This summer we’ve been doing a lot of gardening. It’s our first full summer in a new property. Once upon a time, there had been beautiful gardens here, but in recent years, they had become overgrown to the point that it was difficult to tell what was there. So this summer we’ve been reclaiming those gardens—weeding, pulling out old plantings, dividing some plants, putting in large perennial gardens and a cutting garden, and mulching.

Last weekend, we installed a peace pole in the largest garden and planted pink rose bushes around it. It looks beautiful! When you transfer a large plant from a pot into the ground, you first have to loosen and break up the root ball so that the roots can breathe and receive nourishment from the new environment. This also frees the roots to begin stretching out into new territory so that they can continue to grow.

As we were loosening the root balls of the roses to plant them around the peace pole, it occurred to me that what we were doing was a wonderful metaphor for the process of growth and change, whether in our individual lives, in our organizations, or even in our countries. By nature, our “roots” conform to the containers we are in. Those containers may be relationships, belief systems, habits, perceptions, or family or organizational structures. Our roots are only able to take nourishment from the limited environment of those particular containers and cannot extend beyond their walls. Sometimes a potted plant even becomes root bound, meaning that its roots have grown very tightly to the pot and the soil has been depleted. There is nothing left to provide nourishment, so the plant slowly dies. We, too, can become root bound, being so tightly packed in a too-small container that we can no longer breathe or receive nourishment.

If the containers of our lives are no longer serving us, it may be time to transplant ourselves in a new garden, or at least to a larger pot. If we want to thrive in our new environment, we have to be willing to loosen and break up our “roots” so that we can grow, receive nourishment, and stretch out into a new world. This may mean stepping beyond our comfort zone, but there comes a point where staying where we were is no longer an acceptable option.

Transformation requires willingness to be transformed. It requires participation in the process. Otherwise, we are forcing a change but not truly inviting transformation. Transformation, as well as sustainable growth and change, requires willingness to engage in life in new ways—new perspectives, new ideas, and new approaches. Too often we create change on the outside, but we forget to loosen and break up our root balls—our habitual ways of being and doing. When this happens, there may have been change on the outside, but the inside stories remain the same. There was no inner growth, no transformation. In the end, we will revert to our old patterns and find our new environment difficult and challenging.

Our rapidly changing world is constantly asking us to break up our root balls and reach out into new territory—to break out of old patterns, habits, beliefs, and practices that no longer serve us and start engaging with the world in new ways. Sometimes those “transplants” are forced upon us; at other times we have the foresight to initiate the shift ourselves.

We have choice. We can fight against the change, leaving our root ball intact, and cheat ourselves out of the potential nourishment and growth waiting for us in the new circumstance. Or we can loosen and break up our root ball, stretch out into our new circumstance, and see what new life is there just waiting to be discovered.

Where in your life or leadership is it now time to break up your root ball and discover your new garden?


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