I started this blog as a way to connect myself to what I loved most about gardening. At the time I was working in an office within a warehouse that was adjacent to a greenhouse. The greenhouse felt more like a factory rather than a building filled with pretty flowers. The people who worked there had very little enthusiasm for plants.
During my time in that office I wrote about how our lives were intertwined with gardens. It also gave me an opportunity to share my garden with others. A most delightful treat! Every gardener loves to show off their hard work. I enjoyed this blog so much that I was bold enough to write posts at work. Once my supervisor heard me happily typing and asked, “What are you working on?” I had to come clean and tell her what it was. You see, there was so little to do there during the winter that our building would be quiet as a tomb. I chose to find an outlet for my passion instead of succumbing to boredom from entering customers in our database for 8 hours.
I was miserable. Even more I was afraid that this was where I would spend the rest of my career. Every Monday I would leave work early to attend yoga class despite the irritation of my office manager. It was the one of the few things keeping me from suddenly screaming, “I hate it here!” Fortunately, on a stormy afternoon that happened to be my fifth wedding anniversary I was laid off and given a chance at chasing my dreams.
Before I was afraid my career would be uneventful, but now I was terrified that I would have no career at all! While working for my former employer I had been considering starting my own business, but never had the nerve to request working part time for fear they would think it conflict of interest. Even with all that was at risk my husband supported my endeavor in creating: “Darlene’s Garden: plant sales & garden counseling.”
Those 3 years were a time of growth and when I met some very special individuals that I now can’t imagine my life without. I was able to choose the parts of horticulture I wished to work within. No chemicals, turf, or invasive species. It gave me the great opportunity to be creative and to make excellent contacts within the industry that I never would have met trapped in an office. I worked very hard and faced some scary firsts. I had to speak in front of 60 experienced gardeners having zero experience with teaching. My first garden design presentation was nerve-wracking. I feared my hours of work would be not good enough. Standing at the door of each new client’s home was fearful. Each blank sheet awaiting my hand to draw a new design was overwhelming.
The best part of my business was getting to know my clients. Some of them were not sure what to make of me at first. They wondered about my depth of knowledge when I appeared to be so young. However, by the last visit they were full of questions confident I would know the answers. I realized what an honor it was to be invited into their homes. One of my favorite sessions consisted of sitting in a kitchen with my client and her infant granddaughter on her lap while hearing stories of her children. She made me a sandwich even though I insisted I would be okay when really I was starving since we’d been talking for so long. These “clients” have now become my friends who I absolutely adore.
Even though I was doing exactly what I wanted, I found myself deeper in depression than ever before. I spent many hours alone at home. Without a regular work schedule to give me structure, I had no idea how to spend my time. During my good days I practiced yoga in the mornings and followed it with 20 minute meditations. I found myself able to see things about myself I had never seen. It brought me to a new place in my spiritual self. My biggest fear was my business being a failure and going to back to clocking in and out. It took me a long time to face the reality that I would need to do something else. What does one do when they’ve lost their dream?
I sought out new employers, but was not willing to settle for something I didn’t believe in. I thought I was crazy since financially I couldn’t afford to be so picky, but due to my regular yoga practice I found the faith to keep searching for what was right for me. Then it happened. A miracle. I accepted a position as manager of a plant nursery that employed individuals with developmental disabilities. Another dream of mine was to be involved with horticultural therapy and that’s precisely what this was…at least so I thought.
Pure joy filled me as I awaited my first day. I was literally giddy. I had seen the nursery and it was exactly like the one I saw in my dreams. It needed a lot of work, but I could easily see its potential. I was well rested and had been filling my spiritual “well” for some time, so it seemed easy to take on the chaos I was now to manage. There was much to learn, but I caught on quickly. During my first 2 weeks the sounds from those we were serving frightened me, however, eventually they became familiar sounds of people very special to me. It was a great deal of responsibility, but I was ready for the challenge. In many ways I was the happiest I had ever been.
When one chooses a profession they love that they excel in, they will eventually be promoted to management. However, when this happens one is not able to do what they love much anymore. It’s very common and very much so in my industry. Many of us get into horticulture for the love of the sun shining, green things, and our hands in the dirt. We don’t necessarily enjoy a desk, paper work, or managing people. It leads to the question, “Am I fulfilled?”
I asked myself that question inwardly as I asked an employee of mine who I felt should probably move on for their well being. As I gave this speech I had carefully thought out, I realized that it might be time for me to move on as well. Even though I felt that I was at a climax in my career, I was more tired than ever physically, mentally, and emotionally. During my 2 years as manager I had discovered many things about myself. I learned I was unmistakably an introvert. Having to work with over 40 employees, dealing with customers, communicating with vendors, answering emails, doing paperwork, and keeping 4 acres of plants alive every day was overwhelming. I would come home unable to speak for at least an hour. It became imperative that I recharged in quiet solitude. If I didn’t I would end up on the couch still in my work clothes watching episodes of “Friends” on Netflix, which I did many times.
It became a full time job to maintain my well being while doing this job. During my vacations I would catch a glimpse of the person I used to be before I became a manager. I had the space within to practice yoga only during my time off. Not long after I started working there I had lost the ability to meditate even though I was an experienced practitioner. My marriage began to suffer since I had no presence with myself, I was unable to connect with my husband. I always believed that things would get better in time. That if I just tried to do yoga more often, attempt a meditation, eat more healthy food, and take vitamins then I would be well.
This past spring was the nursery’s most successful season. A great triumph. Although, one of my employees had quit and another had to take unexpected leave, so we were down to the bare minimum. I worked several 10-12 hour days. The month of April took its toll, I read the signs, and took a week off in May. It was supposed to be just a vacation, but it ended up being time for a difficult decision. My husband and I attended a yoga retreat for the weekend in the woods. Through the poses and nights under the stars I found myself again. After the retreat I consulted my 2 best friends and they both had been respectfully quiet until then about my having nothing left for myself. I was ready to put in my resignation, but I knew I needed to be sure. So I made a visit to the nursery alone to see if I could in fact leave behind a place that I had invested my heart and soul.
I cried for 2 hours. I thought about the people I would be leaving behind. Could I really say good-bye to them? I called my husband to tell him I had doubts about leaving, but he reminded me what my life had been like. There were those that advised that I give it more time, but I knew if I didn’t leave now then I would convince myself to stay. I turned in my resignation and agreed to stay 30 days.
I had never left a job that I loved. I found it to be a confusing and painful experience. It was like leaving someone I knew was not good for me, but I loved them just the same. I cried every day. I allowed myself to grieve as needed. I didn’t see the point in holding things back knowing full well it’s all going to come out anyway. The last 2 years had taught me that. During those 30 days I did have doubts, but I trusted the decision I had already made. The day before my last day I was really sad about leaving. I walked around the nursery after closing time alone recalling the transformations in the place. I heard my crew’s voices and saw their smiling faces. I wanted to remember it all.
The next morning I awoke at 4:25 am from a dream that included members of my family. I realized I had time to drive out to the beach for the sunrise and still be back for work in time. I walked along the shore thinking about the last 2 years and telling myself there were more people out there who need my help with their gardens. Then suddenly it hit me, but have I ever helped myself? Since childhood I’ve spent much time helping other people. As an adult I’ve spent much of my time going to school, working, or being worried about my career. I realized it was time to help myself. I was ready to move on.
I drove back home and got ready for work. No deep breathing or tears over breakfast. I hopped the fence and walked to work for the last time. I felt a new sense of awareness. I savored each moment, but did not cling to them. I spent the morning with my crew sorting out different sizes of plastic pots. I acted like it was a regular day. I said good-bye to everyone there individually as we introverts prefer to do. There were some tears from co-workers, but I found that I had none. I felt calm. I wondered if this is what “acceptance” feels like? I was glad I had worked through my feelings, so I could enjoy these last moments with those I love. At the end of the day I held my last box of stuff as I looked out over the nursery, shed a few small tears, and walked away.
I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made because I don’t believe I would have this kind of clarity if I had not explored those fears. My success of my career has taught me that I am good at what I do, so I don’t need to worry about if I’m up to undertaking challenges. Because I used to worry about that a whole lot. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. I want to love my job, but I don’t want it to be my life. I want space for me and for those I love. I plan to get my hands back in the soil and start enjoying my gift instead of expecting it to solve all my problems.
As I said this blog was originally to talk about gardening and it still will be. However, now I want it to include the rest of me as well. Because I’m not just a horticulturalist! I am lots of other things that I look forward to sharing with you here. Through many twists and turns I was finally able to find a path that led the way home back to myself.