I’m not dominating the world and you can, too

Garlic is what I have to grow more than anything else in my garden because it provides a desperately needed, ever present, year-round lesson that I can’t find anywhere else.

This fall I embraced the pure chaos of gardening with my small children in order to put the garlic in. The one-year-old chewed on the stems from the seed garlic and tried to shove clumps of dirt into his mouth. The three-year-old was assigned a section of the garden to demolish with a spade as he saw fit, and he wasn’t lacking in enthusiasm.

I managed to shove the garlic into something close to rows, but the days of carefully turning over the soil, smoothing it out, placing guides for each row, and measuring in between each clove are over. I dumped compost over the cloves as my boys shrieked and fought over shovels at the sand table. I just needed ten more seconds to smooth the dirt out—never mind.

“Just last 10… more… seconds…” is one of my daily mantras for my kids.

This week we’re cooking with the garlic that I planted last fall. In Ohio, we can plant garlic around early October and harvest it in July. That’s nine months of waiting from planting to harvest, and often a year before you can eat most of it.

There is no life hack, fast lane, or secret to doubling your output with garlic. It is unrelentingly slow and fair beyond all reason. Garlic reaps precisely what you sow.

With garlic, you do the work, you wait, and then you harvest when it’s fully ready.

I grew garlic long before I realized it had anything to teach me. In those days I used to work long hours, taking the advice of business gurus that you could push your limits, work faster, and rise to new heights if you worked longer hours than anyone else. I implemented smarter systems, improved my speed in everything, and let my work spill into just about every evening since there’s always one more thing to do.

After about a year of pushing myself at this pace, I hit a wall.

I had two big problems in my work: I lacked focus, and I neglected boundaries that would have helped me work at a sustainable pace.

It’s true that some business and productivity experts have crushed the competition and achieved GLOBAL DOMINATION, or whatever they want to call “work.” They have worked harder, faster, and smarter than the rest of us. I learned after a year of anxiety and misery that I needed boundaries, limits, and a more sustainable pace that means I won’t be the best in anything, ever.

I made the mistake of setting up the over-achievers as my ideal. Perhaps they have something that drives them to work without limits no matter what the cost may be. Perhaps they need to smash records and see their names on the top of every list.

I need garlic.

I need to be completely unplugged from everything with my hands in the dirt. I need something to throw myself into that isn’t work. I need a place where my kids and I can play without pings, rings, and bleeps from my phone. I need something that slowly rises from the ground and takes its sweet old time to fully develop.

When I practice the Examen each evening, I’ve noticed that gardening is often one of the most restorative things I do throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter it’s often reading a book—preferably something on soul care or spirituality.

These aren’t the sorts of things you necessarily do to dominate the world and to become number one.

After a season of treating my work as my most important investment, I’ve learned that caring for my soul is actually tops on that list. If I can set some boundaries around my work, family, and personal time, I’ll gradually cultivate health in my soul and my family.

My work as a writer used to crush my soul because I tied my personal identity to my career success, and so I sacrificed everything to save “myself.” I suppose we’re all just trying to save ourselves most days. Perhaps we’re distracting ourselves from the fact that we’re losing ourselves.

I need space to pray, read, build, grow, create, and love. I need to take small steps every single day to remind myself that I’m running this race to win it, but the race is to experience a love that is deeper than I could imagine, to use my talents well, and to become a healthier person for the benefit of those around me.

That brings us back to garlic.

This is slow, steady work. It’s nourishing and fulfilling in its own right, but it’s not flashy and it’s not going to help us dominate the world. That last point is perhaps the most important reason why most of us need to grow garlic.

This post was adapted from Write Without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing, which is on a limited time sale for $1.99. Find it here: Kindle | Nook | iBooks

GARLICPhoto by Lukas Kubicek

Reading Time:

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17 Comments

  1. mikhail

    I do not know how to get all I doubt

  2. slowmamma

    This is wonderful! I relate to it on every level.

  3. Gayl

    I never thought growing garlic could teach such a valuable lesson. “After a season of treating my work as my most important investment, I’ve learned that caring for my soul is actually tops on that list. ” This is so important, because when we care for our souls, we are better able to put things in perspective. This growing and learning process takes a lifetime of slow and steady progress. It’s hard to slow down. We just want to pack as much into a day as possible and then our bodies pay for it. I need to be more intentional about setting aside times for prayer, knowing that the work isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there when I am done, but maybe I’ll be more refreshed and have wisdom to know what to do and what to put off. Thanks for giving a lot of food for thought!

  4. Carrie

    This was great!! Also – could you tell me how much garlic you plant to last you a whole year? I am interested in doing this now!

    • Ed Cyzewski

      Get it planted ASAP. It honestly depends how much you use. We plant about 60 cloves and that about does it for us, but some years we go through it really fast. As a bonus, you can also cook with the garlic scapes in the early summer.

  5. Megan

    Thank you!

  6. Regi

    Oh, this is beautiful!

    ” … I needed boundaries, limits, and a more sustainable pace that means I won’t be the best in anything, ever.” — Love it! True for me, too …

  7. Suzie

    Ed, really enjoyed this post. The whole “crush it, dominate” movement confuses me. Sometimes I think we are a little too full of ourselves. Nature always has a way of reminding me that I am not the center of the universe. Kinda cracked me up, “I just needed 10 more seconds…. never mind.” How true with a lot of things, not just children. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes I just need to push the cloves in the ground and cover them with compost. My new life philosophy!

  8. Jessica

    I appreciate this post! It is not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed, even by good and positive things like an abundance of creative ideas. I have found that it is always to my benefit (and that of those around me) to do less, move more slowly, quiet down, be still, and rest. It is counter-intuitive, when faced with so many options, items on the to-do list, possibilities, to take the path of less “do” more “be”, but it has never led me astray.

    Thank you for this piece.
    Jessica

  9. Guest

    Love this. That is all.

  10. Andrea Ewer

    Thanks for sharing!! Such a perfectly worded post. And such a wise point about becoming a healthier person for the benefit of those around you 🙂

  11. Lisa

    We planted 100 cloves of garlic a couple weeks ago! This was a great read!

  12. Amanda

    Amen!

  13. Diana

    This is what I’ve been thinking about gardening for a long time. You put it much more beautifully than I ever have, though! The other thing in gardening that brings me back to this lesson is seed-starting. So much anticipation, and there’s absolutely no way to rush it 🙂

  14. Beth Williams

    Ed,

    I am with you 100%. I worked hard for a few years and pushed myself, but then my soul hit a wall! Last June I cried out for spiritual whitespace. I needed to breathe and be and savor life!! You see my aging dad got really ill last year and I missed a ton of work, but that’s ok. Now I have the blessings of God to “stay at home” and visit dad 3X week for extended times. We walk, talk, make sure he’s eating etc.

    I don’t get this whole world dominate work hard, long hours go do be awards crap!! God said you can’t take it with you, so why go for more more more? Savor this garlic time with family and friends.

    Blessings 🙂

  15. Margie

    I swear every weekend roundup I receive in my Feedly feed had this article in it. Well written.

  16. Shraddha

    Awesome Article! I can relate to it on every level.. Never quite felt at home in the rat race of the corporate world! Ready to quit it but dont know what to do to pay the bills either!

    Perhaps the key is in downsizing & working on simpler things!

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