Monday, December 3, 2012

Development is jagged.

I remember the day my son took his very first step all by himself. He was eleven months old, and I thought to myself: This is it. He's walking now.

That was the last independent step he took for three weeks. Throughout that time, he'd stand, and he'd cruise (walking while holding onto the couch or some other stable object), but he seemed stuck. And then: he took another step! Or maybe it was two! And I was like: Here we go! Walking!

Nope. Three or four more weeks. What the heck, I thought. What is wrong with you, boy? He'd taken his first step nearly two months before! He should have been sprinting at that point!

Except, really, I knew better. I do, after all, have some training in this kind of thing. And I think we all know this at some level, though it's easy to forget:

Development is jagged.

It's easier to think in straight lines, to imagine growth as a smooth upward slope, to get tripped up by the expectation that any type of progress will continue evenly. Whether it's writing, writing career, emotional development, interpersonal relationships, level of expertise, progress toward goals, or any other type of personal evolution, we all hope for continued growth, right? And when it doesn't seem to be moving along--or! Horror! We seem to be devolving in that area--it's easy to get discouraged, and even to believe we're done growing, that this might be it.

And I guess it could be sometimes. There are limits to our potential, I suppose. But we also know development is jagged. We go through periods of rapid growth followed by periods of level coasting or even a slight decline in the level or consistency of our skills/thinking/whatever. We often get really uncomfortable during those times, either because of frustration at the seeming lack of progress or because our minds are gearing up for the next push, something more complicated than we can grasp, so all we know is we feel squirmy ... until the next burst of development comes along.

Sometimes there are external factors that catalyze a period of growth. Sometimes it is a purely internal process. I'm not sure it can be forced, though, not if our minds aren't ready or able to go there.

Erm. Those are my random thoughts for today. Have you observed uneven growth in a specific area of your life or personal evolution? Have you felt the squirminess before a phase of rapid development (kids show this--they sometimes have trouble sleeping right before they enter a new phase of motor development, for example)? Did you recognize it for what it was, or were you merely frustrated? What phase are you in now? Growth ... or potential for growth?

16 comments:

  1. What a great metaphor! I see this jaggedness all the time in my own life.

    My son didn't take a step until he was 16 mos--went through the knees of every pair of pants he owned--but then he kept going. So maybe that's a metaphor for some things in life too--it takes longer, but it isn't as jagged?

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    1. Yes, definitely. Every developmental curve looks different, because development is such a complex and individualized process. In childhood, kids often end up in approximately the same place but their paths to get there are very diverse!

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  2. You can definitely see this jagged development curve in writing careers. An awful lot of people assume that once you get your first book contract, you've got it made. You'll automatically be a best-seller, anything you write will be published, and (of course) buckets of money will land on your doorstep.

    And nope. That's not what it's like at all.

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  3. I didn't know you had kids, Sarah. And that is definitely a first time mom's response. With subsequent children, you scream, "No, don't even think about walking yet." :D

    My first born was three months premature. When he finally started walking, he kept falling down all the time (even when he was 2 1/2). The various therapist he saw because of his prematurity identified that he had developmental delays. And often I feel the same way with my writing. But like my son, I just pick myself up and carry on.

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  4. Man, my kids are so old. I don't even want to think about development when it comes to my writing. Feels like I've been moving backwards for some time now.

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  5. With your son, I think it's like, "Okay, that walking was cool. Now let's build up them muscles and balance by the couch here so we can launch across the room." You know, discovery and development, in diapers.

    And I hope I'm in growth, but I've sure lots of way to go, as well. And this was a great reminder not to get down on myself when I'm not walking as well as I'd like.

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  6. Well, I sorta just had the rug pulled out from under me so I'd have to say I'm in a trough right now. And my son is as old as some of you!

    Great reminder Sarah.

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  7. Yeah, that's kind of happened to me. Thinking I was cruising--walking! And then ups. Not so much. :P I did giggle at the "what's wrong w/you, boy?" Mom! :D Good stuff~ <3

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  8. The evolution of growth is truly jagged. That analogy is perfect. It's through those rough edges that we expand who we are and who we will eventually become; at least that's my belief. It's hard to accept somethings, though.

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  9. OMG - are you telling me that my 3-year-old hasn't slept through the night in a month because she's going to start flying or something? :-)

    Seriously, in addition to a particular skill's development being jagged, kids sometimes seem to regress or "forget" skills they've mastered when they are focused on mastering something new. So maybe, as adults, we need to realize that when we are focused on learning something new, or developing in one area, other areas may fall behind or get rusty from lack of use.

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  10. Encouraging thing to keep in mind, especially when you feel like all you're doing is treading water. Thanks! :)

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  11. So so SO true. I really needed to see this today, THANK YOU!!!

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  12. I think I forget this all the time. I think it's going to be that smooth line. I get frustrated when it isn't.

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  13. OMG, you are so right, and this post blew me away. After cruising along for three years, improving, getting better feedback and more requests, I assumed offers would start coming. Apparently not, and I'm crushed. I'm so crushed I haven't written in almost 4 months. But maybe it's time for me to change focus or just grow in another way. Maybe it's not a catastrophe if my graph chart doesn't keep going up. Maybe it can just plateau for a while and it isn't the end of the world.
    Thank you very much. :-D

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  14. Hmm. You mean it isn't just the cold meds? I've been squirmy since the end of October.

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