Pillars of Personal Growth: An Interview by Carl A. Richie

Carl Richie: Good morning, Truman. I have been looking forward to you sharing your insights about the importance of self-reflection being critical to personal growth. From personal experience, I have long believed that without, you are never genuinely striving to be the best version of yourself. Before we begin, tell us about yourself.

Truman Marvel: Good morning, Carl. I’ve also been looking forward to discussing this topic with you. Well, I am married to a wonderful woman, Nicole, and we have three young children. I also have three adult children from my previous marriage. I have been an educator for close to twenty-five years. I have taught middle school, high school, and college. I am also an essayist and soon-to-be novelist. I believe in Jesus Christ, and I will tell everyone and anyone that all that I have learned about the power and critical importance of self-reflection has been from being in a relationship with Christ over the past twenty-nine years.

Richie: So, you were not one for self-reflection before your relationship with Christ?

Marvel: Every person in our world has the natural capacity to be self-reflective, some more than others, and so like most people, in my youth and young adult life, I had moments, usually after a personal crisis, when I would think about why I ended up in the situation I did. But those moments were not broad and deep, so significant and permanent change did not result from those moments.

Richie: So what was the long-term outcome for allowing those moments to pass through you instead of taking root in you?

Marvel: Well, let me give you an example that set me on a different path in life. I am a journaler. I have been keeping a journal for almost thirty years – since the birth of my first son, and I strongly recommend to your readers to take up this tremendous task. Psychologists have long shown that journaling can be cathartic for one’s mind and emotions. But journaling also serves another vital purpose – it creates a record of who you are and who you have been, and you can never dispute what you have written about yourself. One day many years ago, I opened my journal to record circumstances in my life that deeply discouraged me, mostly because a particular character flaw I had was the cause of that problem. However, when I was finished, I looked at how filled the pages were, and in a prideful sort of way, I thought, “One-day people will read your life experiences recorded in this journal and gain quite a bit of wisdom.” As I was flipping through the pages, I stopped at an entry I made five years before, and I was amazed and saddened at the same time. In that five-year-old entry, I had described the same circumstance I was currently experiencing. You see, in the five years that had passed since that entry, I had not changed; I simply complained. That old journal entry powered a moment of honest introspection, and I had to face the truth: In this particular area of my life, I wasted five years of opportunities to grow and become stronger, wiser, and gain ground in key areas of my life.

Richie: You failed to reflect?

Marvel: Yes, and because of that, I failed to be the best leader I could be of my own life.

Richie: How does one successfully self-reflect? You said we all could do so, but we have all met people who demonstrate a lack of that ability. For example, they are never wrong, or as you shared, they are the same yesterday, today, and ten years from now.

Marvel: Well, the first thing we must always remember is that introspection is not only for recognizing our flaws, but it is also for identifying our strengths and, therefore, our value. If a person never took the time to take an inventory of their capabilities and unique gifts, then they would become a victim of someone else’s low evaluation of their worth.

Richie: Yes, very true, but if you are strong in a particular area of your life, how does self-reflection still help you grow?

Marvel: Good question. Honest self-reflection makes sure that you balance your strong sense of personal value to the world around you with humility, which is an understanding that while you have something valuable to offer the world, you do not allow yourself to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. That results in arrogance, and arrogance leads to the belief that you do not need to change, and that leads to stagnation in your life-long journey of personal growth…and that leads to the Dark Side.

Richie: Ah…a Star Wars fan?

Marvel: Definitely. And for those who follow that science-fiction saga and are familiar with the origin of Darth Vader, we can see another critical component of self-reflection in the development of that character.

Richie: Wow. Please explain how one of the most iconic and notorious fictional villains of the twentieth century can teach us about self-reflection.

Marvel: For those who don’t know, in the Star Wars universe, a Jedi Knight is like an honorable, brave, and righteous medieval knight of King Arthur’s court. Well, there is a scene in one of the prequel films that is a study in self-reflection. In the background, we see young Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, who later becomes Darth Vader, share a moment of introspection with his wife. He said to her, “I feel lost…something’s happening. I am not the Jedi I should be. I want more, and I know I shouldn’t.” Here is a strong example of someone who has looked within himself and honestly recognizes a brewing inner conflict and a flaw in his character…but he still ends up becoming Darth Vader. How does that happen?

Richie: Tell us.

Marvel: Because he failed to bravely, forcefully face what he discovered about himself and formulate a plan on how he would change for the better. It’s a problem all of us have experienced, and for some, it takes them down a road in life that is very, very difficult to return from. You see, self-reflection is primarily instigated by unpleasant and stressful circumstances within our lives. Still, it’s what we do after we have that moment of self-understanding – that epiphany – that makes the difference and grows us up a little more.

Richie: But not all of us have a “Darth Vader” experience. Is the lack of self-reflection that devastating to our lives?

Marvel: It can be in some regions of our lives. However, the consequences of not engaging in introspection are not all felt at once. When we accumulate a lifetime of an unwillingness to look inward, face certain truths about ourselves, and do something about those areas that we know need changing, we miss unique opportunities throughout our lifetime, such as potentially fulfilling relationships, career advancement, financial security, valuable insights from wise people, spiritual growth, and so on.

Richie: So introspection and implementation go hand-in-hand?

Marvel: Absolutely. They are two pillars of authentic, lasting personal growth.

Richie: Would you agree that these two pillars should be a required, credit-bearing high school course in public and private schools across America?

Marvel: It absolutely should be, but since it isn’t, it’s left to the parents and grandparents to impart that information to the world’s children. However, while every adult has the capacity for introspection, many are unskilled in modeling it for our younger generations, who look to them for guidance. So we have boys and girls who become men and women who do not actively practice the life-skill of self-reflection, potentially perpetuating behaviors or a mindset that keeps them and, therefore, their family from advancing with each new generation.

Richie: So you are saying that self-reflection is not limited to the individual, but even an entire family can look inward and examine their collective beliefs, patterns of behavior, and family practices, for example, and evaluate whether or not those things advance the family or hold it back?

Marvel: Absolutely! If an entire family engaged in collective self-reflection, working together to closely examine why it thinks the way it feels, why it behaves the way it does, and figure out what patterns of thinking and behaving benefit the family and what doesn’t, and then strategize on how to improve the family’s physical, emotional, mental, financial, educational, and social well-being, that family will literally and positively change its destiny. All of its future generations will benefit from those special efforts of introspection and implementation.

Richie: Your insight on the connection between self-reflection and a person’s destiny is thought-provoking, to say the least. I’d like to continue this conversation next week and discuss the processes of personal growth.

Marvel: Most definitely. I look forward to it.