What Needs Pruning in Your Life?

I hate gardening (because it is in gardens where the spiders can be found — plotting and scheming as they spin their death webs), but I love a good pruning metaphor, so I’m willing to wade into web-filled territory to make a point for you here, friends.*

Before I talk about pruning, I need to talk about wine though. Because The Husband and I like wine, and not necessarily in small amounts, we have found ourselves on the receiving end of a lot of wine in the mail that we continue to order. (It’s just as douchey as it sounds — we still read the brochure with tasting notes for each bottle when the boxes arrive — only now we make fun of the descriptions, whereas ten years ago we took phrases like, “a very structured mouthfeel that offers an abundance of minerality” seriously. Now we just roll our eyes and kick it back, in stemless glasses that can go in the dishwasher.)

So the latest box o’ bottles arrived (oh happy day), and the enclosed brochure did not disappoint with its plethora of nouns (elegant characters of black cherry! Tingling tannins! Pleasing rich flavors of orange peel!). Here is where I will make the point of our conversation today, as these mind-bending words were written by the winemaker:

“We are in the middle of our pruning season. Pruning is the time of year when we cut back the vines, removing 95% of what grew the prior year. It is the most important thing we do in the vineyard. It determines the size of our crop for the current season and the one to follow, and more importantly establishes the quality of the fruit.”

Wait, what? 95% of the precious grapey goodness is turfed in the pruning process? And it’s the most important thing they do in the vineyard — even more so than touring assholes like The Husband and me from Chicago, hoping to get us on their allocation list?

Those of you who are gardeners out there are nodding right now, because you know all about the point of pruning. (You also know how to stickhandle the spiders and I’ll be forever impressed with you for this.) You’re not afraid to cut back on your rose bush that took forever to reach your windows, for example, because you know cutting it back is what will help it grow stronger. The winemaker isn’t afraid to demolish 95% of the vine, because he knows that it’s all about making way for copious amounts of new grapes to grow.

What pruning decisions do you need to make?

What might need cutting back, even if it seems counterintuitive?

  • Decreasing time spent with draining people — even if you are related to them. You can subtly edit the amount of time you talk to your catastrophizing Mother, the time spent with your Debbie Downer of a friend, or Pessimistic Pete at work. This is healthy pruning at its finest.
  • Do you need to step off a volunteer project — even if it does bring some degree of meaning to your life — because it’s hijacking some of your precious restorative time?
  • Might you need to abandon a project — like that scarf you wanted to knit but it irritates you to no end, or the family tree thing that’s just exhausting and no longer joyful, or even that book that you’re trudging through? You’re the boss of your leisure time, and you absolutely get to opt out of projects you start if they’re just not doing it for you anymore.
  • Do you need to reconsider going for that promotion at work — even if it is the “next rung on the ladder” — because you’re just fine where you are and you’re not energized by the idea of MORE? I implore you to prune the shit out of the reasoning that you’re “supposed to” take the next step.
  • Might you need to embrace the NO? Warren Buffet (R.I.P.) once said that, “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” You hyper-achievers out there just audibly cringed, I could hear it. Be ruthless about your activities, pruning judiciously in order to leave room for success and excellence. As Matthew McConaughey profoundly said (yeah, that dude in an Airstream), “I’m making Bs in five things, I wanna be making As in three things.” What Bs do you need to prune in order to do less things… but in a A-worthy way?
  • Do you need to be mindful of your pruning timing? The thing I’ve now learned about pruning (because I’ve just read way too much about it on various horticulture and nursery sites — God help me) is that it’s not just about how much you prune, it’s about when. So waiting until you’re bitter and resentful with that aforementioned volunteer gig before resigning from your role… that’s not pruning. That’s reacting. Clip away at the things you suspect are starting to rob you from enjoying your life before they do in fact stab your soul to death. This takes not only discipline to say “bye” to the board position, for example, but honest reflection about what might be heading nowhere. I need to take a day every couple of months to scrutinize my calendar — day by day for the last 30 days and looking into the next 30 days or so — to see where the tension points are. Am I doing too much pro bono coaching, which might need pruning? Am I doing too much work on weekends, which I might need to (gasp!) say no to? Am I saying yes to the kind of work that feels like no in the depths of my stomach? Prune, prune, prune.

We can shape our lives into ones that we like living, with the help of some pruning shears. Be not afraid to cut back on more than you think is reasonable, before you think you need to. We need to machete a vast majority of those old vines… to produce grapes with “a rich profile of summer ripe berries, cigar box, chocolate covered strawberries and blue fruits, with hints of lavender with a touch of sea spray springing from the glass.” Uh huh, whatever. I’ll cheers to that though.

*Can we talk a little bit here about spiders? Can we talk about the bird-sized spiders Super Scary Spiderthat live outside our high-rise windows from mid-April through October (DID YOU KNOW “HIGH-RISE SPIDERS” ARE A THING, AND IF YOU DID, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME BEFORE WE MOVED IN?)? In about 5 weeks there will be about 30 meaty arachnids — all of whom I’m certain have skeletal structures — haunting me outside our apartment in the floor-to-ceiling windows that are fucking fantastic to have until spider season arrives. And then it’s like six months of constant exposure therapy for me, except this therapy isn’t effective. They really come alive at about 8pm when we’re sitting down to eat, so it’s like watching a natural disaster out the window every night as they dangle and scurry and eat and kill and spin and generally bully me from outside, looking in. They are evil, but like any enemy, worth studying. This is an actual picture from one of our kitchen windows last season. Look at his fur! Look at his attitude! Look at the thought bubble over his head that says, “must wrap the tall woman in silky web and then eat her.” I called him Hal in an effort to humanize and cute-ify him, but I’m sure he just called me Lunch. We never open our windows, ever. The End.

Jodi Wellman

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