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Why Personal Growth is Like Doing the Dishes

Amanda Sollman

I have a little secret to let you in on:

I am a terrible homemaker.

I will procrastinate on just about everything that involves keeping the house in a state where people can be allowed to live here. Vacuuming. Laundry. Dishes. You name it – I put it off. An Instagram-worthy house, this is not.

And my biggest gripe with these things? They're never-ending! The minute we get the laundry washed, folded and put away (a multi-day process around here, to be sure), there's new dirty clothes. As soon as I'm done vacuuming, I discover a new fur bunny (we don't have dust bunnies, we have fur bunnies – thanks, puppy) along the baseboards. And as soon as all the dishes are clean and unloaded from the dishwasher, somebody decides they need to eat and the whole cycle starts over again!

As I write this I've got both a dishwasher AND a sink full of dirty dishes (see below for proof). My biggest wish is that there was an ending, a finish line, a destination for all these house chores that I can reach and say, "It's finally complete! My house is beautiful and I never have to do any of that hard work again!"

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But if you're an independently living adult, you know – that ain't gonna happen.

There's always work to do. Something will break. Things will get dirty. Clutter will need to be purged or put away. It's ongoing and takes regular effort.

Which is why personal growth is kind of like doing the dishes.

There is no destination – so get used to it

I don't know about my colleagues, but I often have conversations with my coaching clients about their progress. They'll ask questions like, "How am I doing?" and "Do you think I'm close?" They're trying to gauge whether the work they're putting in is moving them forward and keeping them on track. And I totally get that!

If we want to reach our goals, we always have to be working and striving. We have to put in the effort if we're ever going to see any results, so I don't want diminish that investment at all. But here's the other factor at play: no matter how much work you put in, there's always more to do.

Lost some weight? Now you get to maintain that or set a new health goal for yourself.

Earned the promotion? Now you get to practice some new skills.

Built a dating routine with  your spouse? Great! Now you get to make sure you're creative with that time spent together.

Like washing the dishes, the minute you hit one target another one will appear in front of you. If you don't keep on the gas pedal, don't keep elevating yourself to new levels – what we refer to as Transcendence – you're going to end up with a sink and counter full of more dirty dishes. Working on yourself is not a one and done thing – it's a constant practice of effort, achievement, effort, achievement, effort, achievement. That's what it means to thrive.

When the cycle gets frustrating

Just as I feel frustrated with the seemingly never-ending cycle of dirty dishes-clean dishes, you may reach a point where you get frustrated with constantly having to put in the work. It may seem easier to just kick back and relax and, to be honest, you'll probably give that a try to see how it feels (I know, I've done it). But here's the thing:

Chances are, that feet up-relax routine is going to uncover just how important the actual work was because it's going to reveal how much you don't like the results of not putting in that work.

When I kick back and relax from the dishes, I realize how much I don't like a messy kitchen.

When you kick back and relax from your workout routine, you realize how much you don't like your low energy.

When you kick back and relax from making sales calls, you realize how much you don't like not earning those commission checks.

When you kick back and relax from your date nights, you realize how much you don't like the bickering and not being on the same page with your spouse.

Yeah, it's gonna get frustrating and you're gonna want to say, "Screw it." But then you're gonna get up, load the dishwasher – aka go to work on you – and you're going to do it all over again.

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