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A New Way to Think About Revamping Your Career

Whether or not you've got a green thumb, business owners can gain some serious career wisdom from pondering gardening basics, according to a former Stanford Graduate School of Business dean.
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Depending on what part of the country you’re in, spring may feel far away, but have a look out the window nonetheless and ponder your garden. If you have even the faintest green tinge to your thumb, you probably know that if you leave a plant in a pot indefinitely, it doesn’t just chug along, blossoming and content, living its placid plant life.

Nope. Leave a plant, no matter how healthy, alone for enough years and it starts to flag. Its roots outgrow the container in which it’s planted, and as they become cramped, the plant begins to sicken and will eventually die. What’s the solution? Repotting.

But you’re probably asking a more fundamental question: What on earth does this have to do with business? A surprisingly large amount, according to Ernie Arbuckle, previous dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business, whose career-path wisdom was captured in a recent Stanford Re:Think post.

When Arbuckle resigned, he told his successor it was time to "repot" and also advised his mentees, including ex-Ford CEO Donald E. Peterson and Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Peter Hero, along similar lines--once every 10 years or so, he said, it’s time to "repot yourself."

Advice for the Garden and the Office

So what exactly did Arbuckle mean by repotting? Take your experience and skills on to new and bigger challenges once your current position has evolved from comfortable to almost constrictive. It seems like a fairly simple way to avoid burnout and stagnation, but as we all know from real-world experience, leaders often stay in a situation way beyond the point at which it has ceased to offer them room to grow.

So how do you know when it’s time to repot, and how do you leverage yourself out of a situation once you’ve become so well settled? The complete post laying out Arbuckle’s philosophy offers six pieces of advice to keep in mind and is well worth a read in full if you’re starting to feel like maybe it’s time to move on to your next challenge. Tips include recognizing when to go, dealing with the stress of the transplanting process, and thriving once you find yourself in fresh soil.

"Arbuckle suggested that a decade is long enough to dig into a project and see your vision through to completion, but not so long that you experience leadership fatigue," says the post, for instance, adding "the most important thing is to periodically check in with yourself." But deciding when to move on to new challenges is only the start of a long and sometimes stressful process, it also warns. "A big repotting may mean going back to school or starting at a lower level in a different field," the post notes, so "periods of self-doubt are common, especially when coupled with comments from friends and family questioning why you’d leave something stable for the unknown."

But despite the doubters (and the stress), regular repotting may be worth the trouble. "Rather than climbing a single corporate ladder with blinders on," those who regularly repot "stay engaged with the world around them…and bring a wealth of experience to the next challenge that may allow them to design innovative solutions," concludes the post.

Are you in need of a career "repotting"?



Last updated: Feb 13, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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