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Learning to Live With Good Enough

As much as this blog allows me to celebrate everything that’s going well for us, there are a lot of things that I wish could have gone a little differently this past year.

This was my first year out of school and my first opportunity to have a full-time job that lasted for more than the summer months. It was also my first year of marriage and the opportunity to fully pursue the “homesteading dream” that Ian and I have talked about for so long.

It was a year full of sky-high expectations, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended disappointed with myself.

As an example, I wrote a post about the disaster of this year’s garden a few months ago. It was a great post. I got to pretend I was completely over the weedy chaos and ready to laugh at our failures. The truth? I wasn’t, and I’m still not.

I never had much of a garden growing up, but I’ve spent many summers working on farms (even in Hawaii), so I just assumed that when it came to managing my own property I’d be naturally fantastic at it.

Guess not.

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Gross

The gradual change in seasons is serving as a cruel reminder of all the fall crops we aren’t bringing in- no squash, melons, late tomatoes or even hardy greens. How did this happen? How did I flop so big on something I wanted so badly?

I can give a hundred excuses; blaming the weather, our crazy schedules and the clay-filled  garden soil. But that’s not the full story.

The truth is that I have an obsessive personality. And it’s hard to be obsessed with more than one thing at a time. My innocently started hobby of freelance writing in early May quickly became a death-blow to any outside work I hoped to accomplish this summer.

So there it is. I failed my ideal. I couldn’t pull a garden together, and all late summer I cringed every time I caught sight of it. Thinking about next year was even worse. Who wants to be constantly reminded of their dashed expectations for themselves?  Not me.

A Change in Mindset

That is, until I read an interesting little book that changed my whole mindset that’s called, well, Mindset. It’s a long winded self help book with a single point to make, but somehow that one point is powerful enough to carry the book. Essentially, there are two mindsets that we all internalize about ourselves: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you are born with your abilities and intelligence built in. Success displays your worth to the world, and failures are an example of all your inadequacies.

In contrast, the growth mindset allows you to think of every new skill as the equivalent of learning to walk; you’re going to suck at it the first dozen times you try.  Pushing through isn’t only expected, it’s a no brainer for any worthwhile progress. (Imagine if babies just gave up on learning to walk because they weren’t naturally “good at it”- we’d all be still be scooting through the world on our behinds!)

This perspective is liberating. Failing at my garden (and anything else) doesn’t make ME a failure. It’s true that I didn’t live up to even half my homestead ideals in this past year, but Ian and I are farther along now than when we first moved in, and you know what? That counts for a lot.

Learning To Accept What Is

And so with renewed resolve to adopt a growth mindset of my abilities, I recently stopped seeing the garden as a complete failure and, after months of shutting my eyes every time I walked past, decided to go back into the overwhelming jungle. And lo and behold, there was food in there!

We may have blinked and missed all of tomato canning season, but the beans were still flowering and producing when I dug through the vines to find them. Moving aside some weeds revealed that our hot peppers had quietly produced a tidy little crop. The sweet corn withered and died long ago from lack of love, but my plucky popcorn somehow limped along and I should be able to salvage enough to snack on this winter.

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All this from a plot of land I’d given up on weeks ago.

Letting Go Of Ideals

Did this past year look anything like what I expected? Not in the least. I spent way more time in front of this laptop than I ever imagined- a complete 180 from the girl who initially declared that she didn’t want a WiFi connection in the house. I haven’t learned to successfully bake my own bread (I still burn most loaves) and I never traipsed through the woods looking for morels or ginseng.

But there is a silver lining. My gardening efforts may been have abandoned in favor of writing, but it turns out that plants can do a pretty good job of taking care of themselves.

And the time that I invested in professional writing has paid off in more ways than I could have anticipated four months ago. Because I decided to go all in, I’ve managed to establish myself enough to be able to quit my job to pursue it full-time this fall. It’s still early, but so far I’ve never been happier to “go to work” right in my bedroom office everyday. Next summer I’ll be working from home, with far more opportunities to get out in the yard to play in the garden.

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Getting to work here everyday is well worth any (temporary) garden failure.

Paradoxically, giving up on this year’s garden has almost assured next year’s success.

Instead of cringing about what could have been, I’m moving confidently into next year with a better garden plan in place. Out with the slip slop, uneven planting of last year and in with the square foot gardening method! (A big perk of freelancing is that I’ve been WRITING all about successful garden techniques, so we now know what to do next year.)

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Just one of the multiple raised beds we have planed for next year. Defining the garden space better should do wonders for our ability to keep it maintained.

We’re going smaller, more controlled. Maybe it will be enough to keep out the relentless Appalachian weeds, and maybe we’ll have to readjust again for next year. In any case, I’m not letting my own mortified mind stop me from planting my fall crop of garlic seeds this year.

So all is not lost. Our garden this year may have limped along so badly that we’ve already put it out of its misery with a weed whacker, but you know what? It was good enough. And I’m okay with that.

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The garden flopped, but we’ve found other ways to produce our own food. Check it out!

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We’ve managed to can just about every apple we pulled off nearby trees. Applesauce for days!
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I may burn all the bread I attempt, but at least Ian’s an expert baker.
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Homegrown potatoes, green beans and SQUIRREL. Yes, Ian’s been trying his hand at hunting recently. Our rabbits aren’t the only meat source we’ve relied on recently.

Has your mind also been convincing you that you’re failure instead of allowing you to take an honest look at what HAS been working? At least you know you aren’t alone.

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16 thoughts on “Learning to Live With Good Enough

  1. Hi Lydia,

    Everyone I know thinks their garden is crap and everyone elses is better. I find that weeds shade the sowed crops. [I’m sticking to this mindset.] We all have stuff that requires us to abandon something else. Our container garden….containers on a trailer that can be moved with a garden tractor, so we can mow underneath or for more sun….has weeds. We are living in the saharan desert of western New York State. We are in a “short term extreme drought.” In other words, after almost no snow and therefore very little snowmelt, we didn’t have rain until NOW. Way too late! And the cost of water, we are on the end of the town water line, is prohibitive. There is no water under us. We live atop the largest salt deposits in the western hemisphere. Wouldn’t you think we could salt the weeds and sow crops in between the salted lines? We have an invasive vine that has little green sticky balls that stick to everything and like kudzu in the south, will overrun everything. Even my Gout weed was laid out flat this summer, but the little old velcro vine is just doing fine.

    As for your bread…350 degrees for 25 minutes. Tap the top with your fingernail to see if it sounds…kind of hollow…maybe? Just tap Ian’s bread when he’s ready to take it out for the sound. Also use the middle rack. Learned all this the way you are, by underbaking and overbaking bread.

    I got sick for three years and the yard is mowed…my flowerbeds are just mowed around, not weeded. Now I have been painting the inside of our house. I started last November, it took three coats to get the color the paint chip promised us. I am still painting! How can it take so long? I wanted to be done in time for my 70th birthday. Well 71 is looking like a better bet, 72 if I count the new roof. We had nothing but obligations and guests all of July and August. By time I got to the yard, before the paltry amount of rain fell, I tried to pull some weeds. They are rooted in China and the hard dry ground will not give them up.

    Remember the mantra…”next year will be better.” And know always that failure is just a way to learn something. If we don’t fail at something we attempt, we aren’t willing to learn.

    Great blog, by the way.

    1. Thanks so much for the stories, tips and encouragement. I’ll be sure to follow your bread advice next time around. Hopefully it’s the secret that I need.

  2. This old gal is the proud owner of a growth mind-set. I’ve definitely earned it after many, many years of beating up on myself. My Heavenly Father has patiently taught me that He waits on me to recognize that GROWTH is all His idea and He delights in my humanness adapting to His mind-set. You and Ian are just the best thing ever to hit that Ridge!

  3. “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
    – Henry David Thoreau

    1. Love it. Perhaps if we get a third dog he’ll be named after Thoreau (seeing as we’ve got Wendell Berry and Aldo Leopold covered already)

  4. Mindset is an great read! It’s been a part of my teaching for the past 5 or 6 years. I use its wisdom in helping teach children.

  5. Recently devoured “Mindset” myself. I can definitely relate to its message, but I relate more to your description of yourself: obsessive over one project at a time. I also tend to set unreasonable expectations for what I’ll be able to get done. I’m choosing to see that as part of my Growth Mindset. If I drive toward a lofty goal that seems out of reach, even if I don’t fully expect to accomplish it, I’ll approach the entire experience from a learning perspective.

  6. There’s an old saying: a person with a brown thumb plants 10 things and gets discouraged when 5 of them die. A person with a green thumb plants 10 things and is excited when 5 of them live and goes out and buys 5 more to replace the ones that died.

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