By: Lynn Carnes
Can context make you blind? How about unchecked expectations? I’m coming to the conclusion that both can make you blind – or maybe that’s just my justification since my “asparagus incident”.
In February, I starting clearing the weeds along my asparagus bed in my garden. Mind you, my asparagus bed is in the middle of the garden fortress created by my husband a few years ago. It’s 3/4 of an acre, surrounded by a huge deer fence and plumbed for irrigation. In past years, Russ would get in there every spring with the tractor and plow the whole thing. Following that, he would leave it to others to plan, plant, fertilize, water, weed and harvest some sort of food. This is all very important context (or like I said, maybe it’s just my justification for the point of this story.) For the spring of 2018, other projects kept him from doing any plowing. Plus, we didn’t have anybody ready to come plant. So it was just me and all that land.
Here’s the first critical piece of context. I’m a beginner when I comes to working the land. Especially 3/4 of an acre of hard land. We claimed this spot with dirt taken out of our lake, which is theoretically full of yummy nutrients for plants. In reality, it’s full of stones and sand. It’s hard to imagine anything growing in this barren desert. Except weeds. It is a haven for weeds. No matter how much care this plot gets over the growing season, by fall, it is three feet high in weeds that should only grow 5 inches. The weeds love this place! And I hate pulling weeds with a passion.
So it was hours of work for me to clear the row where I planted the asparagus. Oh fun! Not. I used the tomato stakes from the last year to hone in on the middle of the asparagus row and raked and hoed and cleared, anticipating the best harvest to date. In the end, you could only tell where I had worked by finding the area where the weeds were at ground level. Early on, it was clear to me that I would never get all the weeds out – but at least I could set it up to see when the asparagus started breaking its delicious tops through the soil.
Now for the second bit of context. Or justification. You decide. March was exceptionally cold this year. It was more like February. When I went down to check about once a week starting in mid March, I didn’t expect to see anything. I would wade through the tall weeds and grasses and look for those little green bits of deliciousness. Nothing. I was getting exactly what I expected. Cold spring must equal no asparagus, right?
In early April, I started getting the ground ready for planting my tomatoes (about the only thing I can grow worth a damn) and a few other vegetables I would decide to grow but probably not eat. Not only am I not a strong gardener, I’m not much of an eater of garden vegetables. Still no asparagus.
A couple of weeks went by and now I’m starting to wonder if the cold winter had killed my babies. I remembered having had a LOT of asparagus by mid-April in the previous year. This is a four year old crop – it should be booming. As I’m on my hands and knees, planting some seeds and baby broccoli (one of the things I probably won’t eat) I sadly concluded that there would be no asparagus this year.
My daughter came in to help me and started wandering around. She was standing on my empty asparagus bed when she said “Check this out!” She was pointing out a 3 and a half foot “weed” and marveling at how pretty it was. You already know, right? If you grow asparagus, you are probably spitting in your tea or banning me from the gardening hall of fame. That “weed” was one of thirty shoots that had clearly been growing for weeks.
All this time, I was looking in the wrong place. Just 10 INCHES away from my cleared area, there sat my asparagus bed. I had missed the mark. The asparagus was healthy and growing and in my face. Because I was so used to dealing with monster weeds right next to me, I never bothered to look at what was virtually under my nose. (I really have learned to ignore the forest that grows in the rest of the garden.)
Suddenly it all made sense. My tomato stakes were the correct marker – but because I had let the weeds over grow it, I lost sight that they were in the MIDDLE of the row, not on the edge. Furthermore, I was looking so often, I was sure I would see the asparagus stalks before they started flowering out. I was so late to the party – and the stalks were coming up in an uncleared area – that the asparagus reached full wispiness before I could see them. Oh, and I might have stayed blind to it if someone else hadn’t pointed it out.
All sorts of things blinded me to this outcome. My expectations, conclusions, context, you name it. I simply did not see what was right in front of my face.
Bad decisions get made with this kind of blindness. Because I thought I knew what was going on, I didn’t look for other possibilities. I was caught up in the swirl of my own mind with my own limited thinking. It took someone else to break me out of it with the simple comment “Hey, look at this.”
The moral of this story? What you are looking for may be right under your nose. You just need help seeing it.
We all need that kind of support. It is so easy to get caught up in thinking that we need to have the answers, that we SHOULD know this, or that we don’t want anyone else to know how much we need help. In the case of my garden, it was abject embarrassment for anyone to see the wilderness that I called a “garden.” It would never have dawned on me to ask someone to help.
As an executive coach, I’ve had similar moments with so many of my clients. They tentatively invite me into their world, and my questions are often some version of, “Have you looked at this?” They will see a problem from a completely different angle and the solution appears, almost as if by magic.
Where are you getting exactly what you expect, even though it’s not what you want? In what ways have you created situational blindness because you are tired of seeing the mess around you? Where has the context of a situation caused you to draw incorrect conclusions? Who do you turn to for another point of view or to ask those “have you thought of it this way?” questions?
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