From Competence To Cluelessness

If positive performance appraisals, awards, and monetary compensation are an accurate assessment, I was very good at my job.  After a dozen years at the same company, I knew exactly what to do and could handle anything that came up. Days were predictable and I knew all the people to talk to and all the proper steps to take if a crisis occurred.

Since my retirement last November, I plunged head first into a life where most of the time I have no idea what I am doing. Fruits, vegetables, and trees have been planted, weeded, and cultivated, miraculously survived and thrived, and the harvest preserved. Additional plants and trees have been discovered, identified, researched, and consumed and used when possible. Pickling, freezing, drying, canning, and fermenting became a part of my regular routine.


Crabapple Jelly 

Wild Blackberries

Blackberry Cordial with Sparkling Water

Autumn Olive Berries

Autumn Olive Fruit Leather

It’s been extremely disconcerting to go from being an expert to being a novice, or if I’m being honest, completely clueless.  As a perfectionist, not knowing what I’m doing is dreadfully uncomfortable.  It seems that I’ve spent more time on google doing research this year than I ever did as a paid person.

Working with plants is unpredictable.  Stuff ripens earlier than expected, later than expected and often times when it’s really inconvenient.  It’s hard to plug all that into a planner to be able to achieve the goal of putting by enough food to last for the next year.  And how much is that anyway? It’s another thing that I don’t know – how many jars of tomatoes, salsa, applesauce, apple pie filling, pickles, grape juice, dried tomatoes, etc., will I need before the first asparagus and raspberries ripen in the spring?

Working with animals is even more challenging.  Along with their daily requirements for food and water, they get sick or injured, do things that endanger their lives, and get attacked by predators.  While I knew all those things were possibilities, I don’t think I realized how it would feel to hold a mortally injured animal in my arms and have to alleviate her suffering.  Thank goodness I can do hard things.

It feels good to stretch myself, to learn new things, to have those Naked On The Tundra moments even though my lack of competence has caused me a fair amount of anxiety.  There’s a need to document all the things I learned, perhaps now that fall is here and winter is approaching and things will slow down (this won’t really happen, I know that, but I keep saying it anyway).

If you’ve thought about making a change, whether it’s a job, a city, a relationship, having a baby, be prepared for it to look much different from what you imagined.  Still good, still what you want, but not quite what you anticipated when you made the change.  The unpredictability is really the point – where’s the joy and satisfaction in knowing everything?  If you’ve experienced something similar, I’d love to hear it in the comments.  In the meantime, I’ll be busy trying to figure out what to do with all my green tomatoes.