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Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Mentoring is about change. Most of the time a person comes to me after some years of rising dissatisfaction with the course their life has been taking. Ad some point, the dissatisfaction has given way to determination. Often there follows a time of trying but not succeeding. They try to ‘do it alone’. Mostly this isolation is driven by a sense of shame or self-doubt. Then comes the realization that ‘it is my life and it is slipping away before my eyes’. That’s when things get serious.


An old friend was fond of observing the “a person needs to be repotted every few years”. A bit of living has shown me how much wisdom there is in that simple statement. All of us have the same experience at times. We realize that we have settled into a rut and wonder how we came to be there. Sometimes the realization comes on quickly and at other times it seems that years have passed before we realize. But there comes a time when we begin to sense that we need to break out of patterns that have dominated our lives. It is time to leave the rut behind and strike out in a new direction. We feel the need to be repotted.

Of course, realizing and doing are two very different things. The realizing can bring on a sense of shame at what we have allowed to happen to our life. This can be a mind killer if you let it. The experience can be very humbling. The most poignant description of that experience is a poem by Antonio Machado titled ‘The Wind One Brilliant Day’.

The wind one brilliant day called to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
“In return for the odor of my jasmine, I’d like all the odor of your roses.”
“I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead.”
“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”
And the wind left. And I said to myself: “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

It does not have to be that way, but sometimes we neglect our garden. And suddenly we are reminded by a passing wind how much damage we have allowed. For most of us, that is the call to action. The question is, once you come to realize how much tending your garden needs, how you react.

The garden in Machado’s poem is your life. You are the gardener and its condition is your responsibility. The flowers are your relationships and the things you are doing with the time and energy you have been given. The first, and essential step, is to realize that it does not have to be the way it has come to be. You can better tend your garden and make it a wonderland of intoxicating odors and splashes of colors. It is really up to you and each action you take will either being it to life or condemn it to dreariness.

So, let us say that you have reached that point in your life. It is time to begin gardening in earnest. How do you go about it? There are a few important steps you can take. Most of them relate to how you see yourself and the role you can play in creating your own life. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Clear away the Dead Things: Ruts are constructed of things that limit your possibilities and cause frustration and loss of opportunities. Identify those things in your life that are keeping you in the rut. Make a commitment to remove them and clear away the ground so that new plants can be put in their place. Then set about doing just that. Getting out a rut begins with clearing away those things which have created it. You can do it; it is only a matter of making the commitment and following through.
  • Be Selective About What You Allow in Your Garden: Remember that every part of your life is the way it is, at least in part, because you have accepted its presence. If you have limiting relationships, end them. Replace them with new and more empowering and supportive ones. If you need to develop new skills, decide to develop them and to find the support you need to be successful. Gardening begins with deciding what is, and what is not, going to be allowed to grow.
  • Be Proactive in Your Gardening: Remember that gardening is all about taking care of the things you have planted. If you want to experience that directly, go out and do some actual gardening. I am serious about this. Find a plot of ground or a large flowerpot and make it into a garden. There is nothing quite as uplifting as seeing things grow under your care. It will bring you into contact with a wisdom that will help you rework you life. Gardening takes consistent attention and skill. Then turn that wisdom loose on your own life. It is really the same skill. You build your own life in much the same way as you build a garden; carefully, methodically and with care and compassion for the things growing in it.

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