Change and Growth: Learning to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Orchid in clay pot against wooden backgroundI am fascinated by orchids. Their colors are beautiful; when they bloom, their flowers last for weeks; and I’m intrigued by the way they take their nutrients from the air and rain, growing above the soil instead of in it.

When I moved into my first psychotherapy office, there was much light. One window faced south, the other east.

I brought in several different plants, including three orchids. In all honesty, I didn’t have a clue how to care for the orchids besides the two sentences of advice written on the tag. I had heard people say the flowers were difficult to grow. I didn’t expect they would grow. I mean, if I can kill a spider plant, I don’t have a chance with these beautiful, delicate blooms.

Surprisingly, the orchids thrived. New flowers were constantly growing, and they became huge. I did nothing more than water them on occasion. I wondered why people had a difficult time growing these things. I was quite proud.

Two years later, I moved offices. My new space had floor-to-ceiling windows that faced a courtyard. There was plenty of sunlight.

When I brought my orchids to my new office, they took a turn for the worse. Their flowers began to fall off, and their leaves turned brown.

I decided to act. I bought orchid food to help them grow. Nothing happened. I watered them more, then I watered them less. The plants didn’t change. I could not make my poor plants bloom or grow. They didn’t die, but they were barely surviving.

When I wised up and looked up orchid care, I saw that the best lighting for them comes from windows facing (you guessed it) south and east. My old office just happened to have the perfect lighting for orchids. My new office had great, big windows, but they faced west.

Although my plants were getting light, it wasn’t the right type of light. My orchids weren’t dying because of my neglect. They were dying because one small thing was wrong in their lives. When my plants thrived in my old office, it wasn’t because I was doing a great job. My plants thrived because the windows just happened to face the right direction.

It can be frustrating if you’re in a place in your life where you think everything should be great. On the outside, you may look just fine. Perhaps you have a great job, a loving partner and/or amazing kids, financial security, or any other indicator of what might be viewed as success.

But your struggles, whether related to depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, don’t magically disappear when your outside life seems perfect. You may not even know what needs to change.

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I am not a philosopher, but I think he’s encouraging us to look deeply, to examine, who we are inside and outside.

I can’t change the lighting in my office (unless I make a window where there isn’t one, which my landlord would not appreciate), but I can move my orchids to another place where they can grow and bloom to their potential.

You can’t change some of who you are. You can’t make yourself taller or shorter, you can’t change the color of your eyes, and you can’t choose your parents. What you can change are the deeper parts of yourself.

Likewise, you can’t change some of who you are. You can’t make yourself taller or shorter, you can’t change the color of your eyes, and you can’t choose your parents.

What you can change are the deeper parts of yourself. You can begin by being compassionate toward yourself and others. You can change by learning new things, by taking risks, by learning to love and to be loved.

The Serenity Prayer says it beautifully: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The orchids I cared for didn’t need a change in their water or food or anything else I tried. It was only when I read about the lighting that I understood how critical it was to have light coming in from a particular direction. This appeared so insignificant, but it was vital to the plant’s existence. I simply did not have the correct window placement to allow them to grow into their fullest.

Maybe you’re really struggling, and unsure why or even where to turn to. Perhaps you have been told to “just get over it already” or to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” or even to “just do it.” When you’re in a dark place, these sayings or admonishments are not helpful. They lead to frustration, guilt, and anger. If your depression, anxiety, or other issue was so easy to fix, you’d have done it ages ago.

When you begin to identify the things that hold you back from being healthy and whole, you have some choices to make. Toxic or hurtful relationships may need to change. Maybe you need to get a different job or find friends who bring out the best in you. In some instances, you may need to move away from family members. Take the time to recognize what you can and can’t change. Be willing to confront what you fear, and to live in a different, better way.

It is my hope you find the areas of life that bring you joy and love. My wish for you is that you move forward with the courage to continue on when things become difficult.

Most of all, my hope is that rather than simply survive, you flourish.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 6 comments
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  • calleigh

    calleigh

    April 13th, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    There have been so many times in my own life when I looked up one day and realized that I am getting by day to day but I am not really doing anything worthwhile, nor do I feel that I am really even enjoying the things that I am doing. Everything felt like such a chore, things that had to be done not because I wanted to do them but because, well, they had to be done. I am trying to learn to do more of the things that I enjoy doing, the things that actually being a smile to my face not because they are done but because I actually enjoyed the process of doing them. IT can be hard to find those things, never mind the time to do those things, but I hope to get there soon.

  • Hannah

    Hannah

    April 13th, 2016 at 4:44 PM

    Can you truly say that living without truly thriving is really living?
    Not the kind of life that I want to lead anyway

  • Tim

    Tim

    April 14th, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    I always find it funny how one small change that we make in our lives can have such unintended consequences for the other parts of our lives.

  • Alex

    Alex

    April 14th, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    I have endless curiosity about who told many of us that life would and should be easy and that we shouldn’t have to work hard for what we have? They were told and believed these lies and not that they are adults they don’t think that they should have to work hard for anything, that everything good will just be handed to them on a silver platter. When will they come to understand that life is all about what you make of it, and really you are the one who holds the ultimate responsibility for making it what you wish for it to be?

  • abiigail

    abiigail

    April 15th, 2016 at 7:59 AM

    You get to know one’s true mettle when you see how they react in situations that to meany of us seem that they would be unable to recover form. But they do, and that is what shows what kind of strength and fortitude they actually have!

  • Ron

    Ron

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:51 AM

    so scary to make big life changes, but can be well worth it in the value that it will add to your life

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