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  • Writer's pictureChristy Murdock

Gardening vs. real estate: Which provides a better ROI?

I am what you might call a serial plant killer. I love to buy plants although I have no talent as a gardener.

My mother, on the other hand, could make anything grow. The biggest problem she had as a gardener was killing plants that she didn’t like. She had a particularly recalcitrant crape myrtle that she cut down, dug up and once even tried to burn down — year after year it would come back bigger and better than ever.

Today, carried away by the warm spring weather and the pleas of my younger daughter, I spent an unconscionable amount of money at the hardware store’s garden center. My knees won’t allow me to get out and dig in the backyard, but my daughter was a willing and able assistant.

I planted a tomato plant, herbs, a Gerbera daisy that had seen better days on my windowsill, and a half-dead hydrangea left over from Easter decorating. I hung up a couple of new bird feeders, crossed my fingers and surrendered my handiwork to the gardening gods.

I have a fairly good idea of what will happen in the weeks ahead — I’ll take care of the plants for a few days, make a half-hearted attempt to bring them back from the edge after ignoring them for a couple of weeks, then let the summer sun have its way with them. I’ve planted everything from huge gardens to container gardens and herb gardens and I know my behavioral patterns when it comes to plants.

So why do I do it?

If you haven’t taken on a gardening project in a while, you may have forgotten how expensive it is to put together even a modest group of potted plants on your patio. I could have spent that money on things that will last longer than these plants will.

Add to that the time that I could have spent on other long-delayed tasks — tasks that might have earned me money, either in the short term or the long term.

Why, then, put that much time and effort into something that is more or less doomed to failure?

The plants are not the point

I crave competence. I love to feel that I’ve done well at something and rarely pursue anything without having mastery of that skill in mind. Yet my approach to gardening, if you can call this little piddling around that I do “gardening,” is the opposite of everything else in my life.

My devil-may-care approach to gardening is about hope, not skill. It’s about faith, not logic. It’s the one thing I do that I don’t worry about or judge too harshly. I hope for the best, let go of my expectations, and if I get one perfect tomato out of it or a few herbs to cook with, I consider myself very lucky indeed.

Embrace chaos

Real estate agents in particular, and entrepreneurs in general, think a lot about mastery and expertise. They market themselves based on it. They dazzle with their knowledge. It’s the main thing that great agents use to differentiate themselves and the service they provide.

What that leads to, however, is a sense that you always have to have the right answer. That you always have to know — and that’s a lot of pressure.

When is the last time you tried something without worrying about being good at it? When’s the last time you encouraged your kids to take up a hobby without worrying about whether they’ll add it to their college essay?

Doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff is good for the soul. Struggling a little, and reminding yourself that there are some things that are outside of your control — these things build patience and character and resilience. They make you better able to deal with the inevitable frustrations that life brings your way — whether in the form of the economy, the market, relationships, or what-have-you.

I say, embrace chaos. Find something you’re terrible at or scared of and try it. Learn to knit or cook or paint. Read a book that you’ve always wanted to read but were scared of because the language is hard to understand. Learn Spanish or French or Italian. Take up yoga.

Don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t worry about getting good at it. Just do something that you don’t have to be an expert at, something that's more journey than destination.

And me? I’ll just be over here smelling the roses. (Maybe. If they decide to bloom this year.)

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