A friend propagated a plant and divided it among nine friends at an annual gathering.
It was meant to symbolize our continued growth in our individual areas of business. We would each grow on our own, separately and from afar. Yet, we’d symbolically grow together until we met again.
The pothos plant is a good plant for beginners. Nearly indestructible, it thrives on neglect! Leave it in water until the roots grow strong enough to plant, then add it to a pot of soil, water infrequently, and watch it flourish.
As someone with a decidedly black thumb, I was skeptical. I have a long criminal history as a plant killer. I’d bring a plant home with the best of intentions, only to discard it in the woods behind my house weeks later when it was withered and brown from too little water/sunlight/care or from too much. I could never tell which.
I came to believe many of those plants committed a plant harakiri simply to get away from me.
My husband coined the old tea cart I used as a plant stand the “table of death.”
I vowed this time would be different.
I was determined to see my tiny pothos leaf thrive. I followed my friend’s instructions carefully (but not too carefully!) to allow the plant to grow on its own.
Amazingly, it did. After a year in water, it developed a healthy root and I planted it in a small pot with soil. And waited.
It grew upwards, centimeter by centimeter, but didn’t sprout any additional leaves, something I thought would happen naturally.
Here’s what I expected it would look like:
Here’s what I actually got:
The difference between Expectation and Reality is abundantly clear.
Wasn’t it supposed to grow into its surroundings? Make friends?
It grew even taller. I took it to a plant store for repotting and asked if I was doing something wrong.
Why was it growing up but not… out?
Shouldn’t it be flourishing and full of leaves?
The plant expert examined it thoughtfully.
“He seems fine,” she concluded it must be a dude. “He’s just happy hanging out by himself.”
I generally think “Just keep doing what you’re doing” is terrible advice, at least in the career space, but I vowed to stay the course.
Until I realized just how pathetic my plant is. On a monthly Zoom catch-up call, one attendee shared her thriving foliage.
I was green with envy. Turns out the grass (er, leaves) really is greener over there.
This is what my plant should look like!
Why was it not thriving? Growing? Making friends?
I tried not to take it personally. Do plants take on the personalities of their owners? Am I a loner? Unlikeable? Do flowers and fauna dislike me?
I tried not to take it as an analogy for my business which I’d intentionally put into a standstill mode for much of the year while I focused on family matters.
Maybe you can’t grow if you don’t have a vision for what you’re supposed to look like.
Maybe this plant doesn’t know what it can become. Maybe it doesn’t want to become what it can become.
I shared my sparse plant – really, a single leaf – with others on our Zoom. They got a good laugh.
“Why did you put it in such a large pot?” one asked. I had wanted to give it room to grow, I responded. I had expected it to grow! Why had it not grown?
“It’ll come,” offered an optimistic sort. “You just have to be patient.” Admittedly, I’m not very good at that.
“Maybe it’s a sign,” said another. “Right now you need to have a singular focus.”
I considered that possibility.
Instead of looking at my plant and seeing its lack as a negative, perhaps it’s a reminder.
What’s the one thing I need to focus on right now to grow my business and my life in the direction I want it to go?
I wish the plant could ask itself the same question and reveal the answer out loud. What does it need from me to become all that it might become?
Does it have the right resources? Is patience enough to make it happen? Does it need to see beside it another plant that is growing in order to have an example to follow?
You see where I’m going with this, right? The plant is an analogy to my own story. Perhaps to yours, too.
You can choose to spend time alone to assess before you grow. You can decide not to share your space with others while you reach upward. You can require certain resources and the optimal environment before you become what you’re meant to be.
You can be a single-leaf plant rather than a full-fledged hedge and be OK with that.
You’ll grow at your own pace. There’s no rushing this thing.
As for my plant (er, “leaf”), I decided to name him Antisocial Al.
Al is healthy and still growing upward, just not sprouting any new leaves. He’s pretty chill and, as experts say, he just wants to be left alone to focus on himself.
So I’ll do that while I contemplate the singular focus I need to have today. Right now it’s getting these thoughts onto paper to share them so they may be of value to others.
We can all grow together and we grow at our own pace.
Keep reaching toward the light.
Valerie Gordon is a former Emmy-winning television producer, author, and corporate trainer. She uses the power of story to motivate clients, and build future leaders, and strong and collaborative teams. Read her other articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn.