When I started a business, everyone told me marketing was the key to success. As I’m not naturally inclined to self-promotion, it took me a while to catch on. But eventually, whenever I had downtime, I would update the website, send out postcards or emails, or go to networking events.
It succeeded, but not in the way I expected. Every bout of marketing resulted in a flurry of new work, but most of the work seemed unrelated to the marketing. Only rarely was a new assignment even remotely traceable to any outreach I had done. When I mentioned this to people who had been running small businesses for longer than I had, they just nodded and smiled with recognition.
I thought about this last week when some black-eyed Susans popped up among the weeds around my house. Black-eyed Susans (rudbeckias) are lovely, bright yellow native flowers that grow in large clumps. They are common in this area and supposedly easy to grow. A few years, ago a local friend let us dig up a clump of them from the edge of her woods, and we planted them in the sunny meadow near our vegetable garden, about 600 feet from the house. They disappeared without a trace – yet suddenly, here are some, 600 feet away, in a place where we never thought to plant them.
This week, an even more exciting find: maitakes sprouting between two stumps of oak trees that we cut down in 2011. Maitakes (hen of the woods) are amazingly delicious and nutritious mushrooms. I tried growing them last winter in the extra bathtub using “indoor maitake kits,” only to fail dismally. I buried the remains of that experiment between an oak stump and an old, failing, soon-to-be-cut down oak tree and have been checking that spot every few days. Nothing is happening there, though it’s still early for maitakes. I also ordered 100 plugs to inoculate logs with maitake spawn; we’ve located the right logs and have been planning for several weeks to plug the plugs into the logs, though other tasks keep getting in the way. The plugs, if they even work (maitake has a difficulty rating of five out of five) won’t produce anything for several years. And now, without any work or effort, here’s the maitake, not 10 yards from the house.
So how does this work? Why does our effort pay off in such unexpected ways? A glimpse of an answer came to me this morning as I was picking wild raspberries on the hillside (one of the joys of this season, if you don’t mind getting a bit scratched up). Raspberries don’t ripen all at once, so you can’t just stand in one place and pick a whole bush clean. The job entails about ninety percent looking and ten percent picking. It’s one berry here, one berry there, lift up the cane to see if any more ripe ones are hiding underneath, then take a few steps to the side and look at the bush from a whole different angle. If you find six or eight ripe berries on a bush with a hundred berries, that’s a lot.
And as I was searching for berries, it came to me that the function of planting is to predispose us to look for results.
The world is abundant. Life’s rewards, for the most part, arrive of their own accord. Unfortunately, they come mixed with so much that we don’t want – unripe berries, poisonous mushrooms, weeds, rejections. The good things can be hard to see if we don’t know where and how to find them. And it’s the work of planting seeds that gets us in the right frame of mind to recognize what we want.