Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Friday, May 20, 2016

Drama and my big news

Last week in my Wednesday Vignette, I hinted melodramatically that I had some big news, at least big for me. Anyone who has spent much time talking to me (or reading some of my posts here) knows I've got a bit of a flair for the dramatic. It's a bit ironic, actually, because I have little patience for drama in general and profess to desire a quiet, drama-free life.

Dark skies contrast with the sunlit leaves and limbs of a Quercus garryana at the top of a cliff on Hamilton Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge.

Well, let's get back on track. I've been considering a change for several months now, but have kept it (mostly) to myself until I'd made a decision and informed the people who needed to know first. So, here's my big announcement:

I'm leaving horticulture so I can garden.

Confused? I'll elaborate. I've worked in horticulture since my first job in high school. I've never worked in any other industry I never thought I ever would. But, after repeatedly failing to find what I'm looking for, I've decided it's time to try something different. I kept running into problems. Perhaps simply of my own making, but either way things didn't work out. I've known since my first job in high school that I didn't want to work at a nursery full-time. I don't like being covered in dirt and sweat and all in the cold rain or baking in the summer sun. Call me a wimp, I just think I understand my own limits. Not everyone is suited to working outdoors. I ran into the same problem working as a full-time gardener. I'm a little too obsessive compulsive, a bit too much of a neat freak. More importantly, I don't have the physical stamina for either of those jobs. I was so exhausted I had no energy for my own garden, if I could even afford one. What's the point of working with plants if you can't afford your own garden and are too tired to play with your own plants even if you could? Most importantly, through several of those kinds of positions, I haven't been satisfied in my work or in my life.
At Cistus Nursery, a silvery white willow (Salix alba), drapes it's smaller limbs dramatically across a contrasting dark green Ceanothus with blue flowers.

I've had jobs I enjoyed more. I still think I'd like working as a plant recorder or curator at a public garden. Unfortunately, those jobs are hard to come by on the West Coast, and I'm stubbornly set on living in this small region of the United States, west of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges, north of San Francisco and no further north than Vancouver, B.C. in Canada. Some people can live anywhere. I've lived in several areas of the United States and found that I'm not one of those people. Where I live is at least as important as what I do. I don't like my job dictating where I live. I think I'd probably enjoy Chile, New Zealand, or parts of Australia, but I've never even visited any of those places. My dream is to live on the Oregon coast, especially Brookings, because you can grow just about anything there.

Some of my readers know that I've been in contact with a graduate professor, trying to get into grad school. I kept getting the same message. No funding. Hang on. We'll keep trying. A few months ago, I finally got sick of being told to wait and feeling helpless. Yes, I could start over with my grad school search, try to find another professor who had a project I wanted to work on and who wanted to work with me, and hope we could work out funding, but the idea just made me more sick. I needed to do something to give myself a sense of control over my own life. I decided it was time to seek alternative paths.

Cistus 'Mickie' makes a dramatic contrast against the dark green of Yucca filamentosa.
Working for plantlust.com has given me a taste of the benefits of working from home. I really enjoy being able to make my own schedule, manage my own time, and work from the comfort of my own home. So I started looking into jobs I could do from home. After much research, I've decided to teach myself coding so I can become a freelance web developer. Maybe even a software programmer. With the amount of coding involved in back-end web development these days, there's very little difference between the two, and web applications are becoming more and more popular while traditional computer programs are declining. I found the more I looked into it, the more it appealed to me, the more it inspired me.
Yucca filamentosa forms a green sunburst as a dramatic background for the blooms of Parahebe perfoliata.
I may be getting way ahead of myself. After all, I haven't even started to learn code yet. But I think it's a good sign that I'm excited about it. It's also terrifying. I keep cycling between excitement and terror. I'm starting over completely, learning an entirely new skill set. What's more, though it's what I wanted, my success and failure will be pretty much entirely up to me. No lack of funding to blame here. That's a scary prospect. From everything I've read, anyone can learn to code. It may sound conceited, but I think I have most of the traits of a good developer. Either way, I'm excited to gain an understanding of how this technology that we use every day works, and to be able to build and customize programs and websites exactly how I want them. I've also been feeling guilty, as if I'm letting down the many wonderful mentors I've had in the horticulture industry. But I can't let that hold me back, and I don't believe they are or would be disappointed anyway.

A daunting and majestic cliff on the trail up Hamilton Mountain. 

This whole process has made me question how we teach children to follow their passion. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great if someone can make a living doing that. But I also think it's wrong to put so much focus on work. What's wrong with finding work that is simply enjoyable and gives us satisfaction? I think it depends as much on the kind of work, what skills the work requires, as it does on the industry or subject at hand. Maybe we should teach people to examine their skills and the kind of work they enjoy doing, in addition to fostering their passions. And are we allowed only one passion? I think not. So I'm going to try building a life for myself, rather than just a career.
A dramatic view from the trail up Hamilton Mountain. It's both terrifying and fascinating, standing at the top of this precipice, wondering how this circle of rock and moss formed and how only two trees have found a place near the center where they can grow. I wanted so badly to find a way to that spot to explore it.

And that's my big news. I know I didn't owe anyone an announcement or explanation, but I wanted to share. It may not seem like a big revelation to anyone else, but for me it's life-altering. Just chalk it up to my sense of the dramatic and one of my episodes of over-sharing. It may seem counter-intuitive to work with computers so I can garden more, but working from home will give me a little more time (no more commute) and a lot more flexibility. And yes, part of the appeal of web development is the income, which will allow me to actually afford my own home and garden, something I just can't picture achieving in the horticulture industry before I'm 60, if ever. Maybe I'm being impatient and dramatic, but I'm happier with my decision to change than to try to stick with a path that doesn't seem to be leading anywhere and that I'm no longer satisfied with.

Unfortunately, this does mean I'll be leaving my position as propagator at Cistus Nursery at the end of June, so they'll be needing a replacement. As much as I love the people there, the work isn't something I want to do full-time and I decided it would be worth it to no longer have to move twice a week between Castle Rock and Portland. The resulting "free" time will be dedicated to learning coding and continuing to work for plantlust.com. It will also allow me to help my parents get all their new plants through this first year. By this time next year, I hope to leave them to their own devices.

20 comments:

  1. Good for you to make a scary decision! Me though, I went sort of the other way, starting with engineering and computer science and then getting into gardening and related things later. Not that I've ever worked in horticulture -- don't think I could do it full-time. (I have worked at home since 1997 so will 100% agree with you on that!)

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    1. I know a lot of people who took up gardening later in life or left better-paying careers to work in horticulture. I don't know anyone who's gone the opposite way like me, but then I haven't talked to a lot of people in other industries. So why shouldn't I? If people can go one way, why not the other? I love working from home. No more rush hour traffic!

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  2. It's brave and wise of you to make this change. Perhaps these divergent paths will meet again in your future in some way. Maybe you'll create an amazing new web application for public garden curators and you'll travel to gardens the world over providing training in it's use. I wish you every success and happiness as you make this transition.

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    1. I hope you're right about the wise part. I've already been thinking about offering discounted rates to small nurseries. I like your idea, too!

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    2. I was thinking exactly the same thing Peter so eloquently stated. I think it's brave and wise, and see no reason whatsoever as to why you wouldn't be able to (at some point) combine your various passions. I totally agree with you - aside for being in a beautiful environment and being surrounded by great people, the actual work of running a nursery is for the dogs. Hot, cold, wet, exhausting, low pay, crappy hours - all of that. I wish you and your new endeavor all the luck, karma and excellent timing in the world!

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    3. Thanks so much, Anna! I hope it works out. I'm excited to give it a shot.

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  3. I am so happy for you! (but hopefully you already knew that). Reading your words about career and passion I can't help but think of my husband. His artwork is his passion, but his career is also hugely meaningful to him and gives him a great deal of satisfaction (plus of course it pays for my passion and our "luxurious" lifestyle!). Also as Peter alludes to everyone's got a niche, and there's no reason to think you can't someday combine you passion and (new) profession. Yay! Can't wait to see where you go from here.

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    1. I knew, Loree, but thank you again! I knew it couldn't be pure craziness to think people can have their passions and satisfying jobs (that enable them to have satisfying lives), too. You're husband is a lucky man. To me, you do have a luxurious lifestyle! I'm not looking to get rich, just build a nice life with a comfortable little home. Though I think I'll need a bigger garden.

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  4. Congrats, Evan. I did the same thing about ten years ago. When my kids were old enough that I could return to work, I knew that horticulture was my passion. But having worked at a nursery, I also knew that money wouldn't be much and the hours would be long and painful for a 50-something body. Fortunately, I was able to get a desk job and I loved it. But then layoffs brought me back home. Luckily through the gardening network I was able to join the Plant Lust gang. What I'm saying is, you have to find what works for you and being true to yourself is critical. Terror is a part of any new endeavor and to be expected. You'll do great. I'm sure of it. Have fun!

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    1. Thanks, Grace! We are so lucky to be part of the Plant Lust team. Life is a series of discoveries as we get closer and closer to what we truly need and want.

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  5. Wonderful news, Evan! You found a glimmer of bliss and are following it. I hear you on the working outside deal...it's no easy task working for a nursery at any level. You have inspired me....and if I can help you along your way in any fashion, I hope to be able to. Cheers, Evan - here's to the path that's meant for you :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Tamara! You and your wonderful new house and garden helped inspire me, too! I don't know about "meant for," but it's the path I'm choosing to pursue.

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  6. I've often thought that people lock themselves into life paths too early and end up dissatisfied with careers that eat up all their energy. My husband is an example. I also think that people can have more than one career if they choose. I fall into that category. Living for work is fine if serendipity provides a path that happens to check all the boxes, which your horticultural career clearly didn't provide to you. Picking a career that provides the time and freedom to pursue your passion is a great choice.

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    1. Funny you should mention multiple careers. I used to think I didn't want that, but now I do. So while I intend for web development to be my big money maker, I'm still going to work for Plant Lust and I'm looking into selling stock photography online, because I also love photography and it's silly to have all these pictures just sitting on a hard drive. I'm really looking forward to building this quirky mishmash life.

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  7. Good luck on your new choice of a career and life path Evan! Glad to hear you have it worked out at least and that's already one big hurdle over. It's not easy making such a decision and well done for arriving into one.

    We echo a lot of your sentiments. As you already probably have figured out we both have full time non horticulture careers and by doing so for years are quite advanced in the ladder which in turn makes life easier. Gardening is just a 'hobby' but we are very passionate about our 'play'. What we have, we probably won't have had if we both went into horticulture early on.

    It's not very 'romantic' to say but yes in life you have to consider finance and practicalities too.

    One aspect were getting short though and is becoming a luxury is time....free time to garden. You may find yourself in that situation later on but cross that bridge when you have too :)

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    1. Thanks guys! Time would have become an issue regardless of my career. I might as well find something I can enjoy and that will allow me to afford to garden when I do have time.

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  8. It's so easy to drift onto a path without really considering where it leads. Kudos to you for examining your options and making reasoned choices.

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    1. It's also easy for someone as stubborn as me to stick to a path long after it's clear it won't take me where I want to go. Finally admitting it to myself was the hardest part.

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  9. It's great you found a new career path for your obsession. I've been a lifelong gardener/housewife/mother and for 10 years a caregiver for an elderly mother-in-law, so I am stuck in the sweating/freezing gardener situation you describe, and though I love gardening in the PNW, plants are able to overstretch their boundaries here to a daunting degree and I'm tired of the battle. Your plan to enter the computing world sounds like an ideal solution for you, I wish you every sucess, Evan!

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  10. It's a big change; thanks for sharing this with your readers. Its brave of you on both accounts. I wish you success and satisfaction.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!