Relationships are like gardening; you reap what you sow.

Photo by @chris abney

A short essay on why we should treat relationships like gardening. Best read together with How To Choose Who To Spend Your Time With.

1 — Survey

Relationships are like gardening; you reap what you sow. To be a good gardener, first, you need to survey the lay of the land to know what you have to work with or against. The seasonal climate, the amount of sun exposure, and so on.

Most importantly, you need to make sure that the soil is healthy and the conditions are right for life to flourish. Because even the greenest hands, the mightiest efforts, and the most sincere intentions, cannot revive an infertile plot of land.

If you want to have good relationships and your efforts to pay off, good intentions alone are not enough. First, you need an accurate overview what you have to work with: time, energy, people, yourself.

2 — Plan

Next, it’s time to compose a vision of what your ideal garden looks like, so that you can plot a course of actions that’ll stimulate growth while keeping death and decay at bay. For example, after deciding what types of plants you wish to have, you need to find out which thrives alongside each other and which ones bicker, and consequently, learn the type of care they need to flourish: what fertilizers to use, how often they need to be watered, how much space they need, and if they require any special nutrients for optimal growth.

Ultimately, to bring any vision to life, it’s imperative that you identify all the factors that might aid or impede your success, so that you know how to best benefit, circumvent, and if need be, overcome them. A good plan built on firm principles is the foundation which you’ll stand on.

To build fruitful relationships, you need a plan of what type of relationships you wish to have; long-lasting ones which ask for sustained care and attention or more new friends which require more initial time and energy investments.

3 — Principles

If you want life to prosper under your watch, it requires you to do only a few things, but it insists upon that you do them very well. It’s essential that you deeply grasp the principles that form the bedrock of a thriving ecosystem: balance, diversity, and harmony. The key to becoming a good gardener lies in cultivating a deep understanding of the elemental rules that govern vitality; that which concerns both nature’s nature and your own nature.

In regard to the former, a good gardener toils to attain a symbiosis between what is pleasing to the eye and what is pleasing for life to thrive. It’s not enough that a garden looks beautiful, it has be beautiful.

Relating to your own nature, it’s crucial that you develop an acute sense of self-awareness, so you can step outside yourself and observe yourself and your environment as objectively as possible. Otherwise, given the most fertile plot of land, first-rate seedlings, best fertilizers, and still your own efforts will be thwarted by yourself. Thus, you need to know your strengths so you may capitalize on them, your limitations so that you may supplant them.

To be able to grow relationships require that you understand deeply both the basic principles of what make relationships function well, including your relationship with yourself.

4 — System

But we humans are fallible creatures, and despite our best intentions we tend to make errors of judgement that oppose ourselves, which means that we can’t reasonably expect to rely on motivation who is inspiring but capricious by nature, else we’ll yield to the fluctuating whims of our moods and desires, and that will surely result in the wither and falter of the garden.

The solution then, is to create a system which limit those mistakes by helping you to allocate your time and energy more purposefully. After all, if it’s an ecosystem we’re managing, it makes sense that we create a system to manage it.

A well-designed system is both effective and efficient. That means it needs to have clear goals, stated rules, and dynamic feedback loops. It should be built on habits and routines to help you to strike a balance in your duties, for example: Between planting new seedlings, pruning growing plants, and plucking the weeds. A good system when enacted, ensures that you are constantly making meaningful strides towards your objectives with minimal friction.

To repeatedly develop good relationships that are sustainable, you must develop a certain cadence to your social calendar, ensuring that you are fulfilling your role(s) in your relationships consistently, as effortlessly as possible.

5 — Path

Make no mistake, becoming a good gardener is hard work. It is often both physically and mentally demanding. For the most part it comes across as grunt work to the casual observer. As with any paths to excellence, it’s a drop of inspiration and a torrent of perspiration.

The journey asks that you strive assiduously to leave no stone unturned and no questions unexplored. That you maintain a vigilance of the big picture consistently, while at the same time sustain a diligence of digging into the details persistently.

To cultivate truly meaningful relationships is challenging but not impossible. But you must be consistently willing to ask the hard questions, engage in uncomfortable conversations, and put in the work.

6 — Harvest

One might ask, why bother? This sounds like back-breaking work.

They’re absolutely right, it is.

Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, things don’t even work out.

But before the reward there must be labor. 
You have to give before you can get. 
If you want to harvest, first you must plant.

Besides, the fruits which you have planted and nurtured for yourself will taste far sweeter than which have been simply given to you.

Deep and rich relationships are like grown trees, they are stable, provide you shelter and blossom you fruits upon maturity. But if you want to reap, first you must sow.

Why bother? The natural counter-question is why not?

If you’re keen on implementing this approach, read this next: How To Choose Who To Spend Your Time With

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Special thanks to Jon Amar, Samuel Weckström, Thomas Pagliaro, Valentin Cheli, for providing their invaluable feedback for this post.