The choices that make you who you are

moonplantFrom my living room windows, as I sit in my blue chair, I often see a woman out on her balcony in the condo building across the way.

Her balcony is filled with beautiful plants and flowers and even a small tree in a terra cotta base.  She’s about my age — 40s — and seems peaceful and purposeful as she moves with her watering pitcher from plant to plant, disappearing inside occasionally and reemerging with a full pitcher through the sliding glass door.

I think I am living vicariously through this woman — just a little — because I like the idea of lots of plants, but I’ve learned I don’t want them.

In my old home, from which I moved last year (and wrote about here), I had a room devoted solely to plants.

Many of them were my mother’s plants, lovingly tended for years and years, which I inherited when she moved to the East Coast in 2005. And in 2014, when my sister moved to Michigan, I took her plants as well, several cacti and some succulents known as “chickens and hens”.

The plant room got to be very full, and although I had liked the idea of all these plants when I moved into the house, over time I came to realize that I am simply not a plant person. I am an animal person, and I adore taking care of pets, but plants exhaust me.

A little orange tree that had thrived under my mother’s care for more than thirty years eventually withered under mine. Most of my sister’s plants died after she gave them to me.

A friend of mine saw the metaphor in all this and pointed out to me that I’d been taking care of plants all these years that did not truly belong to me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the plants, but I admit I cared for them resentfully. I didn’t really want all these plants but had taken them on because I felt like if I didn’t, they’d end up on the trash heap.

My friend said, “Of course you don’t want them — they’re other people’s cast-offs. You never did want them; you just couldn’t say no.” (I make it sound like she was brutally blunt, but she is actually very kind when she says things like this.)

My friend had a point. It was my mother, not me, who desired a large house filled with plants. And my sister’s plants had been given to her mostly by my mother. And why was I caring for the parts of people’s lives that they’d left behind, when they were no longer willing to do it?

Today, the plant room of my old house a thing of the past, I stare out my window at this woman tending her plants and wonder: what if I actually do want a balcony full of plants? What if I actually want a life like this woman’s? (I have no idea what kind of life this woman has — only that, when the weather turns warm, she turns her attention to her plants). Shouldn’t I have what she has?


In truth, I can say for sure — yes, for sure — that I do not want to care for a balcony full of plants.

At least once a week — more than ten months after my move — I feel relief and peace in the fact that I no longer care for those plants.

But I notice — in myself, in the clients I work with, in the communities of which I am part — that we so often look out at others and make assumptions about their lives, and believe we should have what they have, do what they do, be what we perceive them to be.

I’ve noticed myself assuming that the woman across the way must be “successful” in life because she has all these beautiful plants and is able to help them thrive. She’s willing to put in that time and energy and devotion to plants, and I am not. That must mean something good about her, and something bad about me, right?

The fact that I actually do not enjoy caring for plants does not register to my critical mind when it’s comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.

And maybe, just maybe, this woman actually truly wanted all these plants and picked each one out with care, herself. Maybe they were not an inheritance she never wanted to begin with.

Two things bubble to the surface for me as I write this:

1) In the future, starting now, I will remember to say no more to things I really do not want. I will remember that my “no” does not necessarily relegate innocent plants to the trash heap — in fact, my “no” may create currently unseen possibilities, for plants AND people.

2) When I’m comparing myself to “surely-more-successful-than-me” others, I will remember that I have good reasons for my choices, and that making choices based on who I really am and what I truly want is one of my definitions of success. So while a balcony full of thriving plants may equal success for my neighbor, it doesn’t for me — even though I can deeply appreciate the view it creates.

What do you notice about the difference between who you truly are and who you (sometimes) think you should be? How do you connect with what you truly want, as opposed to what you think you should have? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it)? I’d love to help. Find out if we might be a fit, here.

Above image is “Future Forest”, © Deca Raluca | Dreamstime Stock Photos

14 thoughts on “The choices that make you who you are

  1. Oh boy, does this resonate. This is something I’ve been fighting my whole life, extricating myself from other people’s choices and owning my own. It’s not an easy thing to do as there is pressure to be certain ways. (And I am definitely a pet person not a plant person.) Whenever I do whatever it is I think I should like, or do, because others do it, all I can keep thinking is that I’d rather be doing something else. And I’m not happy and tense. And when I do somethig I love, like spending time with my pets, all I want to do is keep spending time with them! And it makes me happy and relaxed. That’s how I know what’s really me and what really isn’t. (I’ve had that feeling with books too- books I “think” I should read, as opposed to the ones I really do read and WANT to read- like cat mysteries 🙂 So, thank you for this- this is is a great reminder that it’s not about good and bad, just being true to yourself, and putting your energies into a life that comes from that place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kathryn! I love your description of how you know what’s really “you” and what isn’t. That sense of “I just want to do more of this” and feeling happy and relaxed is totally IT. And I know so well that feeling of “I should be doing this” but actually wanting to be doing something else. (Totally hear you on the books you think you “should” read but don’t really want to! Been there, am there at times!) I’m happy this struck a chord for you, and thanks so much for sharing! P.S. Cat mysteries — that sounds so fun! Any recommendations?


  2. I love this post! The plant metaphor is powerful.

    Recently I’ve been realizing how draining it can be to literally or figuratively “take care of” that which does not truly belong to me … how in times past I’ve accepted responsibilities, tasks, and even relationships without questioning whether they were a true yes.

    But I was able to celebrate in reading this post, because like you, I’ve started getting to know the real me a little better (and like her a little better too). It really is okay that I am not a plant person, that when people give me plants I pass them right along. 🙂 xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes — taking things on “without questioning whether they were a true yes” (love how you put that) — that has truly been a journey for me and something I’m (obviously) still working on! A big YES to celebrating, knowing (and liking) the real you better! Thanks so much for sharing, Caroline! 🙂


  3. Kathryn back with a few cat mystery recommendations 🙂 Lillian Jackson Braun has a great cat mystery book series, as does author Sofie Kelly. Two other terrific cat centered books are titled All My Patients are Under the Bed (I think that’s right- it’s about the experiences of a NYC housecall vet. You may have to go to your library for this one- believe it’s out of print) and the other title is The Cat Who Covered the World, true stories about the cat of a foreign corespondent and his family, as they lived around the world. Some really funny scenes in both!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing those, Kathryn! I actually had some of the Lilian Jackson Braun ones years ago — I remember one was called The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (love that title!). I’ve heard of that one about the housecall vet but have not read it. All sound like fun — I will definitely check them out!


  4. There’s such a spectrum here Jill. Your post reminds me that I’ve a way to go. There are certain things I’m comfortable saying no to and other things I’m still very uncomfortable ‘defending’ my lack of enthusiasm for. One of the trickiest for me is saying no to social invitations, when I’d really rather have some time alone. Just as I make assumptions about others lives and successes, I feel judgements being made about me when I say no to being sociable. We’re not good enough/she doesn’t like us/care about us, she must be depressed and lonely, she’s shy and nervous…aggghhhh! None of which are true!!!! I just happen to need, enjoy and thrive on time alone. Your post brings one of the four agreements to mind ‘be impeccable with your word.’ Sounds so simple doesn’t it!? Great post Jill! Reflectively, Harula

    Liked by 1 person

    • Harula, thank you for sharing this! Yes, there really is a spectrum, isn’t there? I struggle sometimes with the social invitation thing, too — in fact, I opted to stay home tonight when there was a very tempting invite — only because my intuition was prompting me to have a night alone (which I rarely get!). I do find that when I am totally at ease with my “no”, I feel less concerned about whether others are okay with it (which is not to say I don’t care how they feel about it, just that it doesn’t throw me as much!). It is definitely tricky at times, though, and I am always in process with this, too. 🙂 Hugs to you — thanks for reading as always!


  5. Touching, resonate post, Jill. I love the images and ideas that emerge from your writings. Indeed, as I read those writings, YOU are my woman on the balcony…tending skillfully and thoughtfully to something I’ve let go–or at least chosen not to cultivate in a full, focused way.

    In my case, it’s not because I don’t like writing or tending to writing. But it is because of choices…and choosing to say no to some things in order to allow space for others. I sense more choices and no’s are needed–or at least will be a little further down my current path. Thank you for helping me explore this place, which is not an easy one for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dana, thank you for this beautiful comment! It means a lot to me that my writing sparks exploration for you — that is always my hope when I put a post out there. And I definitely hear you. You are doing wonderful work in the world, so congrats on making those choices and choosing to say no to some things to allow space for others. I really believe that the whole world benefits when we follow that feeling of “true yes”! Sending lots of support in the choices that are ahead for you. 🙂


  6. This: “That must mean something good about her, and something bad about me, right?” That’s exactly what our brains do! So well put! Something about your phrasing makes it suddenly very clear how crazy our thoughts can be, and how subtle too. I’ve been undoing the ‘who you truly are and who you think you should be’ for years now, and it seems there are always some dark corners still to uncover! We are well trained. What I love about the story is that you still get plants in your life; you just don’t have to be responsible for them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I didn’t even totally make the connection that I still get plants in my life but I don’t have to take care of them — so true! Thanks for that, Tara!

      Yes, our thoughts can definitely be crazy AND crazy in a subtle way — well said and I notice that all the time. I think often we’re so “used to” certain thoughts we don’t question them, but when we say them out loud or put them on paper it can really jump out at us how unhelpful they are!

      Thanks for your lovely insights as always, Tara! 🙂


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