3 min read

Lessons about burnout from my first year as a veggie gardener

If you water daily, amazing things can happen
Lessons about burnout from my first year as a veggie gardener
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Sustain issue #17 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

Weeding sucks, yes. But a study from Princeton finds that gardening boosts happiness and personal well-being as much as more commonly talked about activities like walking and biking. It's also a great activity for your Three Good Pockets.

As somebody who has taken to vegetable gardening this year in a big way, I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not relaxing (it’s hard work!), but it’s deeply restorative.

And while I love walking and biking, there is something really magical about watching the incremental progress of the garden and the tangible element of it (i.e. food!). I have an immense amount of pride pickling beets I grow, dipping my snap peas into hummus, grilling zucchini, making a thinly sliced cucumber salad, and summer isn’t complete with some cherry tomatoes.

It also turns out the garden has a lot to teach about how to prevent burnout. Here are a few of my top lessons:

  1. The garden goes as the soil goes. Focus deeply on a nutritious foundation — sleep, movement, food, community. Without it, everything else falls flat.
  2. Show up consistently for the little things, like watering and weeding, and amazing things will happen before you know it. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
  3. Most of the time, the first leaves and the first buds are not the best and can actually stunt growth. Don’t be afraid to trim them back so there's space for bigger and healthier things to come.
  4. Perennials (i.e. plants that grow back every spring) go dormant over the winter. They don’t die, they just take a step back.  Like plants, if we try to flourish in terrible conditions we’ll just expend a bunch of energy for little result. It’s ok, imperative actually, not to go at full speed all the time.
  5. A plant will often grow many offshoots, but trimming down to a few or even one will give you more yield, better quality, and a healthier plant.
  6. If you read different books about gardening, you’ll learn different techniques. They can all work so just try one. Don’t get caught up in finding the “best” or “right” way otherwise you’ll forget to even start and you’ll get burned out from all the options.
  7. The best gardeners have mastered succession planting (myself not included) so they don’t wind up with an abundance all at once. It’s necessary to spread out responsibilities and activities over time, rather than try to tackle them all at once.
  8. The garden is rarely going to be perfect. Things will go wrong. Pests will win out. Seeds won’t sprout. Weather will interrupt the best plans. Roll with it. It’s not a competition.

At a sustainable pace,


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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