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Finding Your Voice Through Personal Development

How Planning for Death Can Actually Help You Live.

Image: Shutterstock

Co-author: Samantha Paternoster.

Most people do not enter the world of personal development until adulthood.

As children, we’re constantly developing. It’s expected. In the best cases, it’s embraced and supported. Yet conversations about our personal development and mental health gradually become less frequent as we age. In the worst cases, they stop entirely. Faced with genuine personal problems or even crises, we’re often told ‘deal with it’ or ‘get over it’. ‘That’s life’, some might say.

Personal development is a cradle-to-grave journey that our spirits crave but our minds often fear. Who will we be? What will we do with our lives? Are we worthy? Without guidance, we begin to feel lost. The onslaught of questions that keep us from embracing our true selves can be paralyzing.

To live a life that truly matters, each of us must develop a certain self-awareness about what it is to be human. But how do we start? And where?

Emotional intelligence. Self-reflection. Mindfulness. Gratitude. These tools are key to unlocking and embracing personal development. Yet I didn’t learn them in school. In fact, I didn’t learn them until much later in life because there is no curriculum for personal development. The path is as unique as the individual taking it.

Once we start practicing emotional intelligence, mindfulness, self-reflection and gratitude, our lives change for the better. We begin to identify that which we truly want and find our place in the world.

Had I learned this earlier I would have found my voice much sooner.

Engaging Your Imagination Leads to Emotional Intelligence

As children, we spend 16+ years in school learning all sorts of lessons which are supposed to be critical for our social integration as adults. With a blank slate, personal development comes naturally to us in our early phases of life. The knowledge we gain feeds our imagination and our imagination calls for more knowledge and so begins a beautiful cycle that we lose track of as we grow older. We become left or right-brained, no longer functioning as fully integrated beings.

We forget that adults need to play too. Our imaginations must be regularly fed in order for us to continue growing and sensing and living fully. Personal development takes place over the course of a lifetime, and only seems more difficult as we age and absorb ideas of how things should be or who we need to be. It’s up to us as individuals to find our voices, decide who we are, and own it.

This is hardly an easy task.

The Importance of Self-reflection

Growing up in France, I had a very happy childhood. I was loved and lived in a safe place that kept me warm in the winter. My parents cooked delicious and nourishing meals. I looked up to my older sister and adored our rescue cat. School was free and right across the street. I had good friends, but also loved when it rained outside and I could curl up in my safe haven with my cat and a stack of books.

My imagination was free to roam wild and I was able to feed it in many different ways. For this, I am eternally grateful to my family and my upbringing.

Despite everything, I became increasingly anguished during my teen years. I could not speak without feeling misunderstood. I felt I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough. I had learned about kindness and compassion, but no one had taught me how to use it on myself without feeling guilt.

As a result, the happy young girl I was became dark and angry. I lost my ability to express myself with words in a way that made me feel connected to others. Instead I felt different, isolated, distressed, depressed. You could say it was normal teenage behavior, but this lasted much longer.

My journey to finding my voice again was a long one. It took several tries as I re-learned acceptance, forgiveness, self-love and slow awakening. I discovered that what I was really missing was a sense of deep connections, meaningful conversations and relationships that could lead to understanding.

Through self-reflection, I began to find my voice again as I developed emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

Interestingly enough, my thought process shifted as I began thinking about my own mortality and that of others I deeply love.

Using Mindfulness to Remain in the Moment

As children, we don’t generally think about the end of our lives. Why would we? To be youthful is to have blissful ignorance of the pain that comes with being human. We rarely think of death or if we do, we think it’s something that belongs to others. In our minds we have all the time in the world. We begin to believe that we can better live in the moment if we forget that we are mortal.

I experienced the contrary.

I wasn’t dying when I started warming up to the thought of my own mortality and that of my loved ones. Accepting that I was mortal pushed me to make the choice to radically change on the inside in such a way that I then became the person I had needed by my side to help me grow and find my true voice.

Mindful of the radical change I had made, I decided to be an advocate for others who had struggled as I had.

Why I am Grateful for My Hardships

As I became more self-aware, I realized that I had the ability to be a catalyst, someone to help others move gently through personal development. I formed A Gentler Parting as a part of my voice, my calling to help others.

People don’t need to be dying to come to me. My clients are often healthy, youngish, and active – people who see planning ahead as an act of love for their family, already somehow aware of their mortality. They may simply be aging or have some minor but manageable health issues, wanting to talk about downsizing and housing options without bothering their children.

They may have just received a life-threatening diagnosis, manageable and even curable, and may need a patient advocate like me who is not emotionally involved. Having a solid holistic support team in place enforces healing and well-being.

Finally, they can come to me to discuss a diagnosis that does not look good, wanting to make the most of their remaining time with loved ones or dissolve any regrets. Not everyone has a reliable or emotionally capable family that can help them. Through my services I am able to help them build a solid support team.

Most importantly, I help my clients process their own ideas and feelings. Together we extract stress and create a peaceful situation, even in times of high vulnerability. I am their witness and resource, discrete and compassionate at all times. I am not a therapist, financial advisor, home health aide, attorney or palliative care agent – but I am my clients’ connection to every resource needed to help them find their voice so they can make empowering decisions.

Embracing Death as Part of Life

The subject of death is an excellent conversation starter, as it turns out. Death Cafés are now engaging entire communities around the world. I call them the next happiness clubs. People come looking for intimacy, authenticity and gentleness. Reliable and sincere friendships blossom. Even in early end-of-life planning consultations, not knowing when or how, I am able to help others begin to understand their needs, fears and potential regrets as they learn what their own voices sound like. The joy and excitement they experienced as children begins to return to their eyes as they engage their imaginations and embrace who they truly are.

It took time for me to accept that personal development is a journey and that we must appreciate the strength we gain from every phase in life. By understanding our mortality we open the doors to personal development and growth, slowly finding our way back to living fully.

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