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Pruning for Potential

For reasons I have not fully articulated until now, each year I look forward to the opportunity to prune my trees. As I was doing so this past Saturday, wiping the sweat from my brow, climbing up one more rung on the ladder to extend the tree cutter as far as I could to reach that branch sticking way out and in doing so, overcoming my fear of falling, wondering how much longer my arms will hold out and how sore my neck will be the next morning, I began questioning my attraction to this task that could easily be done by someone else or simply not done.

I knew I liked the feeling of accomplishment. I knew I liked the act of cutting. Beyond that, I had no idea what the attraction was. As I moved on to the next tree, I did so with the intention of being able to answer this question in greater detail.

First, I realized pruning is about cleaning up the tree's exterior in order to optimize its strength and health, and thus, its growth potential. I usually begin by cutting away the dead branches and limbs that are distorting the tree's beauty and taking up unncessary space. I also trim away the "parasitic sprouts" that are growing at the base of the tree or off of its trunk and primary limbs, sapping it of quality nutrients. And the last step in cleaning up the tree's exterior is finding and cutting away the green branches and limbs which if allowed to continue to grow would actually diminish the tree's strength by compromising the growth potential of another branch.

Second, I realized pruning is about design, or "pruning for form" as the experts refer to it. Envisioning a shape for the tree and through pruning, helping the tree reach it. I like stepping back from the tree, looking at its current shape, and identifying where and what to prune to help the tree maximize its appearance. In essense, optimizing the beauty of the tree.

I also realized that pruning was in its own way painful for the tree. Doing it right requires concern and care for the overall tree's health, for each time I cut, I am wounding the tree. I am not sure I liked this aspect of the pruning process, yet it registered with me.

Because I had been intentional in my thoughts and actions, I also quickly realized the parallels between pruning and living. Clearly an aspect of living is cutting away the dead wood....those habits that may have served us well in the past but are currently diminishing our potential and cluttering our world. It involves taking a look at our environment and identifying what we can remove in order to optimize its influence and attraction. And living fully is also about prioritizing, and focusing our actions and intentions in order to reach our vision, our goal. When we do so, we sometimes must leave behind/"cut away" things that are good, yet are diminishing our potential. For in cutting them away, we can then focus on the remaining, helping them to grow strong. And living certainly involves pain. As do the tree's, our wounds usually heal, and it is through the pain that we grow.

As I drive through our neighborhood, I see many trees whose appearances imply they have never been pruned. They are growing on their own, full, alive and green, and "doing just fine." Just as I used to live my life...doing just fine. I was avoiding the pain of pruning, and unwilling to take a critical look at some of my "dead wood". I was happy. I was satisfied. I was busy and I was successful. With time, the question became: was my life optimal? Was I optimizing my potential? Was I designing my life or was it designing me?

I am sure I do not want to become a full-timer tree cutter, and I am pretty sure I am not ready to add pruning to my list of hobbies, although that idea is intriquing. I am sure that I am not ready to relegate the pruning of my trees to anyone else nor am I ready to simply not do it. I now value the tangible reminder it provides to the somewhat intangible process of living with intention of optimizing my full potential.

Extra Ordinary

What dead or whithered branches are hanging on in your life?

What potential in you are they diminishing?

What steps can you take to cut them away?


Janet Crawford MHA, MBA Professional Certified Coach

Extra Ordinary Living is written for aspiring individuals looking for new perspectives and ideas for living life differently by finding the Extra in the Ordinary.


"I do not want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."
– Diane Ackerman

"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it."
– W. M. Lewis

Sustainable Living Tip:

Lives will be saved; healthcosts will decrease. If you find seatbelts to be confining, I ask you to think about how confining a wheelchair, bed or pine box would be.....and reconsider. Wearing a seatbelt is a responsible way to live life fully.

Please do your part to ensure our natural resources are available for generations to follow.


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