It happens when you least expect it. You might be driving home from class, looking over at your friend or reading a book, when you suddenly realize that a small part of you has changed. You are no longer the same person you were a moment ago — you have a better understanding of yourself, the world around you or the people you care about.
These moments of clarity will happen throughout your life, and while you might not immediately realize it, they shape and mold you into your authentic self.
Personal growth is a process that comes with experience and time. Four professors, an administrator and a student share stories about their journeys to self-awareness, and in the process, offer tips and advice.
Pain can make you stronger
Sister Joan Penzenstadler, vice president for Mission and Identity, covers her face with her hands, then peaks over the top of her fingers. She recalls a quote that had a profound effect on her: “I love the thing I wish had not happened.”
It is from an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2015’s August GQ magazine. He is referring to the tragic car accident that killed his father and two brothers. The idea of acceptance and meaning in the worst situations had a profound impact on Penzenstadler.
“What doesn’t kill you, CAN make you stronger,” Penzenstadler said. “It’s a choice.”
Penzenstadler said years may pass before something viewed as negative can be seen as positive. For example, she had always felt her brother was her mother’s “favorite.” In adulthood, she realized the benefit it was to her. With less attention, she wasn’t under as much pressure from her mother as her brother was.
“I had a freedom that he never had,” Penzenstadler said.
Penzenstadler said much can be learned from the darker times of life.
“I feel like the spiritual journey I have been on is wild and uncharted territory,” Penzenstadler said.
Listen and learn (a lot) from others
Every time Dr. Jennifer Hockenberry-Dragseth teaches Search for Meaning, a class that every Mount Mary student is required to take, she learns something new and different about herself.
Hockenberry-Dragseth, philosophy professor and chair of the department, described Mount Mary’s mission and core curriculum as unique and holistic.
“In every wheel of the curriculum you will be growing and deepening your understanding of who you are and of your world,” Hockenberry-Dragseth said.
Hockenberry-Dragseth said after taking Search for Meaning, students are more open to sharing ideas and experiences related to texts in all of their classes.
“That constantly changes the way I see the text and the idea, and even the lenses that I look at the world,” Hockenberry-Dragseth said.
Take the time to ask “why” or “why not”
-Sister Joanne Poehlman
Accept the apology never given
Celsy Powers-King, philosophy club president, recalls a time of personal growth before coming to Mount Mary. One night, her best friend shared a Robert Brault quote: “Life gets easier when you accept an apology you never got.”
“What haven’t I apologized for that maybe hurt somebody that they didn’t bring to my attention?” Powers- King asked. “What does it mean to be able to move on from something that you never got closure from or an apology from?”
She continues to get a deeper understanding of what the quote means as the years pass.
“[It] changed my outlook on people and their interactions with one another,” she said. “It also made me look at myself.”
Embrace life as it comes
Dr. Jennifer Laske, professor of theology, said her view on life changed after a long stretch in college.
“I spent many years dreading getting older,” Laske said.
She said time has helped her learn from experience and deepen relationships that she wouldn’t trade for fewer wrinkles.
“Everybody has some self-esteem issues,” Laske said. “In your 20s, I think you deal with the baggage from growing up and you just have to transcend it.
She leans closer to the recorder and smiles big.
“Hear me, everybody who’s listening. It’s much better when you get older,” said Laske
Explore the unknown
Sister Joanne Poehlman, associate professor of anthropology, wonders how anyone can be bored when there is so much to learn about the world. She recalled when the School Sisters of Notre Dame offered her a graduate opportunity as a young teacher.
“I had no idea what anthropology was,” Poehlman said. “I couldn’t think of a good reason for saying no.”
She accepted the offer and has no regrets.
“One time saying ‘yes’ was a gift for the rest of my life,” Poehlman said.
Get out of your comfort zone
Dr. Joan Braune, assistant professor of philosophy, has been an activist for social justice since she was young. One year, she took an alternative spring break to Mexico, where she experienced the harsh realities of third world poverty.
“[There is] something about seeing real third world poverty and talking to people that just gives a certain reality to world poverty that you don’t experience if you only see it on television,” Braune said. “There’s a really huge world out there and people that just endure things that I can’t possibly understand.”
She raises an eyebrow and looks sideways from behind her desk.
“It should trouble you a bit, but it’s more than just ‘I feel sorry for you,” said Braune.
Embrace the moment
“There’s so much to think about and learn,” Poehlman said. “It’s a wonderful gift to wonder.”
Poehlman recalled a moment in graduate school when she was walking home after a biology lesson about evolution.
“Just paying attention to nature helped me to say, ‘But I’m part of that too, everything living,’” Poehlman said. “I had a sense of connection to everything that I had never had before.”
Take the time to ask “why” or “why not,” she advised.
“It opens a door for believing that there is something to learn,” Poehlman said.