I’m not a plant person. I have a few houseplants in my condo, but they’re working plants that inhabit my domain to purify the air. Only the most hearty and tolerant plants have a long-term relationship with me. 

My father loved plants. He had a deep understanding of their needs. Several times he tried to pass along his knowledge, but I just did not connect with it. I did learn that plants need to be pruned, which seemed counterintuitive to me. 

My father explained pruning involves cutting off certain branches so the plant can use its limited resources to make stronger branches. For example, a healthy rose bush will produce too many buds. This leads to overgrowth and creates a drain on the plant’s resources. Left unchecked, most of the flowers will survive but not thrive. Therefore, the gardener must prune the good buds to redirect the flow of nutrients to the best buds. (My father may have taught me more about plants than I thought.)

Just as a rose bush needs to be pruned, we too should occasionally prune our life.

Envision your life as a fruit tree. Each branch is an interest, activity, relationship, an accumulation for your future. Each branch requires energy to bear fruit. Some branches may be dying, diseased, broken beyond repair, or tangled with other branches. 

Think about it.

Habits. Relationships. Jobs. Commitments. Health. Goals. 

If you pruned the bad and sometimes the good for the sake of the best, what would happen?

We all have a finite amount of time and energy. Are you spending the right amount of your resources where they’re needed? Or are you holding onto situations and relationships that are extraneous, broken, frustrating, or lifeless?

Tough questions, I know.

Everyone has dead branches taking up space.

When you have an over-full life or often feel overwhelmed, it’s usually a sign that you have too many branches. Your energy is too diffuse to sustain everything. If you prune back non-essential things, you provide more energy to the remaining branches. As a result, overwhelm decreases, and happiness grows.

Cutting off the dead branches of our lives makes room for growth. There’s more space for opportunities and people better suited to you, and more time to pursue passions and look after yourself.

Early into the pandemic, COVID restrictions pruned branches from my life, as I’m sure it did from yours. At the time I didn’t realize some of the branches being pruned were unhealthy. For instance, I have this need I can’t shake to compare myself to others. As a result of lockdowns, social distancing, working from home, and staying within my “bubble”, there were fewer people around me to compare myself to, thus envy and negative self-talk quickly dissipated.

Then there’s COVID’s most crucial lesson: it taught me more about getting unbusy than any number of seminars could. Things I thought I “had to do”—that I was just convincing myself I enjoyed—were simply shut down.

Life pruning can be painful, which is why we rarely, if ever, deliberately do it. For the most part life prunes for us, like the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Only when someone or something is gone do we finally realize how much it meant to us, or how much energy it was taking from us to maintain, or how harmful it was to our well-being. Often, when we look back, we realize we benefited by the loss. There’s truism in the adage, everything happens for a reason. 

The stoic philosopher Seneca said it best, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” 

Over the past two years, COVID has pruned many things from our lives. The two most significant for me are relationships and mindless consumerism. There was also the pruning of jobs, resulting in millions re-evaluating their career choice and path, and losing loved ones to COVID.

Initially, you may only feel COVID’s pruning pain. Sometimes it takes time before you can see that the branches COVID cut off were unhealthy. When non-essential retailers and restaurants were ordered to close, I quickly realized how much of my money I was spending frivolously. In contrast, there were friends I missed at the beginning of the pandemic, but as time passed, I realized how much easier it was without them. If you feel better when someone’s not around, that’s a telltale sign.  

COVID gave me the gift of letting go; it gave each of us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to start over.

Letting go of golf was a huge surprise for me! Prior to the pandemic, I was a religious Saturday morning golfer. Then my go-to golf course was mandated to close, and I found my Saturdays free. I filled this newfound time with writing I’ve been putting off. However, here’s the head kicker: given my love for golf and how much it’s part of my identity, when restrictions were lifted and I could golf again, I didn’t. COVID had pruned golf from my life and gave me the gift of time to write. Now, I plan to keep writing. In 2021, my golf clubs never left my storage locker. I don’t expect my golf clubs to see the light of day in 2022.

Thank you, COVID, for pruning golf from my life and giving me time to write, which I get more enjoyment from and find to be therapeutic.    

Before something resembling normality returns, you may ask yourself, “What do I want ‘normal’ to look like?” Then start preparing for a new and better normal than your pre-pandemic life—maybe even prune a few more things from your life. The more space you create in your life, the more things that you truly need will find their way to you.