I’m a man, and I pick flowers.
I’m not sure exactly where I fall on the manliness scale. I know that if there was a checklist, I would certainly meet some of the criteria. I have a beard, I eat meat, I can lift heavy objects, I like my sports rough, and when I try on any jeans tighter than ‘boot cut’ they don’t make it past my calves. I think it would be fair to say that my appearance and presence would be perceived to be at least a normal level of manliness. But what does being manly really mean? In fact, what does being normal even mean?
I’d like to paint a picture. A man stands 6’0’’ tall and weighs in at a muscular 200lbs. A shaved head, some tattoos, a full beard. A muscle shirt with more than his fair share of chest hair spilling out. Can you picture it? Well now the man bends down into a full squat and reaches to the ground in front of him. He gently plucks the head of a small golden flower — a dandelion. He very carefully pulls the individual petals from that dandelion with his less than dainty hands. He repeats with another flower, and another. I think we can agree that the conventional checklist of manliness does not include dandelion picking.
But that is how I’ve spent much of my free time in the last week. Picking dandelions, and plucking off the petals; playing the world’s longest game of ‘she loves me, she loves me not’. Why am I picking dandelion petals? Initially it was just because I wanted to try making dandelion wine. But the experience has become far more rewarding than I thought it would be, and I haven’t even collected enough petals to make a batch yet. It’s a task that has taught me about myself, but also about how quite often ‘normalcy’ holds us back from accomplishing great things.
Sometimes doing something extraordinary requires disregarding the normal. And sometimes doing something extraordinary requires disregarding the ‘normal’ definition of extraordinary.
I’m in the process of leaving a cushy corporate job to restore an abandoned farm and become a farmer (another story for another time), so it’s safe to say there are already some societal norms that I feel need to be challenged. But the hilarity of that image — of a grown man picking dandelion petals — really drove home the lesson for me. Squatting there playing with tiny yellow flowers helped me understand how powerful it can be to eschew normalcy, but it also helped me to understand the duality of that concept.
Most successful people know that you don’t get ahead by following the crowd. As much as we seek to ‘fit in’, fitting in means shooting for average. The people in my life who I know are happy are the ones who aren’t worried about conforming. They are confident in themselves and know that acting ‘normally’ only gets you so far. They have jumped off the path they were on to make their own — to excel in the military, to found a half a million dollar company, to train Olympic athletes, to fight fires. All things that couldn’t be accomplished by seeking ‘normal’. Normal is the difference between working in sales and commanding fifty men. The difference between bartending and running a company. The difference between working at GoodLife and training Olympians. The difference between working 3 side jobs and being a full time lifesaver. The difference between watching Netflix and picking dandelions.
I’m not comparing their successes to each other or to my own. I’m saying that in order to accomplish something you have to be willing to disregard what is considered normal. It’s about the willingness to learn, work hard, and behave in a way that may be different. People who pride themselves on being normal usually want to stay there, and they want you to stay there with them. Don’t.
Normal would say that farming is hard work and you can’t do it. It would say that finishing a day sweaty and dirty is a bad thing. It would say that watching TV all evening isn’t a waste of time. It would say that picking dandelions is crazy.
And this leads me to the second half of what those dandelions taught me. It’s fairly easy to understand that extraordinary accomplishment means behaving in a way that is different from the average. But the other side of that coin is that it’s also OK to redefine what extraordinary accomplishment means. I hope to gather enough dandelion petals this year to make about 25 bottles of wine. In 2–3 years it will have aged and I will try that wine. If you frame that with a ‘normal’ definition of accomplishment I will have produced maybe $300 of wine that for all I know will taste like dirt. And for those hours of work and years of waiting, I will probably just drink the wine or give it away. ‘Normal’ would call that a colossal waste of time. I would call it an extraordinary accomplishment. I’m spending time in the sunshine. I’m reminding myself of the absolute wonder and intricacy of life. I’m learning about the dandelion plant and already have 4 more uses for the leaves and roots. I’m crafting something unique, which is probably one of my greatest joys. A grown man picking dandelions.
Accomplishing goals isn’t just about a willingness to be different, it’s also about a willingness to pursue different goals.
To be successful, half the battle is not caring if people think you’re crazy for picking ‘whatever your dandelions are’. It means you are confident in yourself and you don’t need conformity to feel safe. It means you have the tools to accomplish extraordinary things. But the other half of success is being able to say why you want to pick your dandelions. Being happy depends on your willingness to define your own successes. It depends on being confident enough to set goals that aren’t normal. It’s the difference between living inside the mold, breaking it, or using your own.
I’m a man and I pick flowers.