Today is April 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “when is last time you repoted yourself? Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well will most likely require you to report yourself from time to time. If you are stuck in a life or career situation one strategy to get unstuck is to repot, or transplant, yourself. Rest assured today’s strategy is extremely difficult to do and requires one to travel far away from the shore of their comfort zone. For today’s reflection, it is helpful to remember that repotting is often a necessity for most plants if they are to grow and remain vibrant. The theme of repotting or transplanting oneself has a long history in the United States and can trace its origins back to colonial times. Interestingly enough, “he who transplanted sustains” is the state motto of Connecticut.
The motto, Qui Transtulit Sustinet, has been an element of several versions of an official seal used since colonial times and before. It was first seen in the colonies in 1639 on a seal brought from England by Colonel George Fenwick. That seal served as the official seal of the Saybrook Colony. When the land of the Saybrook Colony was purchased by the Connecticut Colony in 1644, the seal was transferred with the title to the land.
American theologian Frederick Buechner wrote “To live is to experience all sorts of things. It would be a shame to experience them—these rich experiences of sadness and happiness and success and failure—and then have it just all vanish, like a dream when you wake up. Pay attention to your life.” One way to “pay attention to your life” is to “repot yourself.” American writer John Gardner pushed people to think about “repotting” themselves every 10 to 15 years, throwing themselves into challenges that extract hidden strengths. By repotting, people can recreate the sense of excitement and imagination experienced earlier in life. It also has the wonderful side benefit of slowing down time. As John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal, only by intentionally repotting can we grow into our fullness as humans:
“Most of us have potentialities that have never been developed simply because the circumstances of our lives never called them forth. Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days. We should look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our potentialities and the claims of life-not only the claims we encounter but the claims we invent. And by the potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, and aspiring.”
Repotting makes experiences more vivid as each adventure is filled with firsts: the first few weeks on a new job, the first conversations with new neighbors in a new location and so on. The newness of it all has the potential to heighten senses and deepen memories. Repotting allows an individual to navigate the uncertainty of their careers in exciting ways previously unknown. For example, in one research study that followed a cohort of 170 people over 25 years and found almost two thirds experienced changing occupational career patterns.
Not only is shift the most common career experience; it might even contribute positively to satisfaction as stable occupational career patterns were associated with lower levels of career satisfaction. Former Stanford Business School Dean Ernie Arbuckle told a reporter: “Repotting, that’s how you get new bloom … you should have a plan of accomplishment and when that is achieved you should be willing to start off again.” Arbuckle mentored Stanford students, graduates and colleagues in the repotting philosophy, including his successor as dean, Arjay Miller, who said “it’s time to repot” when he resigned. Arbuckle also mentored Donald E. Petersen, who told The New York Times when he stepped down as head of Ford Motor in 1989 that he was "struck with the philosophy of Ernie Arbuckle," who said one should change occupations every 10 years. "Well, 10 years are up," he said, “and it's time to repot myself.”
Former advertising executive Peter Hero understood the value of repotting. His advertising career proved creative and enjoyable but after a few years he asked himself ‘What difference does this make?’ According to Hero “One day, sitting in a very smoky room with five other grown men in ties, heatedly debating whether Sugar Bear would say that Sugar Crisp cereal gave him energy or made him stronger, Hero hit his limit. “I stood up and said, ‘I have to get out of here.’” He never went back to advertising. Instead, he repotted himself and reinvented his life and career.
He moved to San Francisco and managed Spice Islands, a spice company, to significant growth; completed a graduate degree in art history; ran the Oregon Arts Commission; was appointed president of the Maine College of Art; and then returned to the Bay Area as CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, where he is often credited with transforming philanthropy from old-world, end-of-life giving to an active engagement with newly wealthy tech entrepreneurs. “The real benefit of repotting is that you’re designing your life instead of having someone else or society define it for you,” Hero says.
When is the last time you repotted or transplanted your life? How often do you design your own life instead of having someone else or society define it for you?