#409: Gardening Class and Career Advice

Sun breaking through the clouds over lush garden with sedum, grasses, pinks and purples
Belle Isle, Detroit, MI

This fall I’ve been taking a foundational gardening class through Michigan State University. It’s the first step to becoming an Extension Master Gardener – a fancy title that just means that you’re certified to volunteer in a more-official capacity educating local communities about various aspects of gardening.

Each state in the US has at least one land grant university, and every land grant university has a program like this. My friend Cassie went through the California version and now works with compost (and writes a fantastic newsletter on it to boot). She’s proof that genuine enthusiasm for a subject will take you unanticipated places, from performance art to writing a book. Coming off of a year of Building Beauty, I’d been bit by the continuing education bug, and the MSU program seemed to connect with the landscape and garden work that kept cropping up in my architecture projects.

The class calls for five to six hours of reading and videos a week, plus a 2.5 hour Zoom webinar every Tuesday. And it’s dense – so dense – with information. Each unit barely samples a concentration that folks like our instructors have full-on postgraduate degrees in. One benefit of this breakneck pace is that it’s also quickly apparent which topics bore me (soil science) and which pique my interest (propagation, diagnosing plant problems). Friends have asked me what I plan to do with what I’m learning from this program, and my answer is the same as when they’ve asked me what I planned to do with my learnings from Building Beauty: I’m not sure yet!

Longtime readers will know that’s how I tend to operate. I follow my interests, and find that, later on, they’ve turned in new careers or inspiration for a novel. I’ve resigned myself to – or, maybe less resigned than continued to embrace – the fact that there’s some buried part of me that knows better than my conscious mind.

I found Moxie Marlinspike’s career advice (via Kai Brach’s Dense Discovery newsletter) intriguing, particularly this bit:

Jobs at software companies are typically advertised in terms of the difficult problems that need solving, the impact the project will have, the benefits the company provides, the playful color of the bean bag chairs. Likewise, jobs in other fields have their own set of metrics that they use to position themselves within their domains.

As a young person, though, I think the best thing you can do is to ignore all of that and simply observe the older people working there.

They are the future you. Do not think that you will be substantially different. Look carefully at how they spend their time at work and outside of work, because this is also almost certainly how your life will look.

That rang true to me when I first read it, as does the essay’s argument that whatever situation one finds themself in has its own inertia, and so it makes sense to try a bunch of things before choosing one career. But as I sit down to write this letter, I also find myself disagreeing vehemently with the “one career” part, for it assumes that our wants and needs are fixed and static. That our decisions are rigid or irreversible. In my own experience, and from observing friends like Cassie, they’re not nearly as fixed as you think.

So try a bunch of different things, yes. But even when you commit to one, don’t hold onto it so tightly that you don’t continue leaving time for the not-for-money things. There are always new discoveries to be made about yourself, about the world.

Change is always possible, even if it feels for now unfathomable.