Personal growth is paramount. A north star to chase indefinitely.
However, most of this growth is reactionary. In the same way, we wouldn’t commend a knee for jerking at a doctor’s strike, we shouldn't see this reactionary response as growth.
The connotation of growth is overwhelmingly positive, yet we only decide that this change is positive from the perspective of the person doing the ‘growing’, which seems to be greatly biased.
For change to lead to self-improvement, I suggest a few alterations to our conception of growth:
First, I want to acknowledge that a significant amount of growth only exists as an agent’s response to the environment.
Second, I want to recognize growth as a neutral word, rather than allow it to be charged with positive or negative connotations. I want to recognize growth as something much more simple: change.
With this model, we can consider how change generally emerges from reactions to an external environment, often out of our control.
The platitude to respond to this is: “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” While I recognize the merits of this notion, it warrants investigation.
Yes, in the face of adversity, stoically bettering oneself is ideal, but we must question whether this change would have occurred at all without adversity. If we assume that external factors drive this change, we resign to our life's path being determined by the series of adversarial events that we choose to survive.
We are all worth a lot more than defining our growth as mere reactions to adversity.
If you put a broken car on a hill and it rolls, it is simply reacting to its surroundings: gravity is the only thing moving it.
As one moves through life, the topology along the road changes, and the car will continue to roll. Looking back, the car may be far from where it started, but not once was it turned on.
Some would describe it as growth, I would describe it as reactionary change. Agentic growth is the process of fixing the engine, turning the key, and speeding off in the direction of your choosing.
Progressing past metaphor, agentic growth involves creating an engine for change that enables one to self-instantiate momentum without needing any exterior adversity at all.
The first important step: break free from the sway of topological changes in life. Rather than letting the rapidly shifting values of the world be forced upon you, understand what you care about and how you assign value.
Identify a series of terminal and intermediary values.
Terminal values are the fundamental things you want in life, and intermediary values are the steps to achieve them.
To exemplify, money is not a terminal value (or something you value for its own sake) but it does act as an intermediary value (providing freedom, optionality, prestige, stability, and more). When people say money can't buy happiness, they are right that money is not an intermediary value to terminal values like loving relationships; however, they misunderstand that money can bring about happiness in the form of other terminal channels such as freedom. Further, money can help you free up time, and then you can use that time to invest in loving relationships and spending time with those you care about.
Read losing the root for the tree for more discussion of value trees.
Understanding these values allows you to make the required prioritization decisions to engage in agentic growth.
Now that you understand your values, you should create systems that promote change to maximize them. Environmental adversities will still arise, aiming to push you to other locales, yet now you can push back with great fervor.
Creating rituals that ensure regularity in the pursuit of specific goals means growth, and agentic growth at that. It is not a single action, but instead the consistent ability of the agent to move their car towards whatever destination they seek.
Importantly, disregarding environments as a provider of agentic growth is wrong.
We can agentically seek out environments to foster the type of growth we want, rather than simply reacting to the environments we stumble upon.
Environmental threats in the current are merely experiences that will hone us into a changed version of ourselves.
Identify your terminal and intermediary values
Create systems to pursue them
Uncover and explore new environments that will allow you to do so.
Stop reacting to change and instead exhibit agentic growth.
Or more simply put, start the car and get to driving.