Sometimes we play hurt


Positivity on the hill
I was walking down a hill in the West End of Vancouver this spring. Many streets in the West End have inclines. Many. There was a woman in her 50s walking ahead of me. She had two small bags of groceries. She was struggling with the steep incline. It was apparent that she was also struggling with severe arthritis. 

I asked if I could carry her groceries to the bottom of the hill. She was a gracious woman and explained to me that she does this every day. She climbs the hill to get to the grocery store on Davie Street, buys a few items, and returns to her apartment at the base. It is not an easy climb, even for a young person, but she wants to keep moving. 

We chat. She explains that she had to take disability leave from a job she loved because she could no longer do the work. She is greatly plagued by her arthritic condition, a disease that affects many of us but seldom to this degree. She could phone in her grocery order for delivery, but she wants to keep moving. She wants to do what she can, lest she lose what little mobility remains. 

I am choked by our conversation. I am moved by her sense of determination. Her willingness to play hurt.
 
Not so positive 
At the other end of the spectrum are those who refuse to try. They refuse to embrace life and take on its challenges. Their issues become the rationalization for doing very little and sometimes nothing other than to complain. They want others to do everything for them, from government agencies to friends and family. You hear them hold court in coffee shops, espousing in loud voices, “The government should…” and you are free to finish the sentence.

There are people who do try and they try with integrity. I met a man who had been laid off from a good job. He asked if there was any work at my garden centre. I needed someone for a day or two, so I told him to report the next morning at 8 a.m. At 7 a.m. he was there. He told me he could not afford gas for his car so he rode his bike. “I didn’t know how long it would take me and I didn’t want to be late, so I left the house at 6:30. Tomorrow I will leave later.” That is someone who tries. 

After my conversation with the woman struggling to get down the hill, I turned to my wife and said, “I really hope I have some part of her attitude inside me.” I want to be positive. I don’t want to be filled with complaints. I understand life is not always going to be fair and sometimes things do not work out; but it is the only life that I have and I want to make the best of it.

All of us get older 
One of my fears as I grow older, is that I will become a caricature of an ‘old fart’ sitting in a mall and making statements that begin, “In my day…” I have been invited to join coffee klatsches that meet every morning, and I refuse. I have never seen a coffee shop where gossip was not on the menu. I am not a sitter and neither are you. We are movers and shakers. We have a need, a very strong need, to get things done. Rather than complain, we change things. We also believe the best way to get things accomplished is to do them ourselves. Those are defining parts of our personalities — for better or worse.

Sometimes we have to play hurt
My neighbour was a very successful real estate agent, specializing in higher-end residential properties. She had a mentor when she first started. She complained about having worked 10 hours and then getting a call from a client who just had to see a house that night. Her mentor told her, “Sometimes we have to play hurt.” That phrase stayed with her and it has stayed with me.

All of us in this trade have to play hurt more often than we care to do so. It is a part of our unsigned contract. How often have we been wrapping up from an exhausting day, only to have that one last truck show up before we close the gates? We unload it. We need what is on that truck. We miss supper. We do it again and again, because that is who we are and what we do.

All of us make choices
I detest hearing someone, anyone, suggest that a successful person was or is lucky. I detest the word because it implies that success is a random event that occurs for a few in undefinable patterns. Success is a chosen path. Success is a chosen result. Success is not random. It is not luck. It is not limited or finite. It is the end result of having made more good decisions than bad ones. 

When any of us look back on our careers, we can see that when we chose wisely, we experienced positive outcomes. We can also see where we screwed up. I could write more eloquent words, but screwed up describes poor choices in honest, albeit blunt, terms. 

Success belongs to us when we have realized a few basic truths. Basic truths such as, The more successful we make our customers, the more successful we make ourselves. 

New gardeners often give up because they have not been successful in their initial attempts. When they cannot get plants to grow, they believe they lack the mythical green thumb. 

We had little snow cover in Regina this past winter. Snow, of course, is a great insulator and protector of lawns and gardens. Many plants were lost and others were damaged. I accept that and my dyed-in-the-wool gardening friends also accept their losses. We carry on with replacements. 

New gardeners are not as willing to go at it again, with the fear of, Once bitten, twice shy. I talk to these people, as do you. I tell them losing plants is a part of the challenge and excitement of gardening. Some I convince, some I don’t. My point is that we cannot leave these new gardeners hanging onto the belief they have no ability to garden. 

Regular readers know I have stressed, many times, the importance of seminars within the confines of this column. When we teach people how to plant, when we teach them how to grow tulips, when we teach them the difference between shade and full-sun gardening, then we become successful. Our business survival is built upon repeat customers who have experienced their own joys. 

Sadly, as I cruise through the box store garden centres, I can see the ship approaching the iceberg. Non-hardy plant material is being sold as if it were; shade plants being sold for sunny locations and vice versa. This morning, as I write, I told the manager of a Canadian Tire garden centre that a plant she had was not hardy here. She didn’t care, and that is not a surprise to my readers. 

Several years ago, Dr. Howe, director of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration Shelterbelt Centre at Indian Head, Sask., was in a box store garden centre. Dr. Howe has long been a supporter of our trade. He noticed the majority of trees were non-hardy for the prairies. He spoke with the manager and was asked, “What do you care?”

He told the manager, “People are coming in here to buy trees, and you are selling plants that have no chance of survival. Many of these people will give up on planting and gardening, believing they are not very good at it. You are destroying the customer base.” No surprise here, but Dr. Howe’s words of warning fell upon deaf ears. What they destroy, we attempt to repair. 

Success does not exist in isolation, and the more we embrace a holistic approach to success, the more we share in the rewards. We choose our paths and our results. Like the woman struggling with arthritis, climbing up and down the hill every day without complaint, we make our choices. 
Our choices dictate how far we travel on the road to success.  
 
Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.

Landscape Trades, September 2018