The fire crackles in the hearth. My face tingling from the heat, I nestle underneath my cozy blanket. Homemade hazelnut cappuccino in hand, my finger taps the screen on my kindle as unread gardening books sit waiting on the side table.
It may be winter outside and in my home, but it’s spring in my thoughts. After the winter solstice passes and the days imperceptibly begin lengthening, my mind’s eye is set on the first bloom of the jonquils.
Indulging in gardening books and planning for my spring garden has been my favorite winter afternoon activity for several years. I recall the year the habit formed. I had just become a stay-at-home mom and was gearing up to save money on our grocery bills by planting my first plot of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
My two raised beds would be expanded to over 2,000 square feet in one season. Knowing the size of my task, I set out to learn as much as I could. I devoured the Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book and Vegetable Gardening for Dummies. Then I graduated to more sophisticated reading and taking detailed notes. I may not have known exactly what the pH of soil was, but I knew blueberries needed it to be about 5.0. Thank goodness for free soil testing from the County Extension Office.
As the first blades of jonquil leaves emerged from the frozen ground, I considered all of my newly acquired book knowledge. I felt like a fresh college graduate with a headful of facts but no life experience. Would everything I learned be enough to sustain a successful garden? Which diseases and pests might pose a problem? I had no idea.
As it turned out, my carefully planned garden area prepared during the previous fall proved entirely too wet in our spring. My first ambitious planting of potatoes rotted. Seeing my discouragement, my husband offered to till a piece of soil a little further away that appeared to drain better. Though this garden got off to a late start, it was the best decision we made.
Now, with three gardening seasons of experience, I realize I learned the most not from what grew well based on my careful implementation of book knowledge, but rather what flopped.
My failures proved to be my biggest lessons.
It seems today we strive to avoid failure at all costs. I think that’s because we don’t observe failure. One scroll on Pinterest shows the best versions of a creation, not what didn’t work on the first try. We see successful entrepreneurs but not their prior business busts. Many times, in an attempt to avoid failure at all costs, we avoid risk. In doing so we miss out on not only the greatest adventures but also some of the best learning opportunities.
Am I glad I spent hours poring over gardening literature? Absolutely. Preparation will never lose its value. But what I learned through preparation and failure has proven to be my greatest lessons yet.
We prepare. We do. We expect failures. We learn. We adjust. And if we make that our method to approaching any new task won’t we be more successful because of it?
I never stop preparing because I never want to stop learning. That’s why there’s a new gardening book on my kindle right now. But as the sun warms the ground and I place my boots onto the wet soil, and as I flip pages of past garden plans with memories of successes and struggles, even then I’ll expect failure. Because I know that within failure lies the greatest opportunity for growth.