The Growth-Centric View of Meaning Is Everywhere in Our Language
It's the world's biggest secret that's hidden in plain sight: life is about growth, and everyone intuitively knows this. The source of the leak? Language. Our idioms, expressions, platitudes, sayings, and questions. We guide the younger generation to realize their potential, and we help rising leaders develop the skills and abilities they need to guide their organizations. Here are some of the top examples of popular sayings that indicate our intuitive understanding of what life is really about:
- "Life is a journey, not a destination." – Of course, we're going to start with a classic. The point of this platitude is two-fold: life is about the experiences and not the just the outcomes, and you can enjoy that journey and don't have to suffer until you achieve your goals. It's obvious to many but enlightening to others. Most importantly, it's a great reminder for when people feel like they're not achieving as much as they could or seem frustrated or stalled that it's more than just the next reward or achievement. However you see it, the message is clear: life is about the growth and experience, not (just) the goals you have.
- "What do you want to be when you grow up?" – Another cliché, this one is what adults have asked children since the invention of the profession, and it is even becoming common for mentors in the white-collar world to ask the next-generation workforce. In fact, mid-career professionals are even using it to denote that they still have a lot to learn, grow, and develop in their careers and lives. The reason it's so common is that adults are able to gauge children's interests, but it is also helpful to focus people on what matters to them, where they see themselves in the future, and how they can contribute to society. Unlike the previous item on the list, which is a metaphor, this message is literally about what people aspire to grow to be.
- "Thank you for giving me the strength to carry on." – There is only one option for setbacks in our language: moving/carrying on. It's an indication that hardships, loss, setbacks, and hurdles in life are all things that you have to get through to continue on your journey toward a better future. The opposite of growth is harm, and the reaction to harm is to protect yourself, get through/past the situation, and return to a state of growth. Note that this phrase also indicates the value of support in growth, as you can survive hardships and grow more with help from others.
- "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" – The adult version of "what do you want to be when you grow up" in mentoring conversations, this question shows up a lot in job interviews and other situations where one person is evaluating another's direction. This is usually meant professionally, but it's also often used to see what someone's vision is for their relationships, children, living situation, or financials. The goal again is both to set goals but then start to get a picture of what growth areas to prioritize and how much a person needs to grow and stretch to get there.
- "A parent's job is to foster his or her child's growth." – When someone says that growth isn't the point, one thing I point to as a way to show them that even they believe that it is is to ask them what the role of a parent is. Almost always, the point of the parent is to foster his or her child's growth (the inverse of this, of course, is to protect them from harm, but the point of protecting someone is to foster their growth). Once they can agree to that, the obvious retort is, "So if that's the point of a parent's existence, then what's the point of the child's?" Clearly, if the point of one person is to foster their growth, the point of the child is to grow (again, if you say it's to obey the parents, the point of that is to stay safe so they can grow). So growth is built into parents, teachers, and other caretakers whose responsibility it is not just to focus on their own growth but to ensure others' growth as well. And that's why growth is universal, as you can apply it to yourself, others, or even groups and society.
These clichés show that growth is at the heart of meaning and appears frequently throughout our language. Our life is a journey, we move on or carry on from setbacks or adversity, and we set a direction for us to work toward and adjust that direction as we achieve greater and greater goals. We aren't just looking out for ourselves, however, as we ensure the growth of the people around us, too. The next time you help a child or a new co-worker, remember that everyone is seeking to grow and thrive. Be the best person you can be, and help others see their potential. Through that continuous effort, you'll have meaning and help foster meaning in others.