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Working like a perennial plant

Here's what annual and perennial plants can teach us about burnout.
Working like a perennial plant
Photo by Osman Rana / Unsplash

Sustain issue #61 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

In the Seattle area, we’re just coming off our wettest month of May in more than 70 years. I have finally gotten all plants in the garden for the year as the weather looks to finally turn for the better.

Long-time readers know that I’m all about my veggie garden this time of year. Of course, most veggies are annual plants that go in now and are done by the end of the season. But I also have a number of perennial plants I’ve put in during the last several years.

I’m a huge fan of gardening because the garden teaches SO MANY lessons about burnout. Here’s what annuals and perennials can teach us.

Annuals produce quickly but aren’t designed to last

Annual veggies and plants emerge quickly. They put out only a small root system since they last only a handful of months. They need to get to work quickly since time is of the essence and they need to provide their yield within the season.

They put down what they need to produce quick wins (i.e. delicious food). But they’re completely gassed by the end of the season after sprinting through. They aren’t built to recover and endure.

Perennials start slow but stand the test of time

Perennial plants on the other hand typically take two years to get established while they put out a big and deeply rooted system to stand the test of time. It’s not until year three that these plants really start to blossom.

They focus heavily on setting the foundation for long-term success before they start to scale. The first two years require a lot of water and nutrients and growth is somewhat limited. The plant’s focused on what’s happening inside and below the surface, not external validation in terms of the kind of growth it has.

Take the hedges I put in several years ago. We’re excited for them to provide a privacy barrier from our neighbors. But the last two years, they have barely gotten above eye level. Now in the early part of year three, the growth has already been quick and the barrier we’re been hoping for is starting to emerge. But we had to be patient.  

Sustain yourself like perennials

While I love the fruits of my annual plants, if they were a human employee they’d be subscribed to the hustle mindset and on the fast track to burnout.

Whereas perennial plants sustain themselves and work for the long-term. They take several years to get their foundation established but once that happens, yearly growth is swift.

Perennials aren’t lazy. They are working for a lifespan that lasts more than a single season. That’s just like us. Our career lasts more than a single season. Sustain yourself accordingly.


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to eliminate burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) and suffered deep burnout and came back from it even though I never found a playbook for doing so. So, I'm writing it myself.

✉️ Want my top tips? I share my full step-by-step playbook in How I Quit Burnout, my premium newsletter. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

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