just trying to squeeze under those old height marks on the wall. Facing the fact that you’ve outgrown them can sort of suck. Not everyone will come along with you. And you’ll probably need a new growth chart altogether.

But my kid and I are counting on the fact that there is something better on the other end.

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