Satyajit Rout

Dec 31, 2021

Carpenter or gardener?

Are you a carpenter or a gardener?

A few years ago, in a conversation with my boss, I remarked that I liked my job because I felt a sense of control when I was at work. In contrast, life outside was full of variables I had little grip on. 

Another way of saying what I meant was that I liked being a carpenter much more than I liked being a gardener. A carpenter has control over her work. She gets to decide the wood, the tools, what to build, and other particularities of her environment. A gardener, in contrast, is at the mercy of rain, humidity, pests, and a host of other variables outside her influence. A carpenter draws a straight line between input and output and traverses it, while the gardener is more at ease with the vagaries of life.

By choosing control over proceedings as the key ingredient for happiness, I was suggesting that a carpenter is happier than a gardener. The idea sounds arbitrary, if not outright ridiculous. I was also implying that a successful carpenter is precise and meticulous, while a flourishing gardener is plain lucky. 

The carpenter’s world view held me back for several years.

When things spiraled out of control at work, as they tend to do sometimes, I found it hard to let go. I had a difficult time owning up to the outcome. I searched for narratives that were charitable to me. And when a fortuitous turn of events swayed things my way, as it also happens, instead of savoring the lucky break, I plunged myself into working out ways to control the uncontrollable. 

Adopting a gardener’s world view in such situations would’ve allowed me to acknowledge that any control I enjoyed was inadequate and that, instead of fighting for more, I ought to make the most of what was at my disposal. And would’ve let me explore uncertainty with curiosity instead of feeling anxious and nervous.
I can’t say I’m a gardener today but a gardener’s model of the world is one of the better gifts I can offer myself.

Are you a carpenter or a gardener? Share your experience in the comments.

Credit for the carpenter-gardener metaphor: The Gardener and the Carpenter, a book on child development by developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik.

Satyajit Rout

Welcome to my Social Blog. I write about all that I learn to become a better version of myself: mental models, decision-making, habit change, the works.