Why Emotional Growth Feels Like Death

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sad woman thinking

Have you ever read the book The Alchemist? It is easily one of my five favorite books of all time.

If you want to read it, please do. If you don’t want to read it, here’s a one-sentence synopsis of it: A young shepherd boy follows the signals of his intuition to lead him on a journey outside of his comfort zone, across the world, and into the reality of living inside of his personal power and integrity.

It is a story of transformation and following the signals that our gut sends us on a daily basis. And it is phenomenally well written. It has sold over 150 million copies and has been translated into over 50 languages. Seriously, if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that we are all constantly following or ignoring the tiny signals inside of ourselves that either leads us towards who we authentically are or away from who we are.

Photo: Author

When you listen to those signals and honor them, you become happier and more emotionally fulfilled on a deep level. You become yourself, and there is no greater gift than being ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to get us to fit within the societal norms of our culture.

When you continually ignore those signals, you grow bitter, resentful, tense, anxious, and depressed. Your soul/heart/gut/intuition whispers to you to make a change, then eventually it screams at you to listen to it.

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When it is ignored time and time again, it becomes despondent and it settles into the aforementioned ailments. Your ignored heart rolls over and says, “Fine... if you’re not going to listen to me, then I’ll just have to make you pay attention to me in other ways. How about chronic tension in your neck? How about an eye twitch? How about depression? How about panic attacks? Are you listening now?”

If ignoring our heart leads to such suffering, then why don’t we heed our heart's calling? It’s simple. Because we’re afraid to die.

Emotional Growth Feels Like Death Because It Is Death

In order for something new in us to emerge, our old self must die. Along with the death of this version of our former self, we often have to kill off old friendships, old limiting beliefs, habits that kept us stuck, and end relationships or careers. None of this is easy, but it is necessary.

I have had the honor of being able to hold the emotional space necessary for countless clients who have been in the middle of one of these "caterpillar morphing into a butterfly" moments where they actively shrug off the old shell of who they once were.

And it truly is like witnessing someone die and be reborn in the same breath. It can often be simultaneously beautiful and exquisitely painful for the person who is experiencing it.

But this is how our suffering goes: we go through it, we take the lessons we were meant to take, we forge meaning from our suffering, and we transcend on to the next challenge.

At the beginning of 2013, I had a major part of myself that I desperately needed to transcend and move through. I had felt stuck in my job and my relationship for many months, and it was taking a drastic toll on me (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually).

I had my first panic attacks at this point in my life and it was terrifying in a lot of ways, to say the least.

After much deep introspection (therapy, journaling, chats with friends, and sobbing uncontrollably), I decided that I wanted to get rid of 95 percent of everything that I owned, start my own business, and move halfway across the world.

Now, let me not mince words on this one: I. Was. Scared. Sh*tless.

From the outside, many of my friends and acquaintances saw the social media highlights of my life as I backpacked through Bali and Thailand.

In reality, I was bawling my eyes out on the floor of the airport before I left the country, I cried at least every other day for the first month that I was away, and I was constantly being hit by metaphorical waves of fear as I tried to get my business off the ground in a continent that I’d never been to before.

When I look back on the experience I can see with absolute clarity that there were so many parts of me that were dying off during that trip.

Photo: Author

I was terrified of being out on my own, away from any of my family. I was afraid of having to become truly financially independent and make it in the big scary world.

But the concurrent thought of returning home with my tail between my legs and the potential compelling future of being able to help a million people per month were my biggest motivating factors, and they helped me stick through it and become the next version of myself that I needed to be.

More than three years later, I now reach well over a million people per month and feel a deep sense of pride and joy about my accomplishments.

Now, on to a much more recent story of death and rebirth. It’s April 2016. I am currently in New York as I write these words.

Over the past few years I feel like, while I have accomplished exactly what I set out to accomplish, I have been unconsciously manufacturing my smallness.

I have been doing just enough so that I can positively impact the number of people that I originally intended to while staying just below the radar enough so that I don’t stick my neck out too far.

In The Alchemist, the protagonist is drawn towards the pyramids. He doesn’t know why, he just is. Ultimately, he has to go there to find out his soul’s lesson. Well, New York is my pyramids. And it has been for a while. I’ve just been too afraid to admit it to myself.

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Being in New York represents a shrugging off of mediocrity. It has given me the time and space to admit to myself that I want more from the work that I’m doing. That I want to positively impact people on a global level while being increasingly congruent with who I am at my core.

I’ve already started making small changes to honor myself more fully over the past few months (for example, writing more, writing on a wider variety of topics, limiting the number of coaching clients I’ll take on at any given moment) and my soul has been coming back online slowly but surely.

My first 48 hours in New York were ridiculously challenging. I have a strong network of amazing individuals through the mastermind group that I’m a part of, and every person I hung out with in my first two days was simultaneously inspiring and humbling. If you ever want your impostor syndrome to surge up, go to New York. Everyone who is able to make it work in this city is doing big things.

Being surrounded by such amazing high performers left me with one overarching takeaway: I have been playing so small.

While I often feel like a big fish in a small pond in my hometown, I was immediately humbled by the people I met in New York. Consequently, I spent much of my second day here sobbing over this realization.

What hurts the most wasn’t the fact that their businesses were bigger than mine (not at all... I was proud of them and inspired by them), it was the realization that I had been doing just enough to gain attention and approval in my hometown (the small pond) but I wasn’t performing to the level that my soul knew I was capable of.

This wasn’t a self-admonishing “I’m so lazy” style shame-spiral but more of a “My beautiful heart, I’m so sorry that I have been ignoring you, your creative impulses, and the light that you wish to shine throughout the world. I will now step up into my greatness, in your honor.”

And that’s where I’m at now. I’ve already started to plant seeds that go further into the direction of honoring myself and serving my followers like never before.

Photo: Author

I have recorded the first five episodes of a ten-part video series that I’ll hopefully be able to start putting out by the end of this month (because my intuition has been telling me to put out more free video content for a while now).

This alone has been one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my work over the past year and I’m so ridiculously excited to start showing you these value-dense interviews with amazing, world-changing people.

I have given myself full permission to start writing about all of the topics that appeal to me (from health, communication, relationships, sex, self-love, creativity, self-actualization, and a heck of a lot more). And I am peeling back the curtains further into my own personal process for my readers to know that they are not alone in their challenging experiences.

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All in all, I feel like I am becoming myself. And ultimately, I feel like that is the point of life — this constant cycle of death and rebirth, death and rebirth, death and rebirth.

Like a hermit crab that outgrows his previous shell, we become ourselves, we grow through that phase, we integrate the lessons from the previous phase, and then we step up into our next layer of greatness. And we experience emotional growth.

How To Fully Step Into Your Greatness

You listen to yourself. Whether you label it your heart, gut, intuition, or any other number of terms, it’s the voice inside of us that we all have that must be respected and acted upon.

Whether the message is “end this relationship,” “start saying no more often,” or “stop eating such terrible food” is irrelevant. You listen to the lessons, and then you take action on whatever that message is. And in doing so, you experience a mini death in allowing your previous self to fade away.

Other people can be absolutely instrumental in helping us through our processes. Some of the greatest catalyzing moments of my life have come from my best friends and intimate partners reflecting something back to me that would’ve taken months or (more likely) years for me to realize on my own.

Because we are all mirrors to each other. And none of us can see our own blind spots. That’s just the nature of this journey.

Sex and relationship coach Jordan Gray helps people remove their emotional blocks and maintain thriving intimate relationships. You can see more of his writing at

This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Consulting. Reprinted with permission from the author.