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October 20, 2004

Potting Plants

I was trying to recruit someone recently for my new company. Despite hours of pushing by me and the team, they ultimately concluded that they needed to take time off before deciding what to do next.

There was a time, five years ago maybe, where I would have tried to push through their reasoning.

"You'll miss an incredible opportunity"

"There will always be time to take off but not always a time to have a huge impact like this"

You get the idea.

This time I let it go and wished them well. Why?

Peter Ueberroth
Four years ago I met Peter Ueberroth at a venture capital event. Now I had never met Peter before, but I knew that he had made a tremendous and varied career for himself: an entrepreneur and millionaire in the travel industry, organizing the Los Angeles Olympics, named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1984, running all of baseball as its commissioner, spearheading the "rebuilding Los Angeles" campaign after the 1992 riots, investing in and building companies as a venture capitalist, and running for governor in the California recall election.

I was fascinated by this guy and I had to know how he did it. So, I asked the cliched "how have you accomplished so many amazing things in your life" question.

He paused for a moment and I'll never forget what he said.

"I pot plants."

Um... I sat on that one for a moment.

Saving me from the embarassing "I have no freakin' clue what that means", Peter said that every time a job has run its course and he decides to move on, he makes it a point not to do anything right away. He goes into his back yard and he gardens.

He literally pots plants.

His idea is to put himself into a quieted state over as long as it takes, so that he can listen to that little voice in his head that tells him what's next.

He gets himself bored and quiet and calm.

Then he goes on to his next greatness.

I've never forgotten that lesson. It's why my wife and I put backpacks on and traveled to Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and many other way-too-hot places when I left Excite.

It's why I no longer push when people say they need to decompress.

It's a huge luxury. But if you can, take Peter's advice. Pot some plants.

October 20, 2004 | Permalink


I do that all the time. It's great to leave the computer and head directly out into the garden. Most of the time its a slight pruning here or there, a quick walk with the camera or I'm dumping some vege scraps or fallen palm frond. Thankfully I'm living on a large block with overgrown patches, forest sections and large patches of soft grass.

This is what I recommend. If you can get out of the house and into a garden or park for at least 10 minutes the effect can be great. It clears the mind of worries as the brain is filled with interpretions of the natural shapes, textures and colours in the garden.

Posted by: ABliss | Oct 20, 2004 10:41:46 PM

Somehow, your stories always seem to relate to the intersection of life and business this 23 year old ponders.

Great posts, and keep them coming! :)


Posted by: Ben Wills | Oct 21, 2004 9:18:20 AM

I highly recommend this as well. Before starting my current venture, I took 6 months off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I moved to Korea for a change of pace and environemt and also attended the world cup there, then back packed around western europe, and meeting some interesting people along the way. Oddly, it was during this time when I came up with the idea for my company, since the thing to drink while I was abroad was tea, of which I love. Such a simple idea, staring at me most of my life. It was then I knew that I found my calling, from IT Manager to Tea Master. I've never been as broke but as happy as I have ever been. Bootstrapping rocks!

Posted by: Adam | Oct 22, 2004 12:03:31 AM

well, potting plants is great,

but remember watering the lawn is an art.

set the sprinklers to just the right timing to avoid mushrooms or a dry mess.


Posted by: anonymous | Oct 23, 2004 11:29:05 AM

Long time ago... I left my architecture studies - for six months of sleeping late, laying on park benches, eating yogurt, and thinking of nothing - immediately followed by a full year dedicated to just reading... in an almost monastery setting. I read the Bible, a 27 tome History of Art (in French), Proclus' "Elements of Theology" (in Russian), and a host of other "unreadable" items.

Just three years later, fresh out of college, I had won a major national (in Bulgaria) architectural competition, had become an editor in an international architectural magazine, and had won a competition for a post-graduate fellowship in Cultural Studies at Sofia University.

I totally believe in a cyclic rhythm of concentrated disciplined efforts followed by prolonged (if only possible) periods of "smelling the roses"... or... gardening. I love mountain hiking with my wife... and Paris... with my wife.

Posted by: Emil | Oct 26, 2004 7:58:48 PM

He literally pots plants.

Is it the case that most other people figuratively pot plants?

Everybody seems to abuse this poor little word these days. Nearly everyone. Literally!

Thanks for the otherwise yummy reading.


Posted by: Danny Howard | Nov 1, 2004 11:34:01 AM

I agree. getting my hands dirty pulling weeds has a satisfying, relaxing quality. helps to put things in perspective. the weeds always come back you know. but so do I, eventually. in any case it gives a mental break to let the higher goals and directions make themselves known. and to paraphrase somthing else I read this evening, for a muscle to be strong and quick, it must know how to relax...

Posted by: tom haughton | Nov 1, 2004 10:41:46 PM

I've done the run from one job to the next thing, and the result was always a bad decision. Yes, stop, breath, pot plants if that's your thing, otherwise take a hike, climb a mountain, sit at your favorite spot at the creek for a while. If you do, you will make better decisions.

Posted by: David Locke | Jan 16, 2005 7:40:50 PM

A friend of mine forwarded this story to me.. I can totally relate and I love this post. I design and work on my own gardens so I can just ponder, decompress, rethink, or clear my mind.

It's a different kind of work. The reward of edible gardening or creating a personal sanctuary with lush plantings is also priceless!

After a period of just gardening and praying, I am able to reinvent myself and this practice always helps to refresh my spirit.

I believe that this (activity) helped me figure out what I wanted to do next. From many years of I.T. related work, I'm now co-publisher of a magazine, whose mission is to help remind individuals and families to slow down, find balance, and create serenity at home.

Thanks for a great piece!

ps. I would love to reprint this post in Relax Homes & Lifestyles magazine (www.rlxmag.com) and would like to ask for permission. I'm looking for the original author of this post.

Posted by: Jocelyn Cruz Kadach | Jan 28, 2005 7:08:09 PM

Silly me... just posting another comment to answer my own question (see above ps.)

Mr. Joe Kraus, I apologize for not finding out sooner about you. (JotSpot's CEO, founder of Excite, founder of Digitalconsumer.org, and so much more.)

Anyway, I would still like to very respectfully and humbly request your permission in allowing our start-up and very small publication to publish "Potting Plants" in the premier edition of Relax Homes & Lifestyles Magazine. I am a believer and passionate about your endearing story on taking time to slow the pace -- to pot some plants! I truly believe that "Potting Plants" will help inspire the readers that we would like to reach in Silicon Valley. Thank you again! :)

Posted by: Jocelyn Kadach | Jan 29, 2005 2:55:37 PM

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