In my last newsletter I wrote a little bit about how I was tackling my beleaguered veggie gardens this year. To be clear, they’re not really beleaguered yet, but based on empirical evidence, they will be soon enough. I am, after all, their caretaker and that is an inauspicious portent.

Now, in my defense, I am fairly new to the gardening and plant parenting game. The plants in our home with the best longevity are not only from Ikea, they are also plastic.

My mom has a magical green thumb and can make anything grow, whereas I, on the other hand, can make even the hardiest of “don’t-worry-you-couldn’t-kill-it-if-you-tried” houseplants drop dead at the mere idea of being in my care.

So, my veggie garden: this year, I didn’t get around to raising seedlings in the house because it was a really cold spring and also (mostly) because I just didn’t get around to it. My solution was to put the seeds directly in the garden beds, encouraging them to be strong, have faith and grow like their ancestors who didn’t have cushy, temperature-controlled greenhouses in which to take root.

One thing I’ve learned in three years of trying to grow my own vegetables is that I find the beginning of a veggie garden to be by far the most rewarding part of the process. Don’t get me wrong; it’s obviously awesome to go pick my dinner from my backyard, but when those little sprouts shoot up out of the earth as though by magic? That’s the best.

And here’s where I have learned some tough truths about myself when it comes to projects. I will now break these lessons down, so that we can all learn how not to make a project work, in case that’s of interest to you, or in case you’d like to reverse engineer the process and actually make things happen for real.

Lesson 1: I am VERY excited by the prospect of a new project. The vision is huge, the possibility is palpable and I am unstoppable.

This is where the idea of a garden is very appealing. Notice I said “idea”. Zero work has happened here to make the idea a reality. This stage is awesome because it is pure fantasy. 10/10 would recommend a fantasy garden.

Lesson 2: I’m all for creating a plan, or at least most of a plan. I’ll often get so excited that I’ll just dive in, before doing enough planning or research. Here is where I begin to wing it.

“What could possibly go wrong?” is clearly a question I’m not asking here. I still think this is going to be awesome. I’m going to have a salad bar in my own yard and I’ll never need to buy micro greens again. Take that, Capitalism.

Lesson 3: See some progress and feel VERY pleased with myself/The Universe. This is going to be easier than I thought. I am proud of myself, for I Have Done The Thing. I will mistakenly begin to believe that I can probably take my foot off the gas and coast.

This is the moment I see little baby seedlings send up their sprouts. I HAVE CREATED LIFE. This is still great, but watering them is a little annoying, like needing to floss every night (every single night?).

Lesson 4: Here comes the first setback. I will lose SIGNIFICANT enthusiasm at the first whiff of difficulty. I shall spend decent amounts of time wallowing in disappointment and fury at things I can’t change because they happened in the past, time that could be applied to resolving the issue instead.

Maybe I go away for a few days and the seedlings wilt. Ugh, these plants are so needy. Or cabbage moths will eat all my frigging kale. Or, this year, maybe an asshole slug (is it a gang of slugs? I dunno.) with a vengeance for squash seedlings will mow down the tops of all my baby squash plantlets. I am informed that egg shells will stop said slug gang.

I can now confirm I have invincible Navy SEAL slugs in my yard and that no amount of egg shell shrapnel will deter them from ensuring I have no squash later this year.

Lesson 5: Due to said setback, I will stop taking action from my now-defunct plan. I won’t revise the plan or get back on track, but I will still hold out secret hope for miraculous results from the effort I haven’t put in. I will be disappointed in how this project went, swearing to do it differently next time, but that is a lie.

I might get a cucumber or two and a handful of kale the moths leave behind, and this meagre bounty will begin to fuel my gardening fantasy for next spring, which will be so different, of course, because obviously I will apply everything I learned this year to next year’s garden plan (to be clear, I will do none of this).

I am not making any of this up. This is literally how it has gone with my garden, for three years and counting. But here’s the thing: what this garden is teaching me isn’t simply that I’m a terrible gardener (though I have my suspicions on the matter), but that this is how I do EVERY project.

My escapades in gardening are a perfect mirror for just about every project I undertake. I get SO excited by the possibility and the vision of what could be, only to dive in a little unprepared (which, just for the record, I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing unto itself), and give up at the first hurdle.

What my garden is showing me is a diagnostic of where I need to put a little more attention and intention when it comes to my projects. It’s clearly in the follow-through that I tend to fall off. I need to spend a little more time figuring out what is actually going to be required, what structure will help me keep moving forward, and then actually account for that time and effort in my day-to-day life.

I need to come back to my plan, making changes and amending it in the face of what is actually happening, rather than what I thought would happen.

I can see this in current projects like my book (editing a book is torture) and I can see it when I look back over my life, where projects and dreams have been abandoned along the way. Visions and excitement are great starting fuel, but if they burn out at the first sign of challenge, my life is going to be filled with small projects, half-done projects or no projects at all.

If I want a different result, I’m going to need to try a different approach. Otherwise, it’s just me versus the slug, and so far, there aren’t enough eggshells to stop him from winning.