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Food For Thought: Of Plants and Pies
It doesn't have to be perfect to be worthwhile
I’m not a very good gardener. Okay, I’m a really bad gardener.
Most of my family, at least on my father’s side, have green thumbs. My grandmother came from the farm in Saskatchewan, kept an incredible garden, was a founding member of the local horticultural society, and despite the rudimentary education common to those of her generation, completed university level study of horticulture to become a Master Gardener. My grandfather also came from the farm and throughout his life kept the most amazing vegetable gardens. If you were looking for either of them in the summer months they were in the garden.
Plants die if I look at them the wrong way.
Those basil plants from the grocery store? I’m a serial killer. Even fairly low-maintenance house plants challenge me – they never thrive, but rather limp along in spite of me. I was gifted an orchid for Easter – the poor thing doesn’t know what’s coming.
Our culture really has a hard time with ineptitude and failure. Don’t like something? Get a new one! A new tool/appliance/outfit is key! Not good at something? Try harder! Study more! You can be/have/do anything if you set your mind to it!
The universal truths are obvious if we think about them: not everyone can be an astronaut and not every dream can be realized by clicking “Add to Cart”.
In the extreme it can lead to paralysis. It’s easy to give up on something if we know in our hearts that we won’t “win”, and it’s worse when any kind of progress is so incremental as to seem glacial. Focus on what I’m good at, you might think. Perfectionism is one of the great pathologies of our times, and one with which I have a lot of personal experience.
But what if we made a conscious decision to embrace the process and not the results?
Maybe it’s a feature of early middle age, but in the last couple of years I’ve been learning to embrace doing things badly. Don’t get me wrong, I am good at a lot of things, but my scope of interests exceeds my abilities and far outstrips the time I have available to study and learn. So I’ve started making a commitment to just do things I enjoy and see what happens. You can’t fail if you aren’t invested in a particular result.
The kitchen is a great place to embrace this philosophy, though an easy place to lose sight of it. We make dinner and depend on having edible results. We put tremendous pressure on ourselves to impress, woo, and occasionally even intimidate others with our kitchen prowess. But…
What if instead of worrying that our pie crust isn’t perfect we just made more pies? What if we tried that complicated recipe from the fancy cookbook or the elaborate decorations for a cake? What if we just enjoyed the doing?
When we dance and sing we tend not to care about the results - we derive joy from the activity itself. Our confidence grows not necessarily from mastery, but from the repeated action that can smooth away the sharp edges of failure and the self-consciousness it drags along with it. So what if you look or sound silly? It just doesn’t matter. It’s not a competition.
Kids know this. They don’t develop self-doubt until they see it in other people. They don’t know they’re “talented” or “gifted” at anything until someone tells them; they simply enjoy drawing or sculpting or running or jumping and it’s only when they’re told that there is something to “improve” or are compared to others that they question their effort.
So this summer my goal isn’t to grow herbs and vegetables; I’m going to enjoy the sunshine, get some dirt under my nails, and enjoy the process of gardening. I won’t obsess over pruning the basil or whether I have enough space between my pepper plants. If history is any guide there will be a lot of wilted plants and a decent amount carried away by bunnies and deer. I’ll try to turn my roars of rage into those of laughter - it’s just plants, right?
And if there is something that you haven’t tried because you’re worried about getting it right, take a step back. Ask yourself if you enjoy the process and if you do, stop worrying about the results. It’s not a competition, it’s just pie.