Lesson from a Pumpkin Seed

It’s a numbers game.

One in hundreds. Messy, slimy, and ready to clean and dry. Photo taken October 2015.

The Backstory

The spirit of the fall harvest brings back memories, but it also brings home lessons for both personal and professional applications.

Growing up, playing and working outdoors was how me and my friends made the world our own. We would head out in the morning, ride bikes, hike through the woods, or play in the yard, until we were hungry. There was nothing like being outside.

So, naturally, when I was in eighth grade, I started working at Pigeon Roost Farm, where I helped bring in the giant harvest of pumpkins, gourds, corn shocks, and all those classic fall fruits, vegetables, and decorations. We even grew popcorn that needed to dry out for one year before it could be popped. How cool is that?! Growing popcorn here in Ohio.

I harvested every fall for five seasons. Like the classic line in the 1991 movie City Slickers, which I’ve seen so many times I have it memorized, “there is nothing like bringing the herd” — well, there is nothing like bringing in a big wagon load of pumpkins from the field. The sense of accomplishment and pride is really great.

To get hundreds of pumpkins growing takes a lot of work and a lot of luck, and it’s the “luck” part that I find to be most interesting about the pumpkin.

The Object

Pumpkins seeds. So many pumpkin seeds.

It all starts with the pumpkin seed. Most, if not all, of us have been there… cutting open a pumpkin and not wanting to stick your hand in there to pull out all the slimy, wet, and cold pulp and seeds. Every pumpkin is different, but what is the same… there are A LOT of seeds. Hundreds of them in an average-sized one.

Why does the pumpkin need to generate so many seeds? Well, not all of them make it.

That’s what makes the pumpkin seed so interesting. According to the comments of growers on Almanac’s website, only 30%, or 1 in 3, seeds planted will grow to produce a pumpkin. Wow. That also means that 70% of seeds either are still-born or die. It comes down to… the more you make, the greater the chances of success. It’s a numbers game.

I’m sure other plants have worse ratios, but the pumpkin seed has a way to tell a story that other seeds don’t. Why? My guess is that the seed is discovered by the person carving the pumpkin; they’re big; and exist in massive quantities. They’re fresh. Like seeing new life begin… or seeing how fast things can die (pumpkins don’t last that long after you cut holes in them).

The pumpkin seed is where many kids begin to make the connection that produce like this comes from a seed. They can feel it and smell it… and love it. I still remember carving pumpkins in third grade elementary school and having a contest of who’s pumpkin had the most seeds. Sitting on the floor in the hallway with a cut-opened pumpkin on newspaper, painstakingly but with excitement, counting the seeds one by one — hoping that I would have the most seeds in the class; after all, I had a pretty big pumpkin.

The Lesson

From an early age, we are taught that you need to work hard to succeed; to try again after failure; and practice makes perfect. When it comes down to it, quantity is key… the more seeds you create, the better the chances that one of those seeds will grow. One seed among hundreds of seeds in one pumpkin. One person among billions of people. One idea out of thousands of thoughts. One long shot.

Saving seeds like take a lot of time, effort, and care — most people are not willing to try, or if they do, they give up quickly. Maybe it’s a underestimation of work effort, poor planning, or lack of passion/desire.

What seeds are you cultivating? At work? At home?

The analogies with this line of thought can be endless… from sales teams pounding the pavement to executive think tanks to a dad trying to raise his two daughters, so I’ll boil it down to what I feel are the highlights.

The lessons to be learned from the pumpkin seed:

  • Don’t give up. Seeds need cultivating and nurturing to grow.
  • The odds of winning increase with every attempt.
  • Determination and planning make all the difference.
  • It really is a numbers game. Keep trying and perfecting your talent.
  • Something that looks like a mess, is gross and slimy, and doesn’t look like it has a chance, may be the greatest victory waiting to happen.

Thinking back to my third grade experience of counting seeds — was it a competition I could win? If so, I had no control over it. The biggest pumpkin doesn’t necessarily have the most seeds. The person with the most ideas, sales, achievements, lines of code, junk in the garage, [fill in the blank]… doesn’t necessarily mean s/he will succeed or have winning guaranteed. It takes someone with passion, dedication, and hard work to make things happen — to have one seed grow out of hundreds, or billions, of “seeds.”

As my grandfather once told me…
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Smell that? It’s the smell of fresh pumpkin.

BONUS… how many times have I used the word “pumpkin” in this story?
Answer… 26.

Written by Shaun Holloway.