When she was in kindergarten, one of our daughters brought a Styrofoam cup full of dirt home from school. She was growing a bean plant. The next morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, the seed that had been planted in the cup the day before was sitting bare on the kitchen counter, and my daughter was a puddle of tears. “It’s not working!”
Have you ever “dug up a seed” too soon to see if it’s “working?”
This year, I’ve had to discern whether some new possibilities are dead or just dormant. The two can look the same. It’s not always easy to tell if you are stuck, or just letting an idea rest and eventually germinate. You don’t want to declare something “dead” prematurely — and you don’t want to “dig up the seed” to find out!
Dormancy is a state of temporary inactivity or rest. In nature, it’s a survival strategy. Trees shed their leaves and appear lifeless in winter, only to burst into bloom come spring. This period of dormancy isn’t death; it’s a vital phase of rejuvenation, conservation, and preparation for what’s next.
Certain aspirations or projects may need to go dormant. This pause isn’t a full stop — it’s a comma. It’s a time for gathering strength, gaining perspective, and preparing for a resurgence. And maybe they aren’t even dormant — maybe they are germinating, growing under the surface, just about to burst into visible vitality.
So, how do we discern between what has ended and what is merely dormant or germinating? Here are a few guiding principles I’ve found useful:
- Tap into your intuition. If something is dormant or germinating, you may get signals that the time isn’t right. It has a sense of pause, not finality. There’s an underlying hope or a whisper that says, “Not now, but maybe soon.”
- Notice your energy. Dormant things have a latent promise. If the situation or project still brings you energy despite not appearing very dynamic, it likely still has room to evolve or transform. It might just be in a resting phase or experiencing hidden growth.
- Try an ending on for size. Use your imagination to play out the possibility that this idea is in fact dead. Do you feel more relief than grief?
- Use the waiting time for rest and recovery. Embrace this opportunity to catch your breath and refuel.
- Make a decision that’s in front of you: Indecision can be paralyzing. Is there something you can decide that will build a sense of momentum?
- Tend your seed. What are the equivalents of sunshine, water and fertilizer that could help bring your idea to life? You aren’t responsible for making your seed grow, but you can improve the conditions for its growth.
- Try a low stakes experiment: Is there something you could test to give you a sense of whether an idea has some life to it? Could you run a small pilot of something as you wait?
- Do something adjacent. Action is motivating, and if your idea or project doesn’t need your direct attention right now, do something related to it that will set you up for success when it’s ready to move ahead.
Understanding the difference between dead and dormant can profoundly change how we approach our setbacks or delays. Not all pauses are endings. Trust your knowing — and don’t dig up your seed!