Growth Doesn’t Happen in the Weeds


As I talk with women from diverse backgrounds and professions, the notion of “the weeds” seems to resonate universally.

The weeds are a highly emotional place, a vast and interconnected tangle of thoughts, memories, and experiences. Charged with  emotion and fear, the weeds are highly sensitive. Once triggered, they ricochet us through patterns and responses, leaving us wounded and depleted as we struggle to regain our sense of balance and control.

Not surprisingly, growth doesn’t happen in the weeds. And yet that’s exactly where many of us find ourselves. Sent there by tragedy, crisis, relationships, and even complacency- almost any life or work event can serve as a trigger.

Over the years, I have developed an acute sensitivity to the weeds. I experience them as creeping vines, wrapping around our ankles or torsos. I can often sense their shadow as they approach- thoughts of self-doubt or defensiveness, a tightening in the throat or stomach. And in others, they manifest as a darkness, draining both energy and light.

From a cognitive standpoint, the weeds represent the lowest levels of our thinking. Laden with details and context, they keep us trapped in our emotions with little room for reflection or insight. But if we are able to leave the weeds behind, we can travel higher in our systems, entering a universe of concepts and ideas. Unlike the closely knitted tangles of emotions, these constructs are expansive and dynamic, able to be nested, stacked, and rearranged as we build and reconfigure our understanding of ourselves, our work and our worlds.

The cognitive differences between the weeds and higher thinking cannot be exaggerated. It’s like comparing the most innovative playground to the rings of Hell. But escaping from the weeds is neither easy nor intuitive. By definition, it involves getting away from danger but also finding something  safer. In simple terms, breaking free from the emotionality of the weeds is only part of the solution. We must at the same time embrace the benefits of higher thinking, pulling ourselves upward through textured goals, commitments, and thought patterns. Imagine yourself on a climbing wall, searching for constructs to grab onto as you lift your feet higher.

The good news is that it’s all within our reach, and interest in this new frontier seems to be building. With every month, I’m being asked to speak about these and strategies with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. From companies wanting to provide their associates with tools to reach and dream higher, to women looking for opportunities for advancement, and organizations focused on community impacts, we seem to be collectively yearning for growth and expansion. Perhaps this is an area that is ready to be developed and cultivated. Perhaps the time has finally come for cognitive redesign.

As someone who has studied and thought about these ideas for over thirty years, I am excited and eager to share my strategies and insights. But I am also mindful of the paradigm shift that this approach represents. I’m curious to hear my readers’ thoughts and feedback. Does this notion of the weeds resonate with you? And are we really ready to embrace a more generative approach to growth and advancement?

Welcome to My Workshop

My 6-year old has a workshop in her head. She told me about it the other day. I was so impressed and excited for her that I decided to create one of my own.

Natalie’s workshop has lots of different rooms. Her favorite is a screening room that can play any movie or TV show that she’s ever seen. When she’s bored or not allowed to watch television she lies in her bed or pretends to read, and then watches her favorite shows, either from the beginning or just the good parts.

Natalie also has an animal room. Since she loves all animals, this room is very crowded. In it she cares for and plays with puppies, bunnies, and all the cutest babies, but she also sometimes tames the wild animals that nobody likes or wants.

Natalie has other rooms in her workshop but they’re not as interesting. She prefers to spend her time with movies and animals, but perhaps someday that will change. Since her workshop is a mansion there are endless rooms to visit, and she can organize them as she likes or add new rooms as she goes.

Hearing Natalie talk about her workshop is a gift in itself. She speaks with such pride and a sense of knowing- both in terms of the reality of her workshop but also the knowledge that I get it, and her, and that I will always share in her excitement and be worthy of her secrets.

I certainly do get the wonderment that comes with appreciating one’s cognitive capacities and the unlimited possibilities they afford. Although I can’t remember when I first came to my own realization, I continue to be amazed almost on a daily basis.

In some ways, writing my blog has become my own mental workshop. I am able to notice patterns or recognize challenges and then delve into drawers of past observations or theories, weaving together ideas and constructs, and sharing as posts. Doing so allows me to clear my mind and be more present, enjoying my experiences and those with whom I interact, at home, at work, or out in the world.

Like my daughter, I am grateful that I can share my workshop with others who are worthy of my trust. I suppose all workshops are inherently intimate spaces, since our minds focus on what is most precious and dear. It is perhaps through our workshops that we play out our dreams and provide our souls with what they crave.

My Natalie knows so much for a six year old. She seems to know that life is magical and that she has all that she needs to nurture her gifts and dreams. She knows that while she can take comfort in her workshop she can play out her dreams within real life, when she is ready, at her own pace.

I hope that I will continue to be invited to Natalie’s workshop. And I hope that you will continue to visit mine.