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OPINION: Foray into complete unknown has been deeply rewarding

August 4th, 2017 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

For the past month, I've had no idea what I was doing, and it was awesome.

Three years ago, my family planted a quarter-acre field with peony plants. We had researched the crop and liked what we heard. The plants are well-suited to many areas of Alaska. They enjoy a good, hard freeze and grow to gargantuan proportions under the midnight sun. They bloom later in the year than commercial peony fields in the Lower 48, so people looking for the outrageous blooms in August and September are thrilled to find them. And best of all, moose don't like to eat them.

The only catch, really, to peony farming is that you have to wait several years before you get any return on your investment. We have thousands of peony plants in the ground now, but most won't be market-ready for several more years. A few varieties, however, turned out to be over-achievers, growing huge and harvestable in only three seasons. So this year, we dove in, clippers in hand, to the wild world of flower farming.

The list of things we needed to know immediately became ridiculously long. How do we cut the stems? How long do we cut them? Most importantly, when do we cut them? How do we store them? How do we ship them? And, the million-dollar question, who is going to buy them?

I'm not going to lie and say it wasn't overwhelming at times, but after a few trips volunteering at other farms and a lot of pestering farmers with more experience, we started to gain some know-how. Still, throughout the whole process, it was obvious that there was more I didn't know than did. But somehow we muddled through. Now our cooler is full of flower buds ready to ship and we are working through the final pile of things we don't know how to do, which is a relief.

But as I reflect on the last month, I realize that jumping into unfamiliar territory is good for us, once in a while. True, it was overwhelming at times, but there is something about immersing yourself in the unknown that is invigorating. I suppose it's a lot like traveling to foreign countries where you don't speak the language, or understand the customs or have the faintest idea what direction you need to head at any given time. You don't need an expensive plane ticket, however, to dive into something new.

Most of us are comfortable with the routine of our lives. We shop at the same stores, the ones where we know the location of everything, we drive to work the same way, we cook meals we know how to make and read a certain genre of books and magazines. Researchers say that's because the familiar is comfortable. In fact, they say that we fear the unknown more than we fear a known negative outcome.

The flip-side, however, is that there is a lot to be gained by trying something new, and it goes far beyond the skills you might learn, like how to cook a new meal or enjoy a new craft, or even work at a new job. The real gain is much deeper.

When you try new things, especially things that are a departure from your comfort zone, you gain inner confidence. I'm walking away from this first season working with peonies with a renewed sense that while I don't have all the answers, I will find them. I am reminded that I have the skills to ask the right questions, absorb the information I need, and keep a positive attitude even when I'm not 100 percent sure about what I'm doing. And that's refreshing, even freeing. Knowing you have the capacity to learn something completely foreign opens up a million doors of opportunity.

So the next time you encounter an opportunity to try something new, but are fearful of the myriad of ways you could fail spectacularly, remind yourself that the risk is balanced by an equally deep reservoir of ways you can succeed. Even if the new enterprise turns out not to be your cup of tea, you will still be surprisingly strengthened simply by the experience of trying something completely new.


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