Personal growth is like Spanx. Kinda.

A few days ago, a friend sent me an email in which she referenced last week’s post about getting a fresh look at someone who bullied me during my childhood. She said, “I’m always amazed at how your brain works, able to go back and see your way clear of your underlying emotional stuff, that is not something I excel at.”

I read it as: “You are this was and I am that way.” I read it as character traits, immutable, defining.

For all the impressive feats of modernity, we still have a pretty lousy grasp on when it is our nature and when it is nurture, or the combined impact of our environment and our own decisions, at play. This one, though, I can tell you for sure: It has taken a ton of effort and personal growth to get to the point of seeing my own responsibility in the story of this bullying experience.

Truth be told, as recently as last year, I would have easily dropped that person from my childhood into the category of pure evil even while I doubted the existence of evil. I was willing, for my own selfish reasons, to make this exception.

Three years ago, I would have eaten or worked (not the spiritual kind but the bury-my-head-in-paperwork-until-no-light-shone-through kind) my way into a short-term avoidance of any discomfort that came up around her or anything else that plagued me, for that matter. And I would have justified the eating and working up one side and down the other.

And six years ago? Six years ago, I was a baby fledgling on this path of personal growth and discovery.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the final episode of Late Night with David Letterman. Tina Fey was one of the guests. She came out in a blue form-fitted dress with black embellishments that highlighted her hourglass shape. When Letterman complimented her on it, she said her farewell gift to him was that very dress, that she wouldn’t be dressing up for anyone else. Then, she stripped the thing right off. Not just the dress, mind you, but the illusion, too.

Underneath, she wore what looked like a deeply unfortunate take on a wrestling uniform: Spanx shorts under a body-shaping leotard with a shaping bra on top. You can watch the whole glorious thing here:

Yup, that about sums it up. She did a ton of work, uncomfortable work at that, to look that good in that blue dress – she and whoever did her hair and makeup. We must do a ton of work, often of the uncomfortable variety, in order to face the world (and ourselves) with as much compassion and authenticity and personal responsibility as possible. And, my friends, we are always capable of more.

The analogy does fall apart, though, because the body shaping undergarments and makeup and all that offer an illusion. Personal growth can be illusive, no doubt, and it is often a process of learning and losing and relearning and again misplacing profound bits of understanding. But it’s not an illusion. It’s the effort that leads to our best selves and most deeply fulfilling lives.

And, for what it’s worth, I’d take the discomfort of growth over the discomfort of spandex any day of the week.

Well, okay, nine days out of ten.