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  • Cory McGowan

Messy Gardens and Projects

Updated: Jun 27

This is the familiar time when it all starts to go to shit.

A couple of months earlier, in the liminal time between the end of winter and the true start of spring, there is so much possibility. The garden is a blank slate, soil prepped and turned, all open space and fertility. The kale and chard planted in the fall have miraculously survived under a meter of snow and we are enjoying their hardy nutrition at practically every meal.

I’m not moonlighting at Home and Garden magazine, I’m just coming away from our garden plot and realizing what a metaphor it is for projects and plans. Things are a frigging mess out there right now. And this tends to happen every year. Once the rainy season hits here, everything seems to come alive and foil all my best laid plans for being included among the ranks of the honorable farmer. The potato bugs have made a mockery of what we hoped would be a massive harvest. The weeds are growing so fast, you can practically see them crowding out the lesser species that we’ve planted in real time over a cup of coffee in the morning. Jeesh.

How familiar does this sound to you with different projects you are working on?


Here are some of the ways I encounter this in my own work and projects, and some ways I’m working on making helpful changes.

This is definitely not the way you want your potatoes to look.

If it’s not going the way I hoped it would, then f**k it.

Yep, I usually walk away from the garden right about this time of year. My poor wife is left to fend through the jungle of weeds to pull out whatever vegetables have survived the appetite of the voracious bugs that think our garden is a buffet. Surely my attention is best spent somewhere else than dealing with that mess, right? Or better yet, maybe I’ll just take the weed whacker to the whole thing so at least I feel like I still have some control?!

What I’ve gotten a little better at (think: teeny, tiny amount) each year that I garden is just to spend 15 minutes here and there (my ambition is every day, but you can’t rush these things, right?!) pulling some weeds, cleaning up where I can, knocking off some bugs, using some home brewed ‘bug dissuasion’ spray. And I can see this in my work projects. Rather than tossing them into the shredder, I’ll find a place where I can just make a little difference, a little step of progress that keeps me connected to it, and that brings me a surprising amount of satisfaction.

Can you tell the sunflowers from the weeds?!

I know, I’ll start a sunflower farm!

Also known as chasing shiny objects. I literally did do this this year. A much larger plot became available across from our house, and we had a ton of sunflower seeds leftover from last year, so I spent hours cutting down the 1 meter plus weeds that were growing there, borrowed a massive tiller from a neighbor to turn the soil, and enrolled my boys in the vision of the incredible sunflower field we’ll have in just a couple of years’ time so that they would help me to plant the seeds. It literally and figuratively allowed me to turn my attention away from the mess the other garden had become so I could just enjoy the glow of possibility emanating from this newly cultivated space.

In my work I’ve seen this as well, and try to frame in the positive light of enthusiasm. As a new entrepreneur, I literally chased every opportunity that seemed to present itself. And despite more of them bearing fruit than I expected, I found (find!) it hard to turn down the excitement of new projects rather than giving the continued care that existing projects inevitably need. What I’m working on is paying attention to the fear that comes up with possibly saying no to new projects and checking in on my commitment to the existing ones. If I really trust myself and don’t give into what I fear I ‘should’ do, what do I actually want to do?

Holy crap! A cucumber!

As I was dealing with the potato infestation today (I’m pretty sure those beetles were mocking the concoction I was spraying on them), I paused to look around a bit. The kale is still going gangbusters (please come to Minakami and take some!!). There is a heck of a lot of green fruit on the tomato plants. And there is a lovely cucumber that I’m sure wasn’t there last time I looked that will be going into lunch today.


I’m pretty bad at analysis and keeping data about my work, so when a project doesn’t seem to be going well at first glance, it makes sense that I'd want to walk away and chase something new. But, I’m learning to take stock, to keep a bit better information, and to see that things are often going better than I thought. That provides some motivation to do the small amount of work referenced above that can often make a pretty big difference on the things that don’t seem to be going so well.

It would be cool to be a farmer.

Why did I start growing weeds vegetables? Well, we moved out to rural Japan, and there is a heck of a lot of open land around us. I also have trouble sitting still. The closest I came to having any sort of a vision for such a project was basically ‘It would be cool to be a farmer.’ Anyone feeling chills out there from that vision? Once the pandemic hit, there was also the idea that since we were clearly months away from the apocalypse, I better be able to provide for my family. Fear driven visions? Not so much.

Thanks to the teachers I am working with (join me in the Forge this year!), I have started to really understand the importance of a compelling vision. With my clients, I’ve been using a sailing metaphor to explain the critical role it plays in projects. It is both the beautiful island on the horizon you are sailing to, and the lifeline you have trailing behind your boat as you sail there, so that when you inevitably fall off your solo yacht in rough waters, you can grab onto it and haul your ass back into the boat. No clear and compelling vision, much less incentive to get back on that project.

Where do you find yourself in your projects here at the mid point of the year? Perhaps they are looking a bit brown or shriveled due to some annoying pest? Go give five minutes of love an attention where you can. What new opportunities are you prepared to say no to so you can stay focused on what's happening? Have you taken stock (or even a breath?!) to check out the little things that are actually going well? And, it's never too late to really clarify your project vision!


I hope haven’t taken the garden metaphor too far here, and that you’ve taken away something valuable from this. If you have, throw on your sun hat and some boots and help me pull some weeds, will you?!

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