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Weed Your Life

Here’s another personal musing promoted by what I’ve come to call the “alcoholidays”.

This time of year my mind wanders to gratitude. I’m grateful for the incredibly talented colleagues who have made this year’s relentless stream of work border on enjoyable. And I’m thankful for friends who have made life’s normal burdens lighter through their kindness and support. A garden of friends and colleagues has made this terrifically challenging year much more pleasant for me. But, like all gardens, it occasionally needs weeding.

Many years ago when I was exiting physics graduate school, and sad to be leaving friends behind, one of my professors advised me to let go of relationships that had passed their time, and not to grieve for their loss. While many relationships grow more satisfying over the years, he cautioned that clinging indiscriminately to all past relationships can burden a person – like accumulating too much baggage on an around-the-world tour. This was a man whose life’s ambition was to get all of his worldly belongings into no more than 2 suitcases. I must say, now I see his point.

At the risk of seeming a bit harsh, over the years I’ve come to understand that relationships have a lifecycle as much as products do. Every once in a while I’ve found it helpful to step back and ask myself which relationships are contributing to a healthy and productive life, and which have gone a bit past the “best if enjoyed by” date on the package. And so, every once in a while, I weed my life.

You probably know at least one person, either personal or professional, whose relationship sucks your will to live. This person is the perfect candidate for weeding. Now mind you there’s a good chance that your “weed” is a delightful human being, and loved by many, but just not a great match for you, your team, or the current incarnation of your life. Don’t selfishly cling to them! Release them to other relationships that are mutually beneficial and enjoyable. The cruelest thing you can do is stay entwined with them out of a sense of obligation. Set them free to their next fabulous opportunity to connect meaningfully.

Ideal candidates for weeding:

  • Collaborators who take, but never give.
  • Team members who don’t deliver as promised.
  • Employees who aren’t a good fit for their job.
  • Colleagues who provide a steady stream of negativity.
  • Friends who are magnets for bad luck, and intent on spreading their misfortune to you.

Stop associating with these people! Don’t be mean to them, just void them like the plague. And do it before you’re driven to an uncontrollable tirade about how they annoy you. Extract them from your life in the kindest way possible. (One piece of advice based on personal experience – don’t wait until your annoyance builds to an uncontrollable frenzy that makes you seem like a vitriol-spewing lunatic.)

Unfortunately certain categories of people don’t lend themselves to weeding, for instance:

  • Your boss, and management chain in general – unless you are willing to quit.
  • Employees you can’t transfer or fire, for whatever reason.
  • Close family members.
  • Neighbors – unless you are willing to move.

In these cases isolation, or at least minimizing contact, works well. (In one case our team considered locking a highly talented and irreplaceable – but irascible – colleague in his lab with plans to slide a pizza under the door every week or so.)

While you might think that the people you weed from your life will mourn the loss of your company, there is at least a chance they’ll be relieved not to have to interact with you further. I’ve found that both parties are aware that the relationship is no longer a healthy one.

Oh, and keep in mind that YOU may be the weed in someone else’s life. I’ve been “weeded” from other people’s lives from time to time (laid off twice, for example). Initially it’s a painful personal blow, but eventually I came to understand that our lives were moving in different directions, and they noticed it first. Try not to take it personally.

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About the Author

Kimberly Wiefling is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, "Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces", and the founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, a scrappy global consulting enterprise committed to enabling her clients to achieve highly unlikely or darn near impossible results, predictably and repeatedly. Her work focuses on keynote speaking and workshops on practical and sensible business leadership and project/program management scaled for the size of the company and the project. She has worked with companies of all sizes, including one-person ventures and those in the Fortune 500, and she has helped to launch and grow more than half a dozen startups, a few of which are reaping excellent profits at this very moment. She spends about half of her time working with Japan-based companies that are committed to developing truly global leaders. Kimberly holds a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics from Wright State University and a M.S. in Physics from Case Institute. She spent 10 years at HP working in product development project management and engineering leadership. She worked with several startups, including a Xerox Parc spinoff where she was the VP of Program Management. In 2001 she launched her consulting practice and never looked back. She holds a certificate in project management through UC Santa Cruz Extension, where she is an instructor in the Project and Program Management Certificate Program. Kimberly spends about half of her time facilitating leadership, communication and execution excellence workshops for leaders of Japanese companies committed to becoming truly global. Thousands of people have viewed the hysterical video documenting the final phase of completing her book at www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDCJBu3rdvk. You can reach her via email at kimberly@wiefling.com
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2 Responses to “Weed Your Life”

  1. Love this article, Kimberly. Weeding is tough when you hate gardening or if you just can’t stand to let any life form go. But, one of the perks of getting older (and hopefully wiser) is it gets easier. In any case, all of your ‘ideal candidates for weeding’ apply to anyone, whether business colleagues or friends. Again, great post! Happy New Year!

  2. Thank you, Loyal. To me you have been a sweet and fragrant flower in life’s garden (a very masculine one, of course!). I’m so delighted that our relationship has weathered the many years. Thank you for leading our blog so ably, and with your effervescent energy! Happy New Year!

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