The compost lesson
“I have more to show you,” the old gardener said, motioning for me to follow him.
We walked along a wood-chip path that took us behind his shed.
He pointed to a big pile of dead, brown, shredded leaves.
“What do you see?”
I shrugged. “Looks like shredded leaves.”
He looked down at his boots, shook his head, and snorted.
“All you ever see is what your eyes can see. Look closer.” He grabbed a pitchfork leaning against the shed, stabbed it into the middle of the pile and parted it. “Tell me what’s going on down there.”
“Well, it looks like the deeper it goes, the leaves are wet and black. And I see some worms.”
“Ah. Do you know what’s happening?”
“I guess the leaves are decomposing, and the worms must be eating them.”
“That, my friend, is pure alchemy.” His face beamed, his eyes sparkled as he picked up a handful of the material and held it up, treating it as if it possessed magical properties.
“Under the right circumstances, these leaves, which most people throw away as trash, become compost. Good compost is worth its weight in gold for plants. Compost is what feeds them all the nutrients they need to thrive. It makes healthier plants that are more resistant to pests and disease, and healthier, more nutrient-dense food.”
He put the material back and pitchforked the pile back into place.
“So this is all leading to one of your lessons, right?” I said. “I’m supposed to be learning how compost can change my life, is that it?”
He smiled mysteriously and continued. “You see, nature uses death and decay to create life. All the green, vibrant, living plants you see in my garden are the direct product of death.
“Nature wastes nothing. She does not waste energy lamenting the death of any of her living creatures — rather, she uses every part of them to create more life. She understands that without death, there would be no life. All stages of the process are co-dependent on each other.”
He paused and stared at me, waiting expectantly for me to connect the dots.
I shook my head. “Sorry, I don’t think I get the point.”
He sighed. Then, he put his calloused hand on my shoulder and looked deeply into my eyes. “Son, if you learn the lesson of compost, nothing will stop you from succeeding.
“Nature is willing to die in order to live. Likewise, you must be willing to fail in order to succeed. In other words you have to be willing to ‘decompose.’
“To decompose means you are willing and eager to fail, and you fail often and fast. You try new things. You focus more on learning than on achieving, more on growing that arriving, more on the journey than on the destination.
“You’re willing to break down your illusions, shred your weaknesses, decompose your failures in order to arrive at nutrient-dense truth.
“This is done by learning the right lessons as you fail. Because if you learn the wrong lessons, it’s like throwing your dead leaves of failure into the trash, which could have been turned into gold through the alchemy of composting. When you learn the right lessons, your failures become the compost in which your eventual seeds of success can grow and thrive.
“Find any highly-successful person and I guarantee their success has grown from and been nourished by the compost of their failures. Long before anyone saw their success seed germinate and grow, they spent years failing and composting.
“People who are unwilling to die the death of failure are unable to live a life of success.
“Expecting to succeed without failing is like expecting a seed to grow without any nourishment.
“So you have three choices in life:
“First, you can be unwilling to fail, which is like living in a sandy desert — no material to die and decompose means no nutrients, no life. You’ll always and forever be a scrubby, lifeless little shrub that serves little purpose.
“Second, you can try, fail, and learn the wrong lessons, which is like a gardener burning his leaves. You were given the raw materials to make pure gold, but you wasted them.
“Third, you can try, fail, learn the right lessons, and repeat the process until you’re standing in a pile of dark, rich, nutrient-dense compost. And from that compost pile will emerge your vibrant plant of your success.”