Sam Radford

May 3, 2021

A time to be dormant

Austin Kleon wrote a delightful response to Adam Grant’s essay on languishing that I wrote about previously.

He suggests that languishing, for him at least, is the wrong word. ‘I’m not languishing, I’m dormant,’ he writes.

Semantics? Maybe. The difference in meaning may be subtle, but I take his point:

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

For example: take the mountain laurels in our backyard. One of them died from the terrible ice storm. The others have put out leaves, but not blossoms. They’ve sensed that this year is not the year to create anything new. They’re waiting for better conditions.

I’m not languishing because I’m not trying to flourish.

That last sentence hits home. Perhaps the reason the word ‘languishing’ resonated with so many of us is because we are trying to do too much. Rather than accepting the season we’re in and embracing it, we’ve tried to find ways to keep flourishing.

We’ve been seduced into believing that we are meant to be productive all the time. We have separated our lives from the cyclical truth that seasons teach us. There are seasons to thrive and there are seasons to rest, recover, and replenish.

The languishing comes when we try to ignore the reality that we’re living through the depths of winter. We should grasp this season we’re in as a time to be dormant: alive, but not actively growing and temporarily inactive.

There’s hope and possibility in this period though. Kleon quotes Corita Kent, describing a dormant period, who says, ‘new things are happening very quietly inside of me.’ In other words, while we’re dormant, we’re also preparing ourselves for the season of growth that will follow

This chimes with what I wrote previously about acknowledging this last year as a global trauma that’s affected us all. And we need to give ourselves the time and space for recovery. 

This is a time to look after ourselves and each other. We need to embrace being dormant. With the signs of spring and, in the UK at least, an end in sight to the impact of Covid, it’ll be tempting to rush back to normalcy. That would be a mistake. To repeat Kleon’s words from above, ‘if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.’

–Sam

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