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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.
- Keep Stagnation Away: Ruts grow like weeds. They are the product of inattention and laziness. Once you become engaged in rebuilding your life, you need to keep at it and take pleasure in every step forward. Do not let your energy and effort lapse. Remember, it took a lot of inattention to get your garden into a sorry state and it will take a lot of consistent effort to turn it into the glorious garden that it can be. Stagnation is a form of death.
- Fertilize the Soil: Gardens need fertilizer to thrive. You life is the same. Add new relationships, skills and interests lavishly. Find those things which get your engine revved up and collect them into your life. The richer the mixture, the more vibrant you garden will become.
- Celebrate the First Small Steps: When you plant seeds, nothing much seems to happen for a while. But the real miracle of life is going on even when you cannot see it. Soon there will be the first green shoots poking up through the soil as life reaches for the warmth of the sun. Life is that way if it is allowed to grow under the right conditions. Your life can be the same. And when it starts to grow, take the time to celebrate.
- Have Faith that it Will Flourish: Sure, you can worry that the garden might not end up exactly the way you want it. In truth, it almost never does. Plants have a mind of their own and their own way of being. Things go far better if the gardener does not act as a dictator but as a facilitator. The same is true for your life. You should bring those things into your garden that you want to help grow; and things into your life that will make it more glorious and fulfilling. In neither case will you be able to determine exactly how it will end up, but you can help it grow and enjoy the fruits of your labor anyway.
- Have the Courage to be the Gardener: Remember that you are the gatekeeper of your own future. If there are things that are blocking you from fulfilling that role, move them out of the way. Fear or hesitancy is a path that leads back to the rut. Have faith in your own abilities and trust yourself. Every gardener faces this challenge. Every plot of land brings the same challenge. A blank slate is difficult enough, but when you have to clear the land before planting, the initial steps can be daunting. Have faith, roll up your sleeves and get at it. Never become the proverbial deer in the headlights. You can do it, so get cracking and do it.
- Keep At It: A garden does not come into full flower at the snap of your fingers. It takes lots of care and consistent attention. The same is true for moving out of a rut and changing your life. It may seem easier to slip back into the stagnation that built the rut, but you need to realize that is a form of death. You are alive precisely to the extent that you are enriching and tending your garden. Give it the life it deserves; the life you deserve.
- Now is the Time: Start now. Never wait until you feel up to it. Procrastination is one of the main reasons that you ended up in a rut. The opportunity to start rejuvenating your garden is now. Missing the opportunity is simply staying in that rut.
- Take Time to Enjoy the Garden: Remember that you are making the effort and taking the care for a reason. You have decided to make your life more fulfilling. The gardening will help that come to pass. But you need to experience the growth and celebrate it with those close to you. Nothing is more satisfying than showing off your new garden. Let people experience it and your pride of authorship.
- Think Ahead and Visualize the New Garden: The work goes better if you have a vision of how your garden will look when it is in full flower. The same is true for your life. Take the time to dream about how much better it will feel to live that new life. Every once in a while stop and look at how things are taking root; then think about how they will look when they are fully grown. If you can see the garden you are trying to grow, you will have a dream that you can work to make come true.
If you can begin to see your life as a process, much like the growing garden, you can take the first steps towards making it a reality. If you can dream the garden that you want to grow, you will always have a vision to guide your efforts. If you do both, you are on your way to having the life you deserve.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
PJ, Mentoring Client,
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,