I spent about half a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, pulling weeds and Bermuda grass from what was once a flower bed and garden area in my back yard.
It was a job that I’d been putting off for far too long, while I worked on various pieces of the Shinecast business model—peripheral pieces, as it turns out.
What I thought would be an hour of work before the rain arrived turned into an extended opportunity to simply let my mind disengage and process a host of metaphorical weeds entangling me.
The Distraction of Chaos
Each time I walked out to the compost heap at the edge of my backyard, I saw the ever-expanding morass of morning glory vines, wisteria, privet (and more) that had overtaken what had 18 months earlier been a lovely flower bed of perennials and 3 blueberry bushes.
I would see the chaos and make a mental note to spend an hour or two trimming and weeding, at least to get things under control, but I never took action. Too busy, too distracted.
Since my to-do list “for business” was far beyond what I could accomplish each day, I never took the time to stop to pull the weeds, since I could, at least theoretically, postpone that for another day.
Weeding the flower bed wasn’t as urgent as my need to move the Shinecast from vision revenue-generation mode, at least that was my thinking.
Early on, I conceived the notion that Ignite Alabama was where I needed to concentrate my efforts, if I wanted to produce income. I saw the Ignite Alabama podcast as the way to build traction in the business community, acquire a couple of initial consulting clients, and eventually offer to a wider audience premium resources related to Alabama entrepreneurship and business intelligence.
Birmingham Shines was a calling card, a thank you, a portfolio piece, to demonstrate what I could offer to others in producing on-demand audio as a consultant.
Ignite Alabama was intended to offer premium content and promoted resources generated monthly revenue streams.
From the outset, I knew this would require work and I was committed.
So I put off weeding in my literal garden, all the while not fully realizing that I was, apparently, fighting mental and spiritual kudzu. Kudzu that had much greater power and resources than I could ever muster. If you’re from the South, you understand the kudzu metaphor. If you’re not from the South, Google kudzu.
I think I sensed an impending failure as early as mid-July, even as the Ignite Alabama podcast launched to a good reception. Deep down I didn’t want to accept the reality that Ignite Alabama was not a viable business venture—at least not for me. And that last part is key.
The first 6-8 episodes of Ignite Alabama attracted a solid audience, but my one-on-one conversations with those who had connections in the business community weren’t fruitful.
My rationale for lack of success was, at first, that I didn’t have the right connections, and/or I just needed more financial resources to extend the runway.
One of the downsides to being resourceful and resilient is a reluctance to ask for help. I was raised to work hard and carry my load and that’s how I’m wired, for good or bad.
I also have plenty of talent, learn fast and, as a result, I have high self-efficacy. I typically believe that I can do what it takes to achieve a desired outcome and I’ve rarely failed to achieve the desired outcome, which reinforces the belief that I can succeed at whatever I tackle. Ordinarily, those are the ingredients for success.
When high self-efficacy, the necessary skills, and work ethic meet a good idea that seems readily achievable given available resources, the outcome should be somewhat predictable.
In the case of Ignite Alabama, I had the foundational knowledge and capacity to succeed and the financial resources for a 4-month runway to success, which I could extend if I established at least some cash flow.
In early August, nibbles of interest in joint ventures revived my enthusiasm and I was hopeful that revenue was on the horizon. But nothing ever materialized.
Sparks of interest, then silence.
I resolved in September to give one more big push to making Ignite Alabama work and put everything I had into growing my connections and putting ideas into marketable form. I decided to extend the geographic scope to include Tennessee and West Georgia. I even asked others for feedback on proposals I’d written. I met again with prospective partners and spoke with prospective clients.
The responses ranged from silence to “call me after the holidays” to “this won’t work” and a few variations in between.
October arrived and I half-heartedly continued pushing forward for the first 2 weeks but finally accepted the writing on the wall. I canceled my planned trip to Chattanooga for Startup Week, which I intended to use both for content reporting and making connections.
Killing the Kudzu
I’ve always found it therapeutic to work outside in the yard.
I actually enjoy the physicality of weeding, planting, trimming, harvesting, raking leaves and I find that the routine motion and need to pay attention to what I’m doing is almost meditative. Weeding, trimming, planting, mowing—these are not mindless activities. If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll pull up the wrong plants or hurt yourself.
The end result of physical work in the yard and garden is always an improved mental and emotional state, regardless of the starting point.
So, that day, October 31, every clip of the hedger, dig with the shovel, and chop of the hoe, yielded a glimmer of insight, unconscious at first but eventually there was reckoning.
Although I had set out to disengage my mind, I was really disengaging from active thought about “the problem to be solved.” My mind was very engaged in working with my tools to extract the weeds and that, I believe, freed up my unconscious mind to deal with the mental weeds.
This is essentially what Lee Zlotoff is talking about when he explains the Macgyver Method for creative problem-solving. Defining the problem, then doing something else to let the unconcious mind work on a solution.
In Shop Craft as Soul Craft, Matthew Crawford writes eloquently about the mental focus and cognitive processing necessary to perform skilled manual labor and the sense of purpose and clarity that comes from doing work that produces an obvious result.
We all have literal and metaphorical weeds in our lives.
But often—usually, perhaps—we don’t realize the impact of the weeds, even when we are cognizant of their presence.
Weeds Starve Us, Block Our Path
In a garden, the weeds feed off the nutrients that would otherwise be available to the plants you want to grow. Tomatoes that are crowded by weeds will be small and scrawny, at best. The yield from a row okra wrapped in morning glory will be far lower than okra that grows unimpeded. Thistle and ragweed will eventually choke out the coneflower.
So, too, in our lives.
Mental weeds, metaphorical weeds in the form of misplaced purpose and misdirected action will impede our efforts, sometimes to the point of no return.
In my own journey, I hope that’s not the case.
I have faith that by clearing out the weeds, my own path forward will be revealed.
I’ll be sharing more about what I came to understand during the last week of October in upcoming posts.
Have you experienced clarity from finding and cutting out the metaphorical weeds in your own life? I’d love to hear your story and how you discovered the weeds and how you eliminated them.