Aside

The Seasons

This weekend traditionally marks the threshold between the summer of rest, and the fall of new fruition.

When people lived on farms, the lore goes, you knew what season you were in. You were either doing the hard work of planting your seeds, or tending them as they grew, or celebrating the harvest itself and the abundance it represented, or resting … in wait for the cycle to repeat. One followed the other and the order was comfortably predictable. Peoples’ lives and work flowed around this rhythm, and the cycle and tempo was built in. Or so I hear. I’ve lived in major cities in India, and the suburbs of Cupertino growing up, so a farmer I am not.


But we can see those seasonal clues for work just don’t exist any more or in the same way. Unless my fingers get too cold for typing, there’s very little impact from my outside surroundings for what I’m creating. I don’t produce what a farm produces. What most of us produce today is ideas; they have no seasons. Projects come and go. Some die, some thrive. Sometimes, often times, all at once. Summer can be the time of rest as it was for me in 2010. But it didn’t follow that fall was the new season. There are times I’ve worked so hard during summer, I didn’t even see it come and go. I returned to my life last fall trying to figure out not only when to do what, but what I should be doing more or less of.  I was asking myself the questions a farmer might – is now good for incubating new things? Or should I lay fallow for a while to see what emerges? Is it time to put more resources on because then things will really grow? Or is this actually the time to hunker down and save the seeds, because there is a proverbial drought coming? Or is now is the time to retrench to get ready for the season of growth. These farmer-type questions are the ones we “free agents” get to direct.

We “get to” direct. What if we just work like crazy all the time, in fear the next project might not come along? What if we think of life/work balance as we get to play every weekend? What if we take every meeting we get asked to? Alternatively, what if we reject every meeting and hide at home and hope no one catches us avoiding the challenge of new things?

“Get to” is the trick. No one will tell us it is time to “kneel down in the grass”, as Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, The Summer Day. Sure, there’s lots of advice out here. There will be people who will say to entrepreneurs, pour on the gas and put everything you’ve got into this because that is the best way to work. You might even remember that I said to stop doing everything and focus on a few things to have a bigger impact. You might have thought that was good advice if you were overloaded, and tapped out of energy. Or, you might be “between things” and wishing instead that you could have more to do so my advice at the time wasn’t right. That’s because there is no season governing this flow for all of us.

This lack of Meteorological seasons doesn’t mean we don’t have seasons. We get to decide our work seasons; we get to decide for ourselves, to pace our lives, to set a cadence that works. We get to direct our own seasons for investment and growth, for celebration and renewal. What is that we need next for the ideas to flow? This flow matters of course as it sets the tempo for our ability to create the best ideas, over time, and manifest them into the world. Ultimately, it impacts each of our ability to change the world. It is central to our experience of work; and, it is not to be taken lightly … we must direct our seasons.

With that thought, enjoy Labor Day Weekend.

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7 Responses:

  1. Maya Mathias. September 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm  |  

    Nilofer,

    Thanks for this reflective post! Freedom of choice can make it hard to know when to do what, and I love this notion that, as free agents, we must consciously direct our seasons.

    I became an entrepreneur a year ago to escape the crushing stress of a career in marketing consulting, only to find that the true ‘enemy’ was me. My inability to strike a work/life balance that nourished me. My inability to say ‘no’ to bosses & coworkers so that I might preserve my sanity.

    The ‘gap year’ I took between my last full-time job and assuming this new identity of entrepreneur (the nuances of which I’m only just beginning to understand and internalize) was spent learning how to love myself. To know that it’s ok to take time off, to cherish loved ones, to just BE.

    I’ve now (as you so eloquently put it) ‘set a cadence that works’. Some days feel more balanced or impactful than others – I’ve learned to tell myself that that’s ok. And I’ve found ways to better match my client & business demands with my natural waves of creativity, organization & reflection. Those waves are my seasonality, my life flow, and honoring them for what they are and when they show up brings me much peace & joy.

    I hope you’re having a lovely Labor Day weekend!

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 5, 2011 at 1:19 am  |  

      Thank you Maya. The hard part of course is knowing yourself, and your purpose so you can guide thus. Glas you are finding your way….

      Reply
  2. Deb Mills-Scofield. September 4, 2011 at 11:39 pm  |  

    Nilofer,

    What an important post. One of the reasons I love and cherish being at our place in Maine is because so much of our daily life is dependent on the tides – we have to time our coming and going based on the ability to get out/in to the dock. That dependence on something bigger than our own choices upon demand brings such a unique and needed perspective to our family. And it makes it pretty blatant that we are not in control – which is refreshing and freeing.

    Thank you!
    Deb

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 5, 2011 at 1:20 am  |  

      You don’t need any writer-types to come visit do you? Sounds lovely. In the land of silicon valleys, I see cycles of investments and traffic but harder to spot seasonal signs.

      Reply
  3. Leslie Forman. September 5, 2011 at 3:05 am  |  

    Yes. Well said. Seasons matter, and our non-farming lifestyles make it more possible to forget it. I have felt this most when my subconscious seasonal expectations were not met: when I had to work on Christmas in China, when arriving in chilly Chile in July, when not starting school around this time of year. The lifestyle I have chosen means the seasons often take me by surprise. I notice them most vividly in the produce market: ripe persimmons especially give me the urge to stop and compose unrhyming verse.

    Wishing you a wonderful Labor Day!!!

    Reply
  4. Hayk. September 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm  |  

    An insightful post!

    Ideas, memes. seasons.

    For me, a linear approach to life never worked. For me, like in quatum physics, things happen in quantum leaps – not gradually.

    We create our own seasons, which evolve an intertwine, and spark new seasons.

    Reply
  5. Todd Lohenry. September 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm  |  

    Not only do I love fall weather, but September seems to be one of the two times each year — the other being January — when business reboots itself! I’m excited about the possibilities the next couple of months brings…

    Reply

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