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What To Do When You Outgrow a Job, Relationship, or Anything Else That Feels Suffocating

Lessons from plants on uprooting your life and replanting yourself so you can thrive

To start, as you will see, I’m not here to convince you to leave your job or relationship. The wisdom of plants extends far beyond the surface of this metaphor. But I am here to talk about the very real human experience of facing yourself when life isn’t going as well as it once was.

Full disclosure, I’m not a master gardener. I have struggled over the years to maintain simple houseplants and at one time a vegetable garden. But despite my apparent failings, these experiences forced me to learn a lot. And perhaps it is my love for a metaphor that saw me learn more lessons about myself and life than about plants. For that, I’m grateful to my plant teachers.


When a plant outgrows its pot

When a plant outgrows a pot it becomes what is known as pot-bound (or sometimes root-bound). The roots start binding together, which suffocates and holds the plant back from growth. It’s important to acknowledge that there is nothing inherently bad about this — it is natural to all growth.

So when looking at our own lives, as we’ll do in this article, it’s important to celebrate that this phenomenon of outgrowing a pot or a job or relationship is natural and even destined. The powerful lessons lay in how we notice the need for change, and then how to respond.

I will focus examples on outgrowing a job or relationship, but equally one can outgrow almost anything — a friendship circle, city, country, or religious belief. I hope the lessons here are clear to be able to see how they can apply to any area of your life.


Recognising the need for change

Master gardeners tend to their plants with daily love and care. They are attuned to the health of their plants and make small adjustments to light, water, and nutrients on a constant basis so that the plant thrives.

I’ve had the experience at different times in my life of staying in jobs or relationships past their due date. And in hindsight, this is despite there being warning signs that I was outgrowing the experience. This is perhaps because I wasn’t attending to the signs early enough.


Outgrowing a job

Many of us have had the experience of outgrowing a job role, or perhaps even the company or organisation. Signs can include:

  • You feel like you’re underusing your skills or talents.

  • You’re not following your passion.

  • There are little to no opportunities for growth.

  • There’s an unhealthy level of resistance to what you are working on

  • The company’s future is in question.

  • You question whether your ethics are being compromised.

  • You feel under-compensated.

These don’t necessarily all mean it’s time to leave the company. Sometimes there are opportunities to elevate within an organisation or move to a new role.


Outgrowing a relationship pot

The same thing can happen in relationships, although extracting oneself from a relationship can sometimes be trickier than a job. It’s as if both plants have been planted in the same pot, and not only have the roots become bound, they have also become entwined together.

Staying too long in an unhealthy relationship can make quite a task of disentangling the roots. The extraction becomes quite a process.

Outgrowing a relationship pot doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the relationship. I have hit times in relationships where a friend or partner and I need to recalibrate the relationship. Where the space or container we created for ourselves and each other no longer serves us.

It takes awareness of these changes, and the ability to speak up for feeling cramped and to talk about the space that’s needed to adjust and grow into a new phase.

How do you know what to do?

One of the keys here is to recognise where you’re at before knowing what to do or how to act. Even as someone who identifies as self-aware, it has been remarkable how often these signs have flown right by me. I’ve found myself at times to be blind to my own reality.

Plants have gardeners who look after their growth and track their needs. How do we get that need met as humans?

For me, having a neutral third-party coach to help me gain clarity and, where necessary, navigate the transition has been immensely useful. I also couple this with my own daily meditation practice as a way of tuning in to my own intuition.

Finding progressively bigger pots

Gardeners will tell you not to be too adventurous in selecting the next pot up. Incremental growth is better than drastic changes. To mix a metaphor, the throw-yourself-in-the-deep-end philosophy doesn’t work for plants, and perhaps not always for humans.

If you have a destination in mind for your career, setting interim goals to get there can help.

Likewise in relationships. I guess that’s why people move from friends to dating to engagement to marriage. Each adjustment helps prepare for the next stage. Jumping right into marriage upon meeting could create quite a shock.

Transplant shock

Plants can go into shock when they find themselves in a new pot. Plants need a stable environment, and not necessarily in the original location, upon moving. Paying close attention to the needs of the plants is important.

In our own lives, we are the best ones to attune to our needs. Being gentle with ourselves is important in the transition. Recognising that shock is a temporal condition that can be transitioned through with gentleness.

Avoid overfeeding upon replanting

This one is really interesting. When a plant is repotted, it's advised not to overfeed it for a month as it adjusts to its new environment.

This may not literally mean fasting, but I do know people who use fasting effectively as a tool for spiritual growth. The more important thing to recognise is that what fed you in the previous chapter may not be healthy for you in the new one.

It may be time to find new ways to sustain and feed you. Some time to recalibrate and tune into what you need is important in any transition.

From pot to garden to forest

Like plants, some of us thrive outside of the containment of a pot, organisation, relationship, or religion. Perhaps we are destined for a bigger universe of experience.

Gardens and forests are great examples of where plants can thrive, but the experience is totally different to that of one from a pot. In a garden and forest, plants don’t have their own sovereignty. They rely on and interact with other surrounding plants.

Whether we want it or not, we are now living in a much more highly interconnected world than we were as humans even twenty years ago. In almost every corner of our lives, including our jobs and relationships, we are affecting and being affected by forces that exist beyond our immediate world.

Recognising the interconnected nature of life is important to be able to thrive in a world like this, or to find a way to create your own boundaries (or pot) to thrive within.


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