As the incredible Tony Robbins says, in life we have two choices: grow or die. In order to be happy, we don’t need to get everything we want, we simply need to progress toward it. Yet, not all growth is desirable and often times in order to progress towards a goal, you have to cut back a lot of what's not required. In this sense, the choice becomes not just to grow or die, but to prune or perish.
On the subject of making progress, the last couple of weeks have been ridiculous. Relaunching our farming business meant A LOT of prep work to get set-up again, which at times has felt more like dying than growing. The intensity of the workload has been full-on and non-stop. Carpal tunnel has rendered my hands near useless. Mistakes have been prevalent. Problems have been plentiful. Stress has been an easy choice. Doubt too. It’s taken a conscious effort to remind myself of what is working rather than feel like I am drowning in a sea of what is not working.
One of the many things I’ve been trying to learn this year is to how to prune trellised cucumber plants. Easy right? Precisely what naive me tends to think about most gardening practices. Read about ‘em. Apply ‘em. Cinch. That is until I undertake ‘em. Do ‘em wrong. Then, witness the poor results and realize for the nth time that there’s a fine art to everything. Naiveté has its place though. It gives you a starting point untainted by fear.
We’re following what’s known as the umbrella system. As the name would suggest, this pruning method creates a plant with one main central stem that grows to the top of the trellis, at which point you allow lateral stems (aka suckers) to branch out creating an umbrella of fruit at the top that eventually grows back down again. In order to make this happen, you have to be vigilant about trimming suckers until the plant reaches its desired height.
In pruning the plant’s suckers, you re-focus its energy toward producing less stems and leaves, to become a more high-yielding, fruit-producing plant.
While it may sound strange, initially a part of me felt guilty not letting the plant just grow how it wants to. I’d struggle every time I cut a sucker, especially if it had a little cucumber starting to grow on it. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting life and throwing away productivity, even though I knew that if left unpruned it would turn into a busy mess and produce a lot of mediocre cucumbers. My apprehension in getting the job done was making the job more burdensome.
Just as a plant grows energy suckers, so do we.
As I hesitated to snip the new suckers away, it occurred to me how this technique is also a valuable metaphor to achieving progress in our own lives. It’s so easy to lose your focus on a goal because you want to branch out in too many directions. In doing so, you compromise your energy toward every little goal you have, and like the cucumber, you end up producing a lot of mediocre results. By pruning away the less desirable goals to re-focus your energy on one or a few important ones, you gain a whole lot of strength in achieving them.
In this sense, pruning is an act of sacrifice that allows you to grow towards what you truly want and who you truly want to become.
It’s a natural part of living. The lives of one animal or plant are sacrificed to nourish the lives of others. If you want to start a family, you’ll have to sacrifice your freedom and time for yourself. If you want to excel in your career, you’ll likely have to sacrifice some weekends. If you want to grow out of the mold you’ve been living in, you’ll have to sacrifice your comfort zone.
Identifying the energy suckers is the first step to pruning them. In cucumbers this is easy to spot. At every node where a leaf meets the stem, the plant has a tendril to attach to things, a flower/fruiting branch and a sucker. In our own lives, however, the suckers may be a little trickier to spot. So far, I’ve found the easiest way to identify them is to get very clear on what I want. As clear as I possibly can.
When you know precisely where you want to go, the energy suckers that divert you away from it become undeniably obvious.
In the same way I’ve struggled to prune a plant’s suckers away because I worried about wasting productivity, I’ve struggled to remove the energy suckers from my own life for fear of not being enough or missing out on another opportunity. In both cases, I lacked clarity on my ultimate goal.
It wasn’t until I started to witness that pruning worked, that I understood the necessity of sacrificing some needs to fulfill others - both when it comes to plants and my own well-being. Perhaps the biggest energy sucker for me is fear, which manifests in all sorts of emotions like shyness, anxiety, stress, apprehension, nervousness, overwhelm… Pretty much all the negative ones.
Once you’ve identified the suckers, there’s a very easy way to prune them.
A simple little two letter word will slice these energy suckers from your life. That word is no. Oddly enough, it is probably one of the first words we learn as babies and yet as an adult I find it extremely difficult to say. I’ve noticed in trying to train my dog, that it isn’t so much the word ‘no’ that matters but the tone that I say it with. The same degree of discipline is required with myself. You have to say it like you mean it. Not, Um no, I’m sorry I just can’t. A firm, unwavering Hells no!
So as I prune the cucumber plant, and I think about all the other things I have to get done today, I say No! to getting stressed. Snip. As I prune the next sucker and think about how I am new to running a business and don’t really know what I am doing, I say No! to doubt and fear. Snip, snip. As I prune yet another branch and think about how I am in my mid-30s and have very little to show for it, I say No! to needing to be mainstream. Snippity-snip-snip.
And while it might be hard to recognize in this precise moment, there’s no denying both I and the budding cucumbers just grew a little. My dreams haven’t come to fruition, nor are the baby cucumbers quite ready to harvest, but we’re getting there. That’s progress baby, and that’s all I need to keep going.
What are the energy suckers in your life? What’s taking you away from what you truly want or who you truly want to become? What can you say No! to today?