I’ve been running a lot lately – today was the sixth day in a row. This isn’t super out of the ordinary, since I’ve been a runner for years, but in the last few months I realized that running – always outside – is one of the few things that helps clear the fog of the times. The flowering trees are blossoming at full force in my area right now, and they are spectacular. Their scent, as much as their beauty, fills me up as I run my loop. I don’t run far these days. My usual loop is about 2 miles long. I’m not training for anything, and I’ve never been one to turn off the mind while running. But somehow I think more clearly on things that have proven a struggle while running than while staring at my computer or out the window.
Running + all of of these flowering trees got me thinking about growth.
I have written a lot on growth over the years– the subject just keeps popping up. Our culture is pretty set on “growth mindset or death” as a way of operating. We hear from so many sources that we must always be looking for opportunities to grow, to strive, to put energy into “personal development” in positive and visible and measurable ways. But what if letting something go, even letting something completely fade, is the best way forward? Where is the time for just living (and these days, for so many, just surviving)? Why is it so hard for us (and our employers or our loved ones) to let our roots tunnel deep down into the soil, instead of focusing only on the blossoms at the end of the branches?
I have a friend who’s walking with her dad during the last part of his life – this is not a time of growth mindset for her. It’s a time of bearing witness to decline. It’s a time of slowing down, of listening, and of attending to this relationship that’s been foundational her whole life. She wants to turn inward and tend to her roots. Which is, of course, another way of ‘growing’ – but it’s not a way of growing that can be easily quantified and measured on a performance review or personal development worksheet. It is a time of gathering the wisdom that comes from being fully present to this cycle of human life. There are times during a human life when growth isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the priority.
The trees outside right now are flaunting their fuschia, light pink, and white blossoms. Those flowers have been growing and reaching and are at their peak bloom right now this minute. But in a few days, maybe a week, those petals will be on the ground, and the tree’s growth will be more subtle. It’ll be harder to measure. A few of the trees will grow tiny crab apples, and all of the trees will drop their leaves in the fall as they go into a time of dormancy. There is a time for visible growth and there is a time for gentle existing. There is also time to pause and let things go.
Nearly everyone I’ve interacted with in the last week is overwhelmed. The conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic haven’t gone away, even while many folks strive to ‘get back to normal’. There is too much work, not enough energy. There is no work and too many bills. Kids and employers and elderly parents require attention at the same time. People need more solitude and more connection at the same time. So many folks are stretched in ways that make them feel like they are failing at everything. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t seem like the best time to be striving for personal development. I’m inclined to suggest we let the flowering trees do their thing and call that enough growth for now.
If you need to press pause on ‘striving’ — even if only in your mind — push pause. If you need help, reach out to someone you trust. If you feel like crying when someone asks you how you plan to better yourself in the next three months, that’s a sign that this is not a time to set lofty goals. A depleted being doesn’t have the capacity to reach higher. This is a time to let the trees do the visible growing and nestle your roots deeper into the things that truly nourish you. Because you can’t grow without nourishment, even if you want to.
If this is not a season of growth for you, that’s okay. Cultivate the conditions you need to navigate the season you’re in. Remember that “thriving” can look different than culture wants you to believe. Take your cue from the flowering trees the week after they drop their petals: you don’t always have to be blooming.