Every year I try to grow pumpkins. Every year I fail.  Except for this year.

I have a very small patch for my pumpkins. It’s not big enough, and I know it.

Still, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football, every year I give it a go.

My wife and daughters are amused, but supportive. They even buy me exotic gourd and pumpkin seeds to support my quest.

So every Spring I till the soil.  Add compost and nutrients. Weed. Make the mounds out of earth for the seeds. Plant, water, and wait.

Every year they sprout – maybe a half-dozen plants on each mound. I watch for rabbits and deer.

To have the best chance for large, healthy pumpkins, I’m supposed to cull the plants down to one per mound.  I’ve never done that, because it seems risky.  You see, if there’s only one plant, instead of the usual five or six, what happens if that plant dies?  I’ll have nothing, right?

So I’ve never culled down to one plant.  Plus because I want to try so many types of pumpkins, I have too many mounds for such a small space. This too is a problem. Still, I always let them ALL grow, hoping that this year will be different.

Jen, my wife, is the practical one.  She says “You really have to get rid of some of those plants so you’ll have room to grow.” I suspect she’s talking about more than plants.

Still, every year I ignore this advice.

So, every year all of the plants grow and overgrow and spill out into the lawn.  Every year I lose track of which vines are which because there are so many.  The squirrels and mice and groundhogs get in and chew up the young fruits because they’re hidden in the labyrinth of plants.

Every year I see the powdery mildew disease start, but by the time I see it, it’s too late. Why? because there are too many leaves and vines and the fungus starts where the the air can’t penetrate.  Eventually the mildew wins, methodically taking down all of the vines and cruelly exposing  all of the colorful fruits rotting beneath the canopy of leaves. All because I’ve again failed to do one important thing.

So every year I am left with maybe a couple of small pumpkins and gourds, not even large enough to carve.

Every Year… except for this year….

I live in a postcard-perfect small town on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an easy hop to NYC, but far enough away to be rural.   It is, in many ways, idyllic.  But it is not easy to make a living here using fairly specialized skills – in my case being a brand copywriter and strategist. That said, I’ve built a very good business helping fix, reposition and grow other people’s businesses. I’ve done good work, and supported my family in the process..

Problem is my clients trust me and, over time, ask me to do pretty much everything marketing-related for them. And because I know advertising and marketing and did a lot of that before I moved over to the brand side, I can do it. But I also know I shouldn’t. For someone else, that’s a great thing; for me it’s grind-work.  Mission creep due to the halo effect. Even good problems are still problems.

I am at heart a writer and creative. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to trim down what I offer professionally. A long time.

Every year I think I should just focus solely on the writing, creative and brand strategy. It’s what I enjoy do best. It’s why new clients call and where referrals come from. Every year I also tell myself to say “no” firmly far more than “yes” weakly. That I need to cull to be strong and healthy and grow. I recognize that I am a limited resource.

But every year when I start to walk that path, I think “What if…”

So every year I take on more rather than less. And wind up with less as a result.

Less time. Less focus. Less Satisfaction. And probably, despite all of the churn, angst and effort, about the same amount of income.

You would think I’d learn.

And maybe I have….

This year I culled. Ruthlessly. And it’s made all the difference.

That pumpkin in the picture up top? That’s one of two huge ones from a single plant in my garden.

It’s big, healthy and immensely satisfying to see. And it’s still growing.

Yes, it was hard. Pumpkins don’t replant easily; culling wasn’t moving, culling was killing. But it was necessary.

I now have the pumpkins that I want. And, because this single plant has grown and thrived so robustly, I don’t miss the others at all.

In case you missed it, the trick is this: you need to prune and discard those seemingly safe things that actually get in your way.  You need to cull. And that’s hard.

It’s easy to rationalize: what if they all grow? Or, if you are brave and do cull, what if that One dies? Both could happen, but neither will.

Nope. You’re just avoiding the unpleasant prospect of making some hard choices in order to get some real results.  You’re hedging your bets.  And you’re letting Fear take the wheel.

That’s dangerous. You need to take the wheel.

I have. Every day I’m culling and pruning.  Even in this time of Covid uncertainty I believe that brand differentiation and perception is more important that ever, so writing and strategy has become my focus.

Can I build a website, make digital ads or cut a video? Sure. But no.

Instead, I’m managing the people who do that best according to the communications and brand strategies I create. Which means I’m freer to do what I enjoy and do best.

And maybe growing a larger healthier pumpkin – and Life –  as a result.