I’m not much of a green thumb, but I do know that plants occasionally need to be repotted.

As a plant grows, its root system starts to fill up its container and inhibit growth. When this happens, it’s time to move the plant to a bigger container so the roots can spread out to allow the plant to continue to grow.

As with plants, people also need to be “repotted” from time to time. If we’re developing and improving ourselves, we’ll eventually start to fill up the space we’re in and our growth will stop. In order to start growing again, we have to change our environment in a way that gives us more room to grow.

With plants, the new pot shouldn’t be too much bigger than the old. The top of the plant won’t begin to grow until the roots start filling up the new container.

Similarly, we need to ensure that our new environment isn’t too big for us. We need to stretch, but we also need some constraints. Constraints breed creativity. As Austin Kleon says in Steal Like An Artist:

It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.

If we’re not learning and growing, we’ll never need to be repotted. Some people are OK with that. I’m not. I like routine and structure, but I hate ruts. If I’m not constantly learning new things and getting better at what I do, I’m not happy.

The first step then, is to start growing yourself. An excellent resource is John Maxwell’s The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.

Once we start feeling the constraints of our current environment, there are a number of different ways we can repot ourselves. I’m sure you can think of many more.

  • Seek more/different responsibilities in your current job
  • Find a volunteer or open-source opportunity
  • Take a new job
  • Find opportunities to be around people who are a little bit ahead of you and learn from them

There’s a saying variously attributed to James Watson and Michael Dell:

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

I’d generalize this to say that if you’re the most anything in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

If you’ve repotted yourself and are feeling completely overwhelmed or are not even close to keeping up with those around you, then you might have jumped to too large a pot. Look for ways to scale back and take smaller steps forward. Of course, a little bit of discomfort and feeling behind is normal – those are the things that will help you grow. Maybe there’s someone you trust who can help you determine if you’re really out of your league or if you’re selling yourself short.

I encourage you to start growing, notice when you need repotting, and look for opportunities to repot yourself.

Credit Where Credit is Due

I first heard the “repotting” metaphor on an episode of the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast. I’ve lost track of which episode, but it was somewhere in February or March of 2015.