Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Gardening as a Metaphor for Life

For those who were not aware, the only hobby I could strictly be said to have is gardening. And, I’ve been known to wax rhapsodic about it.

In my view, gardening is a metaphor for life. It’s less a hobby than a practice and an art.

You’re not in Control

In gardening, the first thing you learn is that you’re not in charge. Mother Nature is in charge. She decides on the weather, on what plants thrive or not, whether you get pests from slugs and cicadas to squirrels and deer. You can know everything there is to know about gardening, but you’ll never be able to make things work out how you want them to— and if they do, you can’t take credit for it.

In life, where so many things can be tweaked and perfected and individualized, it’s easy to forget that you don’t have control over the big stuff. You only have the illusion of control.

Seriously. The universe does not care what you want.

I want a pagoda, a flagstone path to the mailbox, and a water garden. I want whatever rodent that keeps filching my strawberries to stop it. I want the grass to stop growing so fast. I want the yard to not turn into a spongey mess every time it rains. I want the wood in the deck to stop warping in the humidity. I want the pool to stop attracting so many bugs to die in it. I want the weed trees I keep spraying to die already. I want lots of things. And yet things keep happening that are not what I want.

Things don’t happen to you. They just happen.

This is a great lesson in the impersonality of life. Things don’t happen to you. They just happen. YOU are the one that decides to take them personally. And although you don’t control much, you can at least control that. Same thing in business. The economy changes, the industry changes, Google makes you pay for your email, whatever– these things happen. It’s not a master plan to crush your spirit.

Gardening is the art and practice of the long view— and paying attention to details.

I have 1.7 acres of blank canvas. What do I want to create? Well, I want it all to be gladed woodland. Better get started.

But before I even begin, I discover that almost a third of the yard is a septic field– no trees allowed there. Another almost quarter can’t be treed because it will block the satellite signal. I also have to avoid the gas, water, and power lines.

Then you’ve got to look at the lay of the land, the soil, the ecosystems you hope to create. You have to start with the end in mind and work backwards to figure out your starting point. You can’t just plant things willy-nilly. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll wind up tearing out half of what you’ve done— and you might have to do a few things you plan to tear out just so the yard isn’t ugly and unusable as your work starts to develop.

You have to be prepared to work a long time without seeing much progress.

And, you have to be prepared to work a long time without seeing much progress. Such a long time that the finished version that you’re aiming for floats like a mirage over the existing structure, simultaneously taunting you and spurring you onward.

But you have to delight in the work, and the idea of the work. You’ll want to lounge with supreme delectation as you imagine planting the hill behind the house with lily of the valley and white daffodils so you’ll see them gleam in the shade of the towering oaks from the first sign of spring. You have to capitalize on the small, secret pleasures like watching a baby rabbit enthusiastically tear at the clover with its teeth, notice that your care at weeding in April means there’s virtually nothing to pull in July, and take satisfaction that every year brings more and better diversity to your yard; bats, bugs, birds and plants, how the soil gets healthier and the perennials more robust.

Without keeping both the long view and the immediate rewards in mind, its hard to do anything; get fitter, build a business, develop your craft. Gardening helps me practice that, and every day I look out my window and remember to be delighted even as I work at a huge, long project.

Gardening is my hobby, but it’s also my personal practice. It’s the “wax on, wax off” method for life, and for business.

What do your hobbies help you be mindful of?


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