No, no, no. Not out of an airplane. (That's my friend Mindy and her husband Jim in the photo, not me! Good Lord, I have enough trouble with nerves inside an airplane!) I'm speaking metaphorically. You see, I made a big personal leap of faith, jumping feet first into the unknown. I resigned from my full-time job to pursue my gardening dreams!
For the last six years, I've been fitting teaching, presenting, and writing about gardening, as well as garden coaching and hands-on client gardening, around my day job. It hasn't been easy, but it was the only way to pursue my life's passion. I've been plotting and scheming, saving and planning, a long while now.
So 2009 is my personal year of change, as well as that of a nation, and I look forward to my new life. It's scary (oh yes!) but exciting but frightening but invigorating... a roller coaster of emotions daily (or hourly, depending).
So how did I get here? How did a risk-averse, practical, not 21-year-old single woman decide to give herself a year's "sabbatical" (or "gap year" if you like) to follow her own dreams?
The short answer is, it took a long time. In two major ways, my journey is about loss, but in a hundred little ways it's so much about what I've gained. The long answer is below. I hope you will indulge my thoughts today, as I both look to the future and reminisce about my journey.
I've been earning my living as a marketing and technical communications professional my entire adult life. And I've been thinking about work and life and happiness, and how sometimes earning a living conflicts with getting to follow one's true passion, since April, 1997. That's when my dad died. He was 59 and never got to retire. A lifelong hard-worker, he moved from his homeland of Austria to Switzerland to Australia to Germany to the U.S., always seeking the next and better job. We never talked about it directly, but I know his career wasn't everything he had hoped it might be, and I know he spent his life searching. I don't know what he was looking for exactly, and I'm not sure he did either, but I don't think he ever did find it. I am very much my father's daughter. I too had been searching, without even realizing it, and I didn't know exactly what for, either. I did know I wanted to retire some day, and I knew I wanted to not only find my "something" but to grab it with both hands, pinch its cheeks, and give it a big kiss like I was its Aunt Mabel! I also knew there are no guarantees.
Things went on normally for years, but I spent a lot of time thinking about how my life might be different. As time passed, I became stronger and found the courage to accept things I knew were true even though I didn't want them to be, and to admit things were false even though I wanted to keep pretending. I became divorced in late 2001.
In spring of 2002, when I was working part-time based on another life plan that didn't pan out, I needed to supplement my income. On a whim, I designed some flyers for my gardening services and distributed them in the higher-income neighborhoods in town. I was overwhelmed by responses, eventually getting referrals from clients of clients and so on. I enjoyed the work, everything from mucky one-time spring cleanups to weekly upkeep to designing small garden beds. The ironic thing is, I know I never would have started a gardening business had I remained married. Not only wouldn't I have needed the money, but it never would have occurred to me that I knew enough to work for others. It turned out to be both a wonderful learning experience and an unexpected reinforcement of my abilities.
In 2003, I decided to volunteer at "for The Love of Cats" (TLC), a no-kill cat shelter/cat retirement community operating out of a barn and restored farmhouse. My intention was to help with cat care, but it turned out shifts were specific hours on specific days, and my schedule didn't allow that. I did notice the backyard had a nice deck and a fenced in area, complete with sidewalk and resplendent in weeds. So I volunteered in another way. I researched, designed, planted, and maintained a garden for the cats to enjoy, with plants especially attractive to them. The thing is, I never would have felt comfortable designing a garden of this size had I not "gotten my feet wet" with my gardening client work.
TLC's owner, Kitty Zimmer, was always supportive of my efforts and the experience remains my favorite volunteer activity. Kitty also wanted others to know about what I was doing in the garden, and asked me to give a talk to the rest of the volunteers. Um, what? Oh, I knew my way around PowerPoint no problem, and I enjoy organizing information and photos. But let's just say I didn't do particularly well in my college speech class and had never expected to have to speak publicly again! But I did it anyway as I didn't want to let Kitty down. I was nervous and shaky and sweaty, but to my surprise the talk wasn't a complete disaster. The two subsequent talks Kitty asked me to give went a little better each time. And I no longer equated public speaking with torture. The thing is, I never would have started speaking if I hadn't volunteered at TLC.
In 2004, I applied to the Washtenaw County master gardener program. I had investigated the program in 2000 but couldn't get time off work to attend. My part-time schedule allowed it now. My county's MG program is very popular and about twice as many people apply as are accepted. My friend Aunita, who I had met through another volunteer organization, urged me to stress my volunteer experience in my application because the MG program is all about volunteering. I did and I was accepted. I loved the class sessions and I also met another close friend, Carole, through the program.
In fact, I've met many wonderful people and worked on many wonderful projects through my participation as a master gardener. Most notably, I was selected to speak at the 2005 International Master Gardener Conference in Saskatoon, Canada. That was my first official presentation. That talk led to others. Soon I was putting together and presenting classes on a wider range of topics. I actually started actively enjoying speaking, and I also began teaching very part-time through Washtenaw Community College's Lifelong Learning program. It was an unexpected joy, and an unexpected skill. It feels very good to end up being good at something you once hated and feared! The thing is, I never would have continued speaking, or made some of my closest friends (What can I say? Gardeners are such wonderful people!), had I not become a master gardener.
In 2006, I presented a program on winter seed sowing at the Michigan MG Conference. My two proctors were so excited about my talk, and a group of gardeners wanted their photo taken with me. (ME! Did they think I was Paul James or something?!?!) One of the proctors suggested I write a book on the topic. I brushed this off. For a while. Then it dawned on me (you'll excuse me but I'm a bit slow sometimes) that I'd been making a living as a writer for such a long time in the corporate world, so why couldn't I write about gardening? To pysch myself up, I phoned Pat Lanza, author of several books on lasagna gardening, who had been the keynote at that conference and who had given out her phone number to would-be authors. She was great to talk with, very encouraging, very practical, very savvy, and very funny. I was enthused. But I got distracted. I started working full-time at the beginning of 2007 and my attention wavered. I thought of 1,000,006 (approximately) reasons why not to write the book. I mumbled a lot about working on it after getting home from work and on weekends, when I imagined (entirely unreasonably of course) my friends to be sipping margaritas and partying without me. Then I wrote the book. It took a long time for a short book, but I finished it. The thing is, I never would have written that book if I hadn't given that talk.
Since 2007, I realized I had enough experience, services, products, and almost Pollyanna-like dogged determination to maybe one day pursue gardening full-time, at least for a while, to see where it might lead me. I started saving large amounts of my salary that year. Having barely gotten by on part-time income for a few years, it was not hard to save the extra I was making now.
By late last year, I had enough money to get me by, whatever else happens, for a year. Still I hemmed and hawed and hesitated because, as I'm sure you've noticed, the economy has taken a nose dive. And I've never not worked a "real" job. I've always earned enough money to support myself. I was scared. For about a month, I had little panic attacks daily. So I looked at things on paper, doing the math. I did the math again. I added contingencies. I added emergencies. Surprisingly, the numbers still held. I did them yet again just to be sure, what with being a writer and all (we're not so great with numbers!). They held. So I packed my parachute, put on my rig, and, heart beating terribly, I handed in my notice on groundhog day. My last day was today, Friday the 13th.
All week I've had a sense of calm and quiet resolve. This is something I've wanted to do, and knew I had to do, for a very long time. And now that I've jumped, it feels calmingly right. I'm just hoping my parachute will open! Please send good thoughts my direction, and if you have any quotes or pithy thoughts, please let me know!
You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. — Dove Promises
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance... This opportunity comes once in a lifetime. — Eminem
The world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome, dubious eggs, called possibilities. — George Eliot
Freedom was waiting... all I had to do was make up my mind. — Leann Rimes