For the last three months I’ve been working in my garden about six hours a day. I dug up an acre of land.
The first thing I did was plant a vegetable garden that is 50 yards long and 10 yards wide. I planted everything I had ever seen people grow in my area. Next I added paths and walls and stairs and bridges. I spent the majority of my time as a new mom in New York City wandering around the Brooklyn Botanical Garden trying to figure out what to do with my life, napping among the cherry blossom trees with my son. So it’s not surprising that I found myself subconsciously turning my acre into a miniature of that garden. There are twenty different rose bushes. Twenty varieties of peonies. I drove eight hours to bring home obscure types of hydrangeas.
Once we were in a full-on drought, I was watering every day. So I started adding stuff that didn’t need water. Like a tree house.
The kids spent all day in the treehouse. They ate their meals there. They brought the cats up there. And they started carrying up their favorite books.
I, on the other hand, climbed up and down the ladder, looking at my garden from up high and then rearranging the rows and the groupings so that it looked more organized from high in the tree.
Then I went to the Madison Children’s Museum. I am not a fan of this sort of place. I was planning on taking a Xanax to get myself through the deadly combination of too many people, too much noise, and insane boredom from keeping track of kids.
But on the second story someone deconstructed the floorboards of a gymnasium, brought them to the museum, and put them back, but out of order. So it’s like a Kandinsky gym floor. I told myself that I could not be in a bad mood in the face of such great creativity.
Then we got to the rooftop garden. It was a very small space and the designer managed to fit small hills, walls to walk on, a sculpture to climb over, and an arch covered in evergreens to walk under. The garden was magical. It looked like we weren’t on a roof. Also, the garden leverages synergies between unexpected combinations of plants. Corn grew next to black-eyed susans. The combination looks right because they are the same height. There was swiss chard next to hostas. They look good together because their leaves are similar.
Immediately my garden felt too rigid. Uncreative. I worked so hard and I didn’t do anything as fantastic as this. I told myself I should have hired a landscape architect. I told myself you cannot buy taste and it is embarrassing how much money I spent on plants. I am quick to go from not liking one thing I did to not liking my whole existence. So I squeezed in some self-hatred time while the kids were petting the chickens that wander like pets.
The garden at the Children’s Museum is on trend. (If you want to read about really trendy gardening, read Edible Landscaping.) But I am not on trend. And this morning I woke up and it finally rained a very hard rain, so I don’t need to water. And I felt stuck. I didn’t even want to look at my garden because I wonder, “How will I make it like the Children’s Museum?”
In the city, a garden is about bringing nature closer to every day life. In the country, a garden is about creating order from an abundance of nature.
So look. I am not on trend. And in order to be comfortable with that, I had to figure out why I’m not on trend. Why does following the current trend not intuitive to me? Stressing that I did things wrong comes from not knowing why I did it differently.
You are probably stressing about doing something wrong right now. Missing a trend. I know you are, because I’ve been doing it my whole life—stressing that I’m not doing what other people are doing. Here are two examples of trends that are hard to buck right now. But they are like city gardening. They are right for many people, but not everyone.
Yes, it’s true that people who have their own company don’t have to do what they are told. They don’t have to keep regular hours. And they can put CEO on their business card. Yes, it’s job security. But you know what? It’s high risk, it’s financially ruinous, it’s a high-divorce rate, and it’s for people with an insane drive to be right. Research from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business shows that people who do start-ups don’t want to be rich as much as they want to be respected for being right about something. Not very many people are driven by the need to be right. And of those people, not many are willing to risk their personal stability to make sure everyone knows they are right.
So you can be fine climbing the corporate ladder. There is structure and stability in that life, and there is nothing wrong with it. It’s not true that the only smart people are entrepreneurs. It’s true that the smart people look at their core needs and figure out how to address them. Entrepreneurship is not right for everyone. And when you start a company just because you want to be on trend, you look like a misplaced stalk of corn.
Advice: Look at your Myers Briggs score: if you have an S in it, it’s not likely that you should start a company. If you have a history of extreme financial instability you probably shouldn’t create more by starting a company. Look at your core needs, and address those. You do not have a core need to be famous like Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, striving to be famous is an occupational hazard of the start-up world.
It is not fashionable to say you want to grow up and take care of kids. There is nothing set up for you to do if you know you want to be a stay-at-home mom and you are 23 years old. How do you navigate the work world when you know it is temporary? When people ask what you’ve been doing, it is very uncool to say “I’ve been looking for a breadwinner to marry.” The world is set up for everyone to focus on earning money in their 20s, which obviously does not make sense for people who will have only a short 6-8 years when they will have to support themselves.
The world screams from all angles that it’s important to be able to support yourself. You will have to buck a trend to say, “I don’t want to support people financially. I want to support them emotionally.” Because that’s what a housewife does. Today it’s revolutionary to be a housewife. And I have a feeling that most women who aspire to this have days when they feel like me, sitting at the edge of my garden, thinking that all my time is stupid and wasted. It’s hard to know how to manage yourself when you’re bucking a trend.
Advice: Lie. Tell people you are focusing on work even though you’re not. Because bucking a trend is so difficult, and so disconcerting, that if you can hide it temporarily, until you get your footing, that strikes me as a very good idea. And remember: don’t let people tell you you’re a sponge for having kids and not earning money. It’s just as much a sponge for men to have kids and leave the house every day to do an easier job than taking care of them. The world is full of ways to be a sponge. We just don’t call it that when people are on trend. On trend, we call it synergy.
Bucking a trend is something that does not feel good to do. People like to be like everyone else—just better than everyone else. It’s not bucking a trend to be a great entrepreneur. It’s bucking a trend to say you want to climb a ladder. It’s not bucking a trend to work through maternity leave. It’s bucking a trend to say you want someone to support you financially. It’s scary to buck a trend, so people generally do it when they have no choice. They simply cannot live a life in the mainstream. Ask anyone who had to do things in a way that people do not respect, and they will tell you they were scared and had no choice.
One of my favorite videos is about following and trends. The video shows the first person doing something weird. And the person really, truly does look weird. It’s clear that the person has no choice. The person is just different and is alone being different. The second person who joins makes the first person look a lot less weird. The second person, the follower, makes people look at the first person differently. Like, maybe they should join, too.
It’s interesting that the first person does things because they can’t help it. The second person does something because they looked at the choices and the road less taken looks better.
There are trendy people. There are people who buck trends because they can’t help it. And there are people who buck trends because they are able to choose alternative paths. The person forging the path is the most innovative and the most lonely. But not the most unsure, because you can only be unsure if you have a choice.
Once you see these three ways to relate to a trend, you can understand better where you are.
For me this means that I feel better about my garden. And I am finding my own synergies: For example, if you build a treehouse the kids will be too high to step on all the plants.