Stop the Useless Suffering: Grow What You Love and Starve What You Hate
You know the cliche no pain, no gain, but the inverse is also true. If there’s not enough gain in what you’re struggling through, then don't put yourself through the pain of doing it. And yet, so often we do. Why I ask, but why?
As I became more interested in gardening and growing food, I got the idea to volunteer on organic farms through WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming). Six months later I was on a plane to Spain. I was really excited about the first farm I’d arranged to volunteer at because, in addition to having an almond orchard, she had described herself as an eco-architect expat and was building a house from recycled tires and glass bottles. With my experience in landscape architecture, this seemed right up my alley. When I arrived at her farm, however, like the dry caked earth of the semi-arid Mediterranean climate my excitement began to evaporate and crack.
The first sign of distress hit when she showed me the little cabin where I would be staying. It was filthy, but that wasn’t what really bothered me since I hadn’t been expecting much. It was when she picked up an old blanket off the ground outside, casually shook it off and said with complete sincerity, “You can use this to sleep with,” dust clouding the space between us. The rest of the week she proved to be a slave-driver. She had me working atop rickety scaffolding staged on a pile of rocks with no fall protection, holding a sledge hammer and awkwardly shifting my weight while I pounded large logs into place on her roof. When she saw how thoroughly I’d cleaned her kitchen after a meal, she suggested I clean her bathroom too; a bathroom I was not permitted to use. While she had internet, her usage was limited and she reserved it entirely for herself to Skype with her partner. So to communicate with my family I had to walk to the nearest town and use the internet there. When I did this, she informed me afterwards that I shouldn’t be talking with my family while there, as it took away from the experience of connecting with her. Many events occurred during that week that scattered my cerebral lobes with red flags indicating this was not a good fit.
That weekend I decided to go sightseeing in Granada. I packed all of my stuff and left before the sun came up on Saturday morning. I hadn’t planned on leaving the farm for three weeks, but needed a few days away from her controlling ways. I had no accommodations booked but was lucky to find a hostel that had a cancellation. I was also lucky to meet a far more experienced traveller who, after I explained my circumstance and my 3-week commitment, cavalierly suggested I don’t return. I immediately rejected his suggestion. To go back on my promise? To not follow through on what I said I would do? To be a flake!? It wasn’t me. But this traveller made some good points. He said I was at the beginning of a three month adventure and asked if I really wanted to start it off being miserable? I remember the moment very clearly. It was a humid Sunday evening. I was sitting on the edge of a stone wall watching the sunset over the Alhambra while a busker serenaded the scene with Spanish guitar... No dammit, I didn’t want to be miserable! I didn’t want to spend another two weeks listening to that women bitch and complain while I painstakingly tried to please her! I decided right then I wasn’t going back.
This is a lesson I continue to learn and re-learn in my life: nobody’s going to give you an award for sticking out something you hate. But more often than not, people stay in jobs they hate, maintain relationships that don’t bring them joy, live in places they don’t feel connected to, abide by rules that don’t reflect their beliefs... as if their lives depended on it. I’m not saying if something is hard give up, but if there is no worthy goal to be achieved in the struggle then STOP. Don’t do it anymore. Go left, go right, just do something else. It comes down to the pain versus pleasure principal. Often times when we are addicted to a problem that we could easily solve, it is because our brain associates more pain with the act of changing the situation than it does with the pleasure of staying in what is comfortable and perceivably certain. Sure you hate your job, but it’s better than struggling to do something you don’t know how to do or don’t feel qualified to do, right? Wrong.
There is also the element of wasted effort. But I put so much time and energy into this thing that is making me feel terrible. It’d be a waste to just give up now. On the contrary, the true wasted effort is continuing to put your energy into something that doesn’t serve you well. Everybody talks about sustainability and smart growth these days. At the heart of sustainability, we should first be efficient with how we use our own energy. Don’t waste it on BS that brings you down. The self-sustainability principle is simple: put your energy into growing what you love and deny energy to starve off those things you hate.
When I finally wrote that women to tell her I would not be returning to her farm, I got a scathing email back. She was furious with me, calling me a coward and a liar among other things. I would be liar if I said this email didn’t momentarily rock me. But I got over it quickly. I’d aired my dirty laundry and soon enough I was on my way to the next farm where a whole new set of challenges awaited me, but with clean bedding nevertheless.