From Our Successes We Learn…So Little

Everybody wants a pat on the back, a round of applause or just the simple inner acknowledgement of succeeding, but beyond the momentary glow, success often leaves the mind, at least my mind, very little to feast on afterwards.  I sometimes experience a disquieting sense of vague puzzlement about what led to the success, and despite the craving for it, I find it ironically dissatisfying.  But mistakes….now there is rich fare one can really delve into.

One’s mistakes, whether interpersonal or merely technical, are often vivid, glaring, and definite.  They call for attention, can be quite memorable, and leave the mind puzzling over matters for days if not weeks or months.  While an ongoing focus on mistakes can be a sign of low self-esteem, I’ve come to realize that if I can decouple shame and blame from what actually went wrong, I have a tremendous opportunity to learn and improve.

While this blog is not the place to air my social faux pas, I will be quick to offer an example from the garden.  Even 20 years or so into this career, I relish the fact that I still make plenty of gardening mistakes.  Indeed, I would question whether I was still expanding and experimenting enough as a gardener if I weren’t making a least a few significant and many minor flops each season.  If I can see what went wrong and learn from it, then that’s valuable knowledge I would not have gained if, God forbid, everything had merely gone well.

Here are some peas I planted in our rooftop boxes, which just last year received wonderful new trellises up the back side.  I intended, of course, that the peas would tendril their way up the back and didn’t give enough heed to the fact that their own heft might drag them down (and forward) a bit in their growth.  Being a fanatic for efficient use of space, I planted lettuce in the foreground, much of which we wound up losing as the peas lazily splayed themselves over the top of it.  I gave these peas too much credit and should have been more supervisory (helicopter gardener) along the way.

Peas encroach on lettuce and have already engulfed a whole other row of lettuce.  This looks like the work of a novice…but wait, I did that!

Here I show evidence of having learned from my mistake.  Before these peas got out of control and to insure they went up instead of out, I installed a little bit of concrete reinforcing wire as a mini-trellis or tuteur (as in educator or guardian….teaching the peas the correct way to grow), giving them a guiding hand in order that they reach the higher intended trellis.  Then the lettuce planted in front, as in this Flashy Trout Back, a beautiful speckled romaine,  has a fighting chance of getting the space it needs to grow.

Though the peas are showing a little browning from age, they are nicely trained by the little piece of concrete reinforcing wire in front of them.  See how those lettuces luxuriate in the spaciousness.  This is more what I’d expect from a 20+ year gardener.

The beauty of a mistake in the garden is that we are often forced to look at it for a time, to meditate upon our inadequacy.  It may  develop in time as a kind of awkward slow-motion plant ballet.  However, as I said before, if we can leave self-blame behind, we can engage our curiosity and wonder why results went so far from our intentions.  Like success, mistakes can arise from multiple causes which may be only dimly perceived, but in my experience, there is often a glaring cause, a “fruit” of experience, albeit a bitter one, waiting to be plucked and properly digested.  Thus nourished, we may proceed wiser in our practice.