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Plant pace… moving through change

Yep, this is another post about houseplants… or rather things we can learn from plants. I’ve previously published leadership lessons from office plants and in the same spirit this post is all about houseplant inspired tips for managing a period of change or transition.

It’s inspired by my own experience of moving between jobs this month and my adventures in caring for a growing collecting of plants in my home and home office. It’s the first time in a long while that I am changing jobs, but the last few years have brought so much uncertainty with them that I feel I have quite a lot of practice of coping with the unexpected. What the last few years have also highlighted for me is how important it is for us to have strategies for periods of transition – and like many I found solace and inspiration in bringing a bit of green indoors.

So in the spirit of open practice, here are my personal reflections and practical tips. You can also listen related episode of my podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Allowing time to be less productive

One of the things I have struggled with a lot in recent months is just how much there is I don’t know or can’t control, both when it comes to changing jobs and also in relation to my plant collection. Although I am looking forward to the changes ahead, it’s still disconcerting not to know what the next day, week or month will bring, how it will feel, if what’s ahead is fun or frightening. While I have plenty of practice in dealing with uncertainty both professionally and personally, the emotional toll of not know is still there.

Hence there is a lot of need to get comfortable with accepting what I can’t control and to sit with my feelings, comfortable with being uncomfortable. Spending time with plants is one way of making that space and time to acknowledge to myself (and where appropriate to others) what I am feeling. I might go for a walk or sit quietly somewhere, or lie on the sofa cuddling my dog. The particulars don’t really matter. What does matter is that in that extra time I need I am not being as productive as usual. I am not achieving or working in the way I usually do. It’s a season of change, and just like my plants aren’t always growing new leaves or in bloom, I am adjusting and trying to enjoy this period for what it is.

Reflecting to gain perspective

Reflecting is a key part of my professional practice. I like reflecting in conversation, by writing in my journal, or just thinking about things. That said, at the moment I am finding it difficult to focus. I sit in front of a blank page and I can’t find the words to start. There seems to be too much to reflect on to know where to start, or indeed everything I can think of doesn’t seem worth mentioning.

Fortunately, I have a coach whom I get to lean on in times when my own capacity to gain perspective is low, but I also found some prompts to help me reflect. What I do is to start on a fresh page, and write down 3-5 questions that I then answer in turn. Here are some examples of the kind of questions I ask myself:

  • What was hard today?
  • How would you like tomorrow to be different?
  • What do you wish you had done or said differently?
  • Why are you feeling the way you do?
  • What has changed in the past week/month?
  • What are you looking forward to next?
  • What would you wish would go away?

I have some very small succulents at the moment, and they are so interesting to watch. Day to day they don’t really change, and sometimes I give them to much water or too little, and some of them don’t like it, but with patience, they do change and grow and you can also really see those changes over a period of time. Similarly, in my journal, I can usually only spot the patterns when I look back at what I wrote 3 months or even a few years ago. It serves to remind me that my current perspective is always limited by the here and now.

Focus on what stays constant

Even in times of transition many things remain the same and it can help to focus on these. For me, it’s easiest to find constants in my home, my daily routine and my own skills and capacity. Here are some examples:

Home: I like finding my favourite comfy spots to read and have tea. Particularly during a stressful day, I enjoy looking out of the window and observing the outside world. I also have a great fondness for plants, and I have about 10-15 houseplants in my office. Plants change at a much slower rate, as they grow and develop. I enjoy observing them closely and soak up some of their patience and calm along the way.

Daily routine: tea in the morning, walking the dogs, even answering emails can be comforting routines. I really enjoy routines and habits, even though my week is not planned out in every respect. I like having flexibility to decide when I want to exercise or do chores, but doing familiar things is still comforting.

Skills and competencies: one of the things I find most comforting about change is that I can continue to rely on my own skills and competencies even when the context in which I apply them changes. For instance, I love planning and organising things. I enjoy being creative and producing content. My work rate is extremely high, and I get a lot done. All of these aspects remain the same, and I try to lean into those strengths.

This plant, an Oxalis, arrived at my office from a local plant fair very recently. It usually grows near water, like a brook or stream, and is used to having some sun, but not too much, and to be kept moist and not dry out. So far, I am happy to say, I haven’t managed to kill it, but there’s always a high probability of failure with a new plant I am still learning about. I don’t know yet how the plant will adapt to my office, or what it might need. Context is everything, and with a change in environment there’s always a risk of failure. Like with plants, people, too, need conditions to thrive, and they provide a constant reminder of that.

There are other strategies that work for me at the moment, including making time to practice gratitude, taking breaks, planning for a holiday and re-inventing some of my weekly routines. In short, everything I do when moving at ‘plant pace’ (slow, intentional, balanced, looking after my needs) feel good and are helpful in this period of transition.

There are also some things that aren’t working for me:

Can’t rush settling in

One of the aspects about change that frustrates me is that you can’t rush it. Things take time to adjust, and other people and processes need time to catch up. Most importantly, I need time to adjust. And yet, my mind would like it to be sometime in the future when everything feels settled and the new routines have become familiar.

Feeling unsettled is hard and most of the time actually making a plan happen takes a lot longer than conceiving of it in the first place. Although I can comprehend that things simply take time to change, and that I need time to adjust and process everything I still find it frustrating at times.

Digital difficulties

The other part of transitions that I find difficult is in how many different places information needs to be updated. From social media sites to email footers, to life admin and address books, it feels like a mammoth task to even change my email address. That is one aspect of changing roles that I really don’t enjoy as it’s simply tedious to go through and unsubscribe, update or delete everything.

I am going to check back in on this in a few months, partly to report back on progress, and also to get a feel for how my perspective is shifting as the transition continues.

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