Don’t Be Afraid to Prune Yourself

You don’t have to be an expert gardener (new quarantine gardeners, rejoice!) to understand that pruning helps plants grow back stronger than they were before. The same concept can be applied to humans, too! Kathi C. Laughman, author, speaker, business executive, and a mentor in the 4word Mentor Program, coaches us through change and how the art of personal pruning could be a helpful tool for emerging stronger after a major life transition.

Tell us a little about yourself!

As I look back on my life and work, there have been a few common themes. I believe that’s probably true for most of us. All too often, though, we don’t take the time to recognize it. I learned some time ago that the value of looking back is to understand ourselves better and how we relate to the world. In part, so we can leverage our growing experience but also so that we can grow in new ways as well.

The most common theme that has been with me throughout my life centers on learning. A young girl with her nose in a book. Yes – that was me! A young woman that was always looking for new skills and taking on challenges. A leader focused on finding new pathways to achievement. That’s learning to me.

On the surface, my life could appear to be a mixed bag that doesn’t piece together, but it does. And I’m grateful for that. Two trips to college (once as a music major and then later, after turning 50, to get a degree in organizational psychology) is probably a good example of my divergent paths.

Currently, I’m a working business executive, author, speaker, mentor, and, most importantly, Nana to three incredible grand-girls.

What makes major life transitions so tough for many of us?

There are many reasons we resist change. Even though I am its champion, I’m not immune to the struggle of change. In my book, Adjusted Sails: What does this make possible?, I shared this insight:

We all aspire to something. Even if we haven’t translated it into a specific goal, there is something we want more of, something we want less of or something we want to be different. It is the ultimate dichotomy of our humanness. We resist change, yet change is what we want more than anything.

The underlying conflict in this dichotomy seems to be that we want the change we want and nothing else. We do not want to have to put change to work; we only want change that works for us. But the best change quite often masquerades as something else, something perhaps we don’t recognize for its true potential.

When all is said and done, to move to something new (change!), we must (to some degree) experience loss. There is something, sometimes someone, that doesn’t move forward with us. When the choice isn’t ours, it can rankle. That resistance to letting go doesn’t allow us to look to the future and what is ahead.

There’s a saying I love about butterflies. I’m not sure who gets the original credit, but here is the wisdom I think brilliantly describes this resistance: “How does one become a butterfly? She asked. You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

Another reason is fear because this comfort zone we’re in right now is just that: comfortable. Not every story is a Cinderella story. Sometimes we like where we are and changing our story isn’t what we would choose. But alas, change is often what we need. It’s like reading a great book. You don’t want it to end. You want one more chapter! But alas, that story has finished, and a new one awaits.

In order to move forward in life, changes inevitably must be made. Is there a way to train our brains to look forward to a change rather than dread it?

It’s important to cherish and honor where we are—to be present. I think the better idea is not to fear change, but to make peace with the fact that it will happen. To be prepared for change is a mindset more than anything. I’m here now – but I know this isn’t where I’ll always be. So I’m going to enjoy being here until there’s somewhere else for me to go.

Another thought on this is that we have core values we serve throughout any change. Like every plant that thrives, pruning can be necessary for the best growth to shine through. So I think that’s another approach. What needs to change so that the best of yourself can remain and shine?

In his book, Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud offers this counsel:

“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”

Giving change a purpose that isn’t about loss or punishment helps us dissipate the fear around it.

Some transitions are harder than others, like when we must process the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. What advice would you have for someone in one of those tough situations?

Healing from loss always starts from the same place: gratitude; not for the loss, but for the having. Deep grief, as they say, is the price of great love. If I begin my grieving process with gratitude for having had something or someone worthy of grief, it shifts things. Instead of lamenting the loss, we celebrate ever having had it at all.

That gratitude, coupled with grace, also allows us to see that everything makes something else possible. What we face now as loss was unknown to us at some point. Something had to give way for us to have it. And now we face the same. I can celebrate a life at the same time I mourn it. The mourning has a deeper resonance because it’s about the life lived and not just death.

When the loss is of a place or position, it’s like a death. When I lost a valued professional position after 17 years, I only began pulling myself together when I could see beyond the loss to appreciate the experience of those 17 years. Within that gratitude, I found all of the gifts of that time. It enabled me to carry those forward instead of staying in a place of resentment or sense of betrayal.

How can we be a help to someone about to go through a major life change or step in when someone is in the middle of a major shift?

First, I would say that stepping in uninvited isn’t the answer. But staying silent and distant isn’t either. The most important thing is to be present and available.

I’m a voracious reader. When I know that someone is going through something or facing a challenge, and I have some idea of what it is about, my first thought is my library. If there has been a book I’ve read that helped me or someone else in a similar situation, gifting that book with a note that I’m thinking of them, believing in them, and am here for them can be an effective way to reach out.

My mantra is that there is more value in the rest of our story than we ever dreamed possible. It’s not that our best days are ahead – It’s that there are always good, even brilliant, days ahead. The sun is still shining behind those clouds, and one day it will break through again. In the meantime, we must trust that it’s still there and allow God to move the clouds in His time as He always will.

Anything else you’d like to share?

To live a completely resilient life means we take everything in and see it as a new possibility for achieving what is most important to us. The value we give the experience is directly related to how it aligns and supports our life values. Our values are what will show us the next action and then the next. They are the compass that never fails.

Those values, more than anything, is what acts as our focusing mechanism. How everything serves our core values becomes the beacon that lights our path, directs our steps, and shows us the way.

There are times when we believe we are ready for change…but we aren’t. There are times when we believe a change we are facing is solely about loss…and it’s not. There are many facets to consider when we talk about change: what it is and what it isn’t. The answers can and will change with every incident of change.

It’s been my experience that seasons are one of the best gifts of life. They keep us from stagnating. They keep us moving. They create a current of change that continuously pushes us to what is next. Those seasons, if we will allow them, keep us in design mode throughout our lives.

As I move through my current life season, this is something I am thinking about quite a bit because I believe this is where a collective conversation can bring meaningful individual growth. One thing I know to be sure of is that changes will come. The key is whether we are designing and celebrating it or something altogether different. As with everything in our lives, it is our perspective that makes the difference.

Kathi Cooper Laughman specializes in overcoming the unexpected and rescuing plans that have gone awry. With over twenty-five years of experience in business intelligence, she remains a respected voice in executive leadership circles.

In 2009, she founded The Mackenzie Circle LLC, a personal development and consultancy agency built around the need for continued relevance in a rapidly changing world. She partners with clients to develop a plan for creative resilience using a proprietary framework focused on leadership through learnership. Her clients and community realize more value from the rest of their stories than they ever dreamed possible.

Kathi is also an inspirational speaker, best-selling author, and has continued as a contributing member of the Forbes Coaches Council since 2017. Her book on the value of change Adjusted Sails: What does this make possible? was published in December of 2017.

You can learn more about her books, invite her to speak on your podcast, join her programs, or inquire about work with her directly at  or