My word for 2015 is “cultivate.” I chose it after thinking about what would make a good word for the year. It took me a few days to find the right one. I was afraid I might choose the wrong word, or choose one that’s not the best, and thereby miss the best one. Then I told myself that it’s better to make a decision and have it be the wrong (or not-best) decision than to sit there undecided. Better to take action and adjust course later on than to remain sitting at the dock.
What does it mean to cultivate something?
Perhaps images of planting come to mind: sowing seeds. That’s part of cultivating. That’s a part I’m good at: I could start a hundred things (maybe even all at once), and scatter seed all over a field.
But is that it? Throw some seeds out, and that’s all? No. To cultivate something involves more than just planting a seed. It’s more than just starting something. Sometimes people start too many things, because they have a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
Farmers fertilize, which translates into nurturing the project or relationship. It means feeding it, giving it attention. I can do that, too. I put in the time, interact with clients, help people. So far, so good. What else does “cultivate” entail? Here comes the hard part for me, and maybe it is for you, too: pruning. Uh-oh.
Cutting back enhances growth
This is the not-fun part. This is the scary part. What if I say no to something, and then it turns out to be the best thing evah? What if I cut a project or even a relationship, and someone important gets angry with me? How do I know what to cut?
I wish I could tell you I have been to that mountain and back again with all the answers. I’m sorry. I can’t say that. I still struggle every day with my to-do list in GQueues (a fabulous tool, by the way). The items on my list jeer at me, taunting, “You have too many of us on here, and you know it. Delete some, we dare you!” Sometimes I do delete some items. Sometimes I work as fast and feverishly as I can to check off some of them. Sometimes—okay, most of the time—I feel like I will never get to the end of the list. Some days that’s okay with me; some days it’s depressing.
Would I be able to serve clients better if I could whittle away at that list? Yes, I think I probably could. Could my turnaround time be faster? This morning, I had a two-hour turnaround for a brochure I edited for a client. That is an excellent turnaround time. But, dirty little secret time: I have some audios I need to transcribe, and they have been sitting on my computer for a month. Granted, there is no deadline on them and there is on most other things I do, but still. If I told a few more people no, I might be able to get those done faster.
No mo’ FOMO
Around January 1, I began to force myself to pass up opportunities intentionally, instead of following my impulse to help. So many requests for proposals and calls for bids and chances to help people are posted on facebook every day. I hadn’t realized how many I was seeing (and responding to) until this awareness of the need to cultivate came to me.
Most days, I notice at least two “opportunities” that I force myself to walk right on by without responding to in any way—not even to say I’d like to help but can’t. Do I feel guilty about doing that, as I thought I would? No, actually, I don’t—at least, not for any longer than about two seconds after I’ve scrolled by it.
Because I know that offering to help all those people with all those different types of requests when my list is already really long would be wrong. I wouldn’t be able to do a good job of it. It wouldn’t be doing them any favors, and it sure wouldn’t be good for me, either. I feel good about walking on by, saying no to myself. And I am saying no to myself, at least as much as I’m saying no (silently) to them. Just like the saying, “If everyone’s your customer, no one is,” we can say, “If you’re trying to help everyone, you’ll end up helping no one well.”
I hope you are skilled and practiced at cultivating: planting seeds, nurturing growth, pruning and pulling weeds whenever necessary. I wish you all the best!