Don’t Be a Bonsai

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin

A single acorn can grow into a tiny, twisted bonsai or a towering, mighty oak tree. Both organisms share the same DNA and potential. The only difference is that the bonsai’s growth has been diminished through root constraint and branch pruning.

Much in same way a tree can be constrained into a bonsai, certain leaders, roles and environments can stunt our growth if we allow ourselves to have long-term exposure to them.

The world of work can encourage us to squeeze ourselves into small spaces where it thinks we best fit. Over time we can begin to believe we should fit, even when deep down, we feel like a chunky square peg being jammed into a small round hole.

Conforming happens little by little, driven by our desire to fit in or by internalising other people’s incomplete and inaccurate assessment of our potential. We mould ourselves to the expectations of others or to perceived ‘ideals’ that we buy into. We conform in an attempt to belong.

I have worked with too many people that have spent so long contorting themselves to fit into small spaces that they have lost faith in their potential. Perhaps one day they wake up and realise that they have become bonsi-sized versions of themselves but have no idea how they got there.

The forces that diminish us are subtle but often insidious.

The small spaces we squeeze ourselves into can take many forms. Perhaps we crunch ourselves down to squeeze into the footsteps of our parents. Maybe we override our individual sense of style to comply with the dress code deemed to be ‘business appropriate’ by the powers-that-be in our organisation. Perhaps we become conditioned to prioritise the list of values espoused by our organisation over our own core values. Perhaps we feel forced to limit the ways we serve to the contents of a narrow two-page job description. Perhaps we dare not expand our sphere of influence to a level that exceeds the shadow of our insecure manager. Perhaps the ‘us and them’ office politics means that we suppress our desire to connect and collaborate with others. Or perhaps we crunch down our yearning to do big, meaningful work in the world to conform with society’s expectations for parents to maintain lives that tightly orbit the lives of their children.

Unlike an acorn, we can all exercise some degree of freedom about how and where we choose to grow. With this awareness and freedom, we can assertively claim the space and the nourishment we need for our roots to spread, our branches to extend and our leaves to unfurl.

Whist a bonsai may be considered to be beautiful, it is unlikely to be described as bountiful.

It is my deep belief that we all contain the potential to be bountiful, vibrant expressions of our shared essential nature as compassionate, connected, courageous, calm, clear, creative, curious, confident and playful beings.

We can all take proactive steps towards living into a fuller expression of ourselves.

We can all have wide-awake awareness of the nature of the environments we choose to ‘plant’ ourselves in.

As we find the courage (and the support) to begin to unfurl into our fullness, we feel inspired and uplifted. We also give others permission to do the same.

As we feel inspired, we thrive and grow into the inspiring leaders we always had the potential to become.

Self-fidelity Practice to Play With This Week

The self-fidelity practice I invite you to play with this week is inspired by Ken Wilbur’s Integral Model.


Answer the eight questions shown in the second image below (two questions for each quadrant of Ken’s model).


Once you have answered all eight questions, read back through all the insights that has emerged, take a deep breath and ask yourself two final questions:

  • What one small, safe step can I take today to REDUCE the impact of one of the factors that is hindering my growth?
  • What one small, safe step can I take today to AMPLIFY the impact of one of the factors that is supporting my growth?

I hope that you find this exercise to be both enlightening and activating.

This is a self-fidelity practice that you can use over and over again to illuminate your next best steps towards becoming the most vibrant expression of the being only you can be.

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