How Gardening Helped Me Overcome My Fear of Failure

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.-Winston Churchill

I didn’t want to garden.  I wanted to eat food fresh from a garden.  I never dreamt we’d be trying to grow any significant percentage of our food.  In fact, I only gave in and started gardening because my husband wanted us to do it.

I used to refuse to do anything if I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at it.  I call it my fear of failure.  I have missed more opportunities for fun and growth because of this terrible mindset than I care to admit, but I am getting better.

Call it maturing, call it personal growth,  a paradigm shift, a change of heart or an epiphany.  No matter how you look at it, I’m getting better.

Today, as I pull weeds and prepare a resting bed for sowing, I’m thinking about how much I have gotten past my fear of failure and the lead role the garden has played in that progress.

I’m pulling out the spent plants that haven’t broken down enough to leave lest they stifle the new plants.  Like me, this organic matter all has a story behind it.  Some of the stories are of success, some of failure, some fall in between.  And we are all returning to the soil.  

So goes gardening and farming on the whole.

I think about that as I try to understand just how the garden has helped with this journey beyond my fear.

The first thing that had to go was the perfectionism, which stems from my need for control.  Ah, elusive control, my old frenemy.  

Bless my family, when control proves elusive, I am sometimes a miserable witch.  Don’t be so shocked. It’s true.

But, gardens are not controlled, they are managed at best.

Realising that I do not control the garden, I steward it, has spilled over into other areas of my life.  I do not control my kids, they are their own human beings.  I am their teacher, guide, mentor and many, many other things, but ultimately, I can only give them tools, not control them.  I watched a dressage horse who has medaled at other Olympics, toss his head and fail to execute a movement yesterday.  Mount and rider have trained for years for perfection and yet, here is this reminder that they are a team, but not in control of each other.  I’m not even in control of myself, at times.  This is infuriating.  But, as the garden reminds me, the plant does not control itself, it responds, and this is the force of nature in us.  Thoughtful response is the best I can attain.

And my own ideas of perfection have changed the same way my ideas about everything else have changed.  A perfect me today is quite different from a perfect me 10 years ago.  I once would have described the perfect garden in terms of aesthetics.  Now, I would describe it by a measure of productivity.  This is the nature of growth.

Perfectionism is, therefore, a fool’s game.

I desired control over everything for a number of reasons, most notably because I fear the judgement of others and yet, paradoxically, do not trust others to do what “should” be done, in my own judgement.  Once I acknowledged that, I realised it was absurd.

Is this getting heavy?  Let’s get back to the garden.

I can select the seed, plant it at the right time, in a carefully vetted place, do what is in my power to enable germination, provide to the best of my ability for that plant and never get a crop.  This is because all along the way, from the seed breeder, to wild animals, to the weather, there are things I will never control.

Control is a poisonous illusion that we usher in and allow to block our peace.  

From gardening I have learned to hedge my bets against failure, not by stressing about it or trying to control what I cannot, but my planting a little more than I think we need, by letting go of the things that do not work out and by recognising failure as a way to learn.

Failure is not bad.  Absolutely everyone fails.  We need to get over the idea that it is a bad thing.  

Not everything in the garden is going to thrive.  Some of it will not even germinate some seasons.  So?  Am I a worse person when that happens?  No. Then should it negatively effect me?  No.  Worst case scenario, I don’t figure out what went wrong and there is one variety that I am not good at growing.  And life goes on.  

Gardening is the thing I found that I find so important that I am forced to move past my failures.  I’m forced to suck it up and move on again and again because things fail, sometimes a lot.

And all this moving on, facing and learning from things that don’t work, admitting that I do not control nature, has changed me for the better.

Not gardening because I am afraid of failure would mean missing out on everything that succeeds in the garden.  Each bite of fresh produce is worth the risks taken and the failures experienced.

Everything I do in life is the planting of a metaphorical seed.  

So what am I not attempting because I am afraid to fail?  Most of what I do or want to do isn’t as important as packing a parachute.  My fear of failure kept me from doing things that could affect but not destroy my life if they didn’t work.  Most of it boiled down to a fear of being judged, a fear of change, and a fear of wasting time.  

If people judge, they should carry that cross, not me.

Change is inevitable.  Resistance to it is not always wise.

Nothing is a waste of time because there is always something to be learned or gained from our activities.

So there are my excuses shot all to hell.

Fear of not getting a harvest should not keep you from sowing and tending because that inaction guarantees no harvest.

Some of my seeds don’t germinate.  Some plants don’t produce fruit.  Sometimes a hurricane levels the crops.  Sometimes there is a valuable lesson, sometimes there isn’t.  My job is to sow and tend to the best of my ability, literally and metaphorically.   


Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

9 thoughts on “How Gardening Helped Me Overcome My Fear of Failure

  1. I am a controller and fear the consequences of failure too. I have not come as far as you have as I totally want to quit gardening and let someone else deal with the time, effort, disappointment and judgement. But it is my own disappointment and mostly my judgement. So I will pick myself up and try again, because when things work out, I must admit I love the garden. I will learn to let go someday. Thanks for the mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I gave up on perfectionism a LONG time ago… Now I consider many things a win. Even a fail is a win if I learned something.

    To me a fail is trying something, having it not do as I wanted and then not learning from my own mistakes. THAT is true failure. My repeated action not learned from.

    Beyond that…. I’ll try anything once too often! B-)

    Liked by 1 person

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