As I get on up in years, I often find myself mentoring young horticulturists and county agents. That’s because old Greg has a lot of personal and professional experience that’s relative to a multitude of life choices. After all, I’ve worked in all three branches of the land grant university system—teaching, research, and extension along with the public garden world and the nursery industry. Each was valuable in my education and each shaped who and what I am today.
Young folks attempt to enter a profession while literally struggling to figure out who they are. It’s not easy for anybody and the chances of getting it right the first time are slim. I certainly didn’t.
Beginning a career is also the time when a person must choose between a profession that involves a hobby or pastime, providing a more stimulating and enjoyable atmosphere, or one that makes more money to spend on their hobby on the weekends and holidays. As you well know, I chose a career that was also my hobby. It’s not always the best choice as there’s a very real chance that the duties and stress associated with a job can kill the enthusiasm one once had for a favorite pastime. I had to learn to mentally divide my job from my hobby so as not to affect my personal time. At the same time, I very well knew that practicing my profession at home would make me a better horticulturist at work. However, what we do at home on our own time isn’t always applicable in the professional world.
We hear a lot about work-life balance these days and I know from experience that it is important. So, here’s my advice. Early in life, every person on the planet should choose a passion, a pastime, and a profession. I give you permission to be greedy and pick more than one if you wish! I did.
I’m pretty sure that at some point in life, most have already chosen these but I’m very surprised that many others don’t even know what they are. And heaven help them if they haven’t chosen because the further you go in life, you are going to need to fall back on all three.
At this point you are probably thinking, Greg had it all together and knew exactly what to do each step along the way. Not even close. All I knew was that I loved gardening and being outdoors and chose a profession that would keep those near and dear.
But somewhere in the middle of eight spine and joint surgeries, I found the need to qualify and quantify the things that I truly loved in life. This need became critical and crystal clear immediately following morphine-induced acute respiratory failure after one of my neck surgeries in Houston. In hindsight, being brought back from the dead was one of the best things to ever happen to me!
From that moment on, I started making lists and categories in my head. Our lives can end at any moment, so try not to waste one minute of it on things that don’t truly matter to you. My first questions were what are the things you truly love in life and are there things on your bucket list that you haven’t done? Buckets are for listing not kicking.
That was easy. I loved gardening, music, playing sports, and nature. But I needed more answers. What if I can’t garden, hike, play the piano, or play games anymore? What then? We all know that no one gets out of this world alive, and we also know that we get less and less physically active as we age to end with no activity at all on the way out.
Here are my three categories. My profession is a horticulturist. My pastimes are gardening, playing the piano, and land/ecosystem management (sports got booted off the island for bad behavior!). My passions are nature and music. So why divide them up like that? Isn’t it easier to just say, I love them all? Easier yes, but enlightening no.
Anybody’s job can be taken away from them by a boss, an accident, old age, or assorted other circumstances. Therefore, don’t be upset when your profession is gone because it will be one day. Heck, many are happy when it is gone!
At some point, my pastimes will also wither away since they all involve physical work, nimble fingers, and hand/eye coordination. And though I certainly know I’ll miss them, my time gardening, piano playing, and working the land will cease at some point. It’s OK. It’s inevitable. My plan is to work ten more years, retire at 70, spend ten years gardening, playing boogie woogie, and blues, and restoring ecosystems, then hope I can find my shoes. If the gig lasts longer, great. If shorter, so be it.
That’s when my passion kicks in and why it’s so important to choose a passion that doesn’t involve health or wealth. Music can be enjoyed just by listening or recreating it in your head. The same goes for nature and why I always try to involve all my senses when outdoors. The sights, smells, and sounds of nature are there for all to experience whether standing or sitting in a wheelchair. Birds and butterflies can be enjoyed from a tv, computer screen, or window. I’ve always said that when I can’t get around anymore just put me next to a window where I can see a bird fly or a leaf fall. The goal is to choose a passion that only the grim reaper can take away. And if you’ll promise to scatter my ashes in the forest, even death won’t stop me.