Reframing Being Pruned as an Opportunity for New Growth

Razor sharp pruning shears make a quick, crisp, whisking sound, as they surgically snip a grapevine.  A career pruning, makes a sound like, “I’m going to need your keycard.” Both are quick, clean cuts, that leave the newly severed, no longer attached to the plant or to the organizational grapevine. The question is, will it whither and die, will it be grafted into a new vine, or will it find a way to root and grow its own vine? Is pruning the end, or is it necessary to bring about new growth?

Maybe those of us, who have experienced professional career pruning, can gain some meaningful insights from a vinedresser.  

When one researches vinedressing,  s/he learns the secret to a bountiful grape harvest, is knowing that grapes are produced on one-year-old vine shoots, often called wood or cane.  Older vine wood, tends to mainly produce grape leaves and non-flowering shoots. The flowers turn into grapes. Each winter a vinedresser must prune off nearly 80% of a vine’s growth. Pruning maximizes the amount of year-old wood on a vine.  Vines that are not pruned grow masses of older wood with many leaves and little fruit. Overly woody and leafy vines suffer from poor air circulation, resulting in deadly fungal infections.

Corporate pruning is often a necessity to spur new organizational growth, or to make the company more financially fruitful.   Old wood jobs are pruned by senior executives, so new jobs can be created, or so that profits can be yielded.  For those of us who have been of the short end of the vine, the snip can feel like the end, when really it maybe the beginning of new growth.

If you’ve ever experienced being pruned from your role, you know it can be a confusing and painful time.  One day the predicable stability of your career path, meets HR’s pruning shear’s snip.  Suddenly you are cut off and cast out.  It’s easy to feel discarded and disciplined.  You ask, What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? You may get stuck for a while asking, Why me?  

When a 12 minute conversation ended my 17 year, upward career path, in a firm I was hoping to remain with for the rest of my career, I was bewildered for a long time.  It would have been easy to become bitter. It was tempting to feel victimized.  Fear and uncertainty produce Oscar worthy nightmares.  Like a sailboat with a cracked mast and shredded sails, the corporate castaway, drifts without a clear course or destination.  They become one of many job seekers who are lost in a sea of emotions.

What I didn’t know then, but I came to understand and appreciate a year later, was I had not been punished.  I had been pruned.  This realization of being pruned, dramatically changed my outlook for the better. It gave me strength and hope to get growing again.

Here’s what I learned while I was stuck in my career doldrums:

1. Life goes on.  You get up. You create a routine. You choose to make your routines healthy, like exercise, religious study, volunteer work, hobbies, or unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol, endless binging on TV and snack food.  

2. Some former co-workers, who you were close to, will stay with you, in a new form of relationship.  Others, will not and you will lose touch with them.  You will meet new people.

3. Losing your title and role, can allow you to find out you always have the only title that no one can take away… called “Me.”  You are more than what you do.  What you do is not who you are. You are the only person on this planet exactly like you.

4. You will choose to put your hope and faith into something.  Choose wisely.

5. Life will never be the same as before you were pruned.  You get to decide if it will be better or worse.

6.  It will take time for a new “what’s next” normal to unfold. What you do while you wait is critical.

While on a 24 hour spiritual men’s retreat with 60 guys from my church, we took a deep dive into the 15th Chapter of Gospel of John.  Jesus and his disciples have just shared the Passover dinner together. He continues to teach them as he knows he only has a short time left with them.  Chapter 15 is where Jesus teaches about the vine and the branches.  He says that God, the Father, is the gardener and He prunes unfruitful branches.  This makes sense to me.  God is justified in cutting off what he judges to be useless branches.  But the second half of verse 2, says that He prunes the branches that do bear fruit, so they will produce even more.

This insight was my personal turning point in accepting what had happened.  I was not being judged and punished.  I had been lovingly pruned, so I could grow again.  What seemed like the end of my professional career, was a chance at age 51, to grow into what God had planned for me. All I had to do was submit to His gardening.  He wasn’t done with me yet.

During that retreat, I realized I had been so driven to find a way forward, that I had not asked God to heal the painful wound where I had been pruned.  As soon as I did, He gladly did. Now I was prepared for new growth and to produce fresh fruit.

There are three options for a severed vine:

1. Be grafted onto the trunk of another vine and start producing as a part of that root system.  This means finding a new job with a new company and fitting in.  For some, this is what the Gardner has planned, and He will greatly bless those laborers.

2. Propagate a new root system so the vine can prosper on its own.  Entrepreneurs are often pruned propagations.  This was what I felt was what the Gardener had planned for me.  It took a year and a half to root my sapling company, AD Growth Advisers Inc..  It was a long hard winter, but by summer, I bore my first fruit.  The work I produced was the best and most rewarding of my professional career. It would have never have happened unless I had been pruned. Pruning is an opportunity to get rid of one’s professional deadwood and unfruitful habits and spur some new growth. 

3. Dry up and die.  I hope you don’t choose this option.

When you find yourself severed, I hope you will trust in the Gardner, and recognize His intention to spur new growth. He will make you more fruitful through painful pruning. Growth takes time and cannot be rushed. Grapes grow on the new growth of year old wood.  

Each year the vinedresser must prune up to 80 percent of a productive vine to ensure productive growth and fruit next season.  Perhaps we should expect to be pruned more often and more deeply.  I don’t know if we will ever welcome pruning and its uncertainty, but if you put your faith in the Master Gardener, you may learn to accept it as normal and appreciate its necessity.

Growth is the surest sign of life.  Here’s to your new fruit!

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