Go directly to the garden. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
I’m one of those people who never knew what they wanted to do after they finished school. I was the career guidance teacher’s number one nightmare, and my parents despaired that I was never going make up my mind.
As a result, I changed my mind about what university course I was going to do basically on the strength of a throwaway line from a friend, dropped out of the course after one year and four weeks, and did a degree I would never in a million years have seen myself doing two years previously.
Then, having absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, I somehow landed a job in the public service in Canberra. While the prospect of moving to Canberra was less than appealing, the prospect of earning more money than I’d ever had in my life was somewhat attractive.
So I took the plunge, packed up and moved, with the intention of staying for a couple of years and then coming home and doing what I really wanted to do, whatever that was.
History will show that the ‘couple of years’ lasted a bit longer than that. It will also show that I have no more idea about what I want to do now than I did then. But all the time, I was convinced that all I had to do was find what I was passionate about, and then I’d find a way to make that a part of my working life, then I’d be doing work that I loved so much that it didn’t even seem like work*.
Only what was my passion?
I dabbled in many things. I wanted to like things. I bought stuff. I started reading books. I did career inventories. I shelved stuff. I bought more stuff. I stuffed books onto bookshelves. I assessed my Myers Briggs Type for clues. I tried to remember what I loved doing as a child. I tried to imagine my perfect job. I made plans. I ditched plans.
None of it worked. There was too much out there. How could I possibly find the one thing or the couple of things that I was truly passionate about when there was so much stuff to do? Was my gut instinct telling me what I really wanted to do, or what I thought I wanted to do, or even what I thought I wanted to want to do?
How was I ever going to know what I REALLY wanted to do?
What am I passionate about? Am I passionate about anything?
I remember reading some time about in one of the zillions of “Find out what you really want to do and go out and do it” books that I started reading (and mostly never finished) that a good clue is to find the activity that puts you into what I think they called “the zone” – that is the place where you so immerse yourself in what you’re doing that you lose track of time, forget to eat, forget to go to bed . . . and no, I don’t think they were thinking of chatting online all night.
It occurred to me today – as it has at other times – that the only time I really get that completely lost is when I’m in the garden. When these authors described this zone, they were describing what happens to me when I’m gardening.
When I’m gardening I’m in my own world. I tell myself stories, I dream, I replay incidents that didn’t work out so that I get the result I want, I have conversations with people in my head. The real world ceases to exist.
Back in the days BJ (Before Juniordwarf), I’d think nothing of spending the whole weekend in the garden. If I didn’t have to eat I wouldn’t have.
But even so, it’s not something that I jump out of the door to do first thing on a Saturday morning. It is a huge effort for me to get to the point where I’m actually working in the garden and, from there, to that state where I get lost in it. It’s very easy to find something else to do, see something that has to be done, get distracted by something, and then it’s too close to lunch time or we have to go up the street, or we have to go out, or Juniordwarf wants me to do something with him, and then it’s too hot, or it’s raining or I don’t have the seeds I need or . . . .
So despite the fact that I love it, I find it incredibly hard to get motivated to do it.
It seems like a complete paradox. If I love it so much and it gets me into this other world, why then am I reluctant to get out there and do it?
The other factor that comes into the equation now, that I didn’t have before, is Juniordwarf! I want him to get more involved with the garden, but I don’t want to force him, so I just let him do pretty much what he wants outside, show him things that might interest him, let him plant seeds, do some digging and whatever else he is interested in, but most of the time he’s more interested in hanging out with Sleepydog. And the good thing about that it is it keeps her out of my way – she’s a very ‘in your face’ dog.
But getting into the “zone” is harder when I have to spend time with Juniordwarf. Not that I don’t enjoy doing stuff with him in the garden – I do, I love it – but it’s not the same.
And then if he wants to go back inside and do something else, my well-honed sense of Mother Guilt kicks in, and I feel guilty that I’m outside doing my own thing and leaving him to his own devices – despite the fact that he’s probably having a great time inside with his Dad!
This is a combination of (a) guilt that I’m relying on Slabs to spend more than his fair share of time with Juniordwarf, (b) guilt that if Slabs is also doing his own thing, Juniordwarf has to entertain himself and leaving him to his own devices for too long isn’t fair, (c) guilt that I don’t have as much time as I used to with him and that I should be spending more of the weekend with him and that spending time in the garden isn’t as important as spending time with him . . .
However . . .
If I hung out with Juniordwarf all day and did no gardening, then the jungle would continue to multiply at a crazy rate, we’d have no home-grown vegetables and every time I looked out the back window I’d feel guilty about not being out there and getting stuck into it.
For goodness sake!
I wonder if other parents struggle with this sense of guilt no matter what they do? Is this one of those things that no-one ever talks about before you have kids, and even if they did, you as a child-free adult would scoff and tell them to get over it?
Now that I’ve actually written it down, I can see how ridiculous it all seems.
Where the hell does all this guilt come from? And that’s only scratching the surface. What purpose does any of it serve, except to make me anxious and feel bad – and for no good reason? Surely there must be better things I can put my mind to than making myself feel rotten.
It’s that nasty inner critic at it again, this time attacking me with its little arsenal of “shoulds”.
And I “should” ignore it.
Well, for a post that was just going to talk about how much I got done in the garden today, this has turned into something completely unexpected.
What can I take from this?
- I need a big push to get me started on anything, even if it’s something I love doing. This can only come from me. There are no excuses. I can either take the easy way and procrastinate, do nothing and continue to feel bad about that, or I can push through the pain of the resistance barrier, do something and end up feeling good about what I’ve achieved.
- I want to be able to get out in the garden for periods of time that will let me get a reasonable amount of work done without feeling like I’m abandoning my family. I need to talk to my family about how we can make this work – what’s reasonable, what I need and what they need. How they can help.
- I still don’t know “what I want to do”, but that’s OK for now, because at least I know what I am passionate about.
And today I had a great morning ripping out weeds, cutting branches off a tree and giving myself some hope that I might still get the vege patches under control in time to grow a few veges this year. I even found some veges growing in amongst the weeds. Yay!
* Before you tell me that this is complete piffle, and that very few people are ever able to find that work-passion balance, and that actually working with your passion can end up killing your passion, remember that I was in my early 20s when all this happened, and I really didn’t have much of a clue about anything! (Some would say I still don’t, but I choose to ignore them.)
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I spent some time yesterday evening working on my studio journal. I did an online course on studio journals early last – or at least I downloaded the lessons and did some of the exercises. I had signed up for the course a few months earlier when I had a lot of free time but then found myself working as a research assistant and tutor and running a national academic conference, so you may well ask why I didn't complete the course. Anyway, I'm getting back into it now and trying to spend more time planning and making notes about what works and what doesn't on my projects.
Thank you Monica! That is really great advice. I knew if I put this out there someone would be able to shed a different light on the problem 🙂
Replace "gardening" with "textile arts" and you know exactly what I'm experiencing. Don't be too hard on yourself. I'm still trying to work out what I want to do with my life and I'm older than you and retired (or at least semi-retired). Perhaps what you are experiencing isn't so much guilt as conflicting priorities. And as for managing to spend some time on your passion, I would recommend planning what you want to do on a weekend and making sure that you have everything you will need. And if you don't get to it you'll have everything lined up for when you do.Now I'm off to practise what I preach.