A new take on setting goals

This week in my hemisphere we experienced the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. It’s sunny and beautiful in my yard, but it’s still a sunny, beautiful, snow-covered yard. Despite the snow, my mind is on growing things. Maybe it’s the sun, maybe the seed catalogs coming in the mail, or perhaps it’s simply the restlessness that arises within me around this time of year. You can almost hear the stirrings of green, growing things beneath the snow.

In January, I wrote about the inevitability of change and why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I said then that most change happens bit by bit, almost invisibly, rather than being the result of a sudden decision, and I stand by that. This is the sort of change that happens over the normal course of a person’s life.

While a child may seem to shoot up three inches overnight (ouch), reaching milestones is usually the result of many attempts and much experimentation with this-doesn’t-work-but-this-does. Fortunately for the survival of the human race, most of the critical milestones are reached without anyone having to make a decision of will-ye or nil-ye. The same is true, of course, of the process that leads one from being a sprightly eighteen-year-old to looking in the mirror one day and wondering when those laugh lines showed up. Ten-year challenge anyone? Man. The days are long, but the years are so short.

All that being said, this time of year still inspires me to make conscious changes: to begin new things, or to begin old things anew, and to refresh the environment around me. I’m not the only one. Spring cleaning is a traditional part of at least three cultures according to this article by Country Living. In many religious traditions, the spring equinox itself is celebrated as a time of renewal and rebirth.

Regardless of a person’s spiritual views, all of our life experiences are part of nature’s patterns of birth, growth, and death; sprouting, flowering, and fruiting. Between the past year’s harvest and the next year’s planting, there is winter. Deep winter is a time of something happening so far below the surface that we can’t see it. In my own experience, New Year’s resolutions, made during that period of unseeable something, are made in resistance to what I don’t want and what I didn’t like about the year that has just closed. It is a pushing back.

Spring has an entirely different energy around it. With the return of warmer weather comes a feeling of renewal and the stirrings of growth. Change at this time of year feels like it is more about possibility than resistance. It’s about choosing what you DO want to grow in your garden, your career, your life in general. This is the energy of Spring to me. It’s digging in, feeling the promise of life, and smelling the freshness in the wind.

As the equinox approached this year, I was struck with the idea that this might be the perfect method for shaping my near future. It would not be planning in the rigid way my mind interprets it; rather it would be planting.

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Peter F. Drucker

As a recovering perfectionist, goal setting has always been a frightening activity for me.  What if… What if I set a goal and I don’t make it? What if my goals are too grandiose? Who am I to think I could ever reach that level? What if my goals are too small? What kind of a loser has to set a goal to achieve something so small? What if?

To my perfectionist mind, goals are entirely about the result. The fruit of labor. Duh, right? But Spring, with it’s promise of growth and renewal, is not a time for prize-winning pumpkins, preserves, and golden sheaves of wheat. It is not about the final outcome. Spring is tiny buds and chartreuse stalks of baby grass amidst the mud. Spring is about what might happen. Yes, the possibility exists that your seeds won’t sprout, but the possibility also exists that they will grow beyond your wildest expectations. And so, you plant.

One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to wither, and one to grow.

English saying

I’ve always loved the above English proverb, but I’m especially enamored with it in regards to “planting” your future. When you are starting on a new path, be it a new business, meeting new friends, learning to cook, or any number of things, you should expect it to take more than one attempt. No one is awarded a degree from culinary school upon the successful completion of their first PB&J.

“Well,” I hear you exclaim in protest, “that’s only because everyone knows how to make a PB&J!” I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I am saying that when I typed, “YouTube how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” into my search bar, it turned up 1,610,000 results in 0.58 seconds, give or take a few fractions of a second. This does not indicate to me that no one is looking for this information.

Where was I? Oh yes, the mouse and the crow and the seeds and you. When you plant seeds, you don’t expect a one-to-one return. You simply will not get one plant for every single seed you plant. If you give up because one or more of your seeds is eaten by a field mouse or crow, you will miss out on one of the mathematical oddities of planting: though fewer seeds sprout than are planted, the following spring there will, once again, be seeds a-plenty.

You can count the number of seeds in an apple, but not the number of apples from a seed.


And, thus, the idea of planting inspires me to invest more than I may have had I been setting goals. The thought of “wasting effort” on attempts that don’t work out is softened and transmuted when I think of crows and apples as opposed to deadlines and dollars.

Another benefit of the planting analogy is that it helps me manage my expectations. When one plants a garden, there is no expectation of an immediate harvest. It would be foolish in the extreme to plunk a pumpkin seed in the ground in the morning and expect to be baking pumpkin pies by afternoon. Instead, there is the anticipation of seeing the first sign of green peeping out of the soil, the delight of the orangey-yellow flowers, the fanciful twirls of tendrils, and then! the joy of seeing a miniature green pumpkin where the day before there had been only a withered flower. Every stage of growth can be celebrated and enjoyed.

For those of you who have never had a space to grow a real, non-metaphorical garden, and as a reminder for those of you who have and do, growing plants is not a cut-and-dried endeavor. What grows and thrives in your neighbor’s yard might shrivel in yours. Perhaps they have more sun or a sandier soil. If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, the gardener knows (or quickly learns) that it has little to do with property lines and much to do with growing conditions.

While the ultimate goal of a garden is the harvest, spring planting is about knowing where you are starting, knowing what you want to grow, and preparing what you have to be welcoming and nurturing. There are joys to be found and lessons to be learned as seed turns to seedling, which turns to plant, which creates the flower, which yields the fruit.

This is how I aspire to be with the seeds of change I am planting in my life. This is how I hope to have inspired you to be with the seeds you are planting.

Brightest blessings, Sunny