When we have a seedling, it disrupts dirt as it sprouts and rises. As it grows it will outgrow that egg carton or tiny pot where it started and we repot it.
Likewise, when we outgrow clothes, it’s easy to see and we pass them along or donate them.
Sometimes we even work in places or situations that make the path forward clear and support our growth with linear movement.
But how do we know when we’ve outgrown the more abstract?
- Relationships or cultures that no longer are healthy or serve us?
- Jobs or a career that keeps us comfortable but playing small?
- Our own limiting beliefs?
It’s not as clear as the unruly plant that needs to be moved to a bigger pot.
We need another set of criteria by which to measure.
About 18-24 months ago I was interviewing for full time work after closing my other business. I was applying and interviewing to a range of places — positions in nonprofits as well as positions within the private sector. All were communications positions.
I noticed two things: First, the nonprofits and smaller businesses wanted me to do it all — the strategy and the tactics, be in the weeds all the time, with little to no help. Also? Those positions had not evolved since I’d graduated. The conversations reflected lack of innovation as well as lack of strategy and lack of basic up-keep of materials and online presence.
Meanwhile, in the corporate sector, recruiters and hiring managers didn’t quite know what to make of me. I didn’t have this nice linear career. I was interesting enough that I peaked their curiosity. Smart enough that I got past gatekeepers and recruiters. Smart and confident enough to make it to a hiring manager’s Top 2 or 3. They loved me and then…they would default to the person who had their industry experience. Happened. Every. Time.
I was frustrated and defeated. I also had this nagging feeling that something else was at play.
I chose to look more closely at this idea of growth, particularly around personal goals and career aspirations. I thought of my 15 years in nonprofits of which 6 were running my own creative agency that served the nonprofit arts.
I realized how even with the expansiveness of founding and running a business, that for over a decade, I stayed small. Same kind of projects, clients, network, fees. Even the same limiting beliefs about what I could do or attract. Some of this was the nature of the beast and some of this was my own doing — getting in my own way.
The reality was I was bored, frustrated, stuck, feeling like my own growth had stalled out around 2012, and in a bit of an existential crisis. I wanted more, even if I couldn’t articulate what “more” was to me.
I remembered something the author Liz Gilbert said in a post:
You don’t have to know what the next thing is to know that this current thing is done.
I had no idea what was next. Or what could be next. And where it might be, what it would look like. I think I was waiting for it to appear or make itself known somehow to justify my frustration with my current situation or give me permission to do something else. That one line was the permission slip.
I had to admit that I didn’t know the next thing and not knowing was OK. Also? Like Liz said, whether I knew the next thing or not, it didn’t matter. What mattered was being honest about right now, the current thing.
Why was I so angry at those jobs I saw online? Why was I still battling small minds over the work? Fighting for fair fees and salaries? Spending obscene amounts of my energy trying to change toxic culture?
The honest answer was things had become familiar. I also knew enough after 15 years to know that it was not going to be what I needed, ever. I’d let all of it, even bad behavior, become invisible and normal.
The battles and feelings, they were the stuck points and my intuition trying to show me that I was the plant that had become unruly in a tiny pot. I needed room to grow and breathe.
I had completely outgrown my 15-year career in the nonprofit arts. That was the current thing. And it was done. It had probably been done for a long time too.
Once I was able to say those words out loud, something shifted. I felt better. I created space for bigger things. And amazing things happened.
So here’s the thing: The longer we stay in a culture or a situation, the more invisible it becomes to us. The more it feels and becomes our normal. It also means we use old outdated criteria for measuring if it fits us.
So to really know if we’ve outgrown something abstract, we first have to accept that it’s going to start from an intuitive place, a lot like an abstract painting. It’s not fully clear what it is. And that’s OK. Instead it is fluid and open to interpretation. When you look at an abstract painting, the immediate reaction is to make sense of it, to say, it looks like ___. We want to make it concrete. But stay with it longer and let your more intuitive thoughts arise. Here I offer some suggestions for exploring what you may have outgrown.
Where exactly do you feel stuck or come up against resistance? What are you trying to do or fix or attract that isn’t happening? The stuck places are often the mirrors into our souls and are often nudging us to heal first and then move forward.
These are stories we tell ourselves to protect us from feeling the fear and insecurity and discomfort. We crave story to help us make sense of the abstract or the uncertainty or irrational.
They come from all over — our childhood, narratives we grew up with, narratives of our field, cultural norms, etc. They probably served us at one point. Yet after a while, they keep us playing small. As Brene Brown asks, “What is the story I’m telling myself right now?”
How do you feel in the situation? Remember that when it comes to people and relationships, even culture, that a person isn’t who they are on the last call or meeting. They are who they have been over the course of the relationship.
That forces us to look at history and patterns and how we’ve felt over the long haul.
How do you want to feel? I questioned my feelings in relationships with colleagues and in workplace environments and considered what I wanted versus what was real. I also consider how other people show up.
Your feelings and needs are yours and likely very different from mine. Honor them.
Get clear on your values. This is important to do every 6-12 months. I had only started revisiting my values in the year before I closed my business. Low and behold, they had shifted significantly in those 6 years since I started…even in that past decade.
This is also helped me see what else had changed and where my priorities were and needed to be.
What are your values today and why? Versus last year? 3 years ago? Why? Where do you show up for yourself and where are you out of alignment?
Create a Lessons Learned and apply the formula to your projects. Pick the great ones and the ones that bombed over the last 3-5 years. Look at your favorite projects and clients and your least favorite. Why?
Are there any running themes here? What if you went back a decade? How do those projects and lessons compare? What have you changed? What has stayed the same?
The answers you seek may not come to you all at once or clear as bell. It may even be messy. It may bring up more resistance. Chances are you’ll stumble upon something from these questions that prompts you to explore a bit more. These are all good signs, even if it feels wildly uncomfortable and uncertain. That means you’re onto something, you’re growing, shedding skin like a snake.
Get curious and be patient. Maybe you have outgrown something. Maybe there is a lesson there for you. Or some healing. Or a call to be more.