Trimming Joan’s Hedges: A parable in ownership

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, it’s no surprise to you that I’m a new home owner. My wife and I bought a house in the south of Macarthur (or the north of the Southern Highlands when I want to sound posh) and since March we have been doing renovations while adjusting to rural New South Wales. And by renovations, I pretty much only mean painting.

What really sold me on this house is Joan’s garden1. Joan and Ted were the lovely retired couple we bought this house from, and while they were tough negotiators, they were lovely during the handover period. Joan was a gardener and she made this yard lovely. It’s fantastic, and Ted obviously did a lot of work with the irrigation system.

Joan and Ted handed over the keys at the start of February, and since then it’s been our place.

But, there’s an odd feeling with the new house, and both myself and my partner have felt this; we are slow to change some things. They don’t feel ours yet. And the garden is one of those things. So we maintained, but they’re Joan’s roses. We’ve weeded and mowed and pruned… but it still doesn’t feel ours.

This past Easter weekend, I looked around the yard, and I noticed more pronounced that Joan’s hedges needed a trim. That felt like a big job – pruning the roses bushes is one thing, but this was topiary. I can’t mess with Joan’s hedges. But they were starting to grow wild. Something needed to be done.

And during a trip to the local big box hardware store for more painting supplies, I walked over to the gardening section and bought a new pair of hedge clippers. I probably will need an actual proper hedge trimmer at some point, but for now a simple set of clippers. And when we came home, I went to work trimming Joan’s hedges.

Of course, they’re not Joan’s any more. They’re mine. The first cuts were a little intimidating – was I ruining Joan’s vision? Was I cutting where I shouldn’t? But the more I trimmed, the more I started to realise it’s my vision that mattered. Joan ain’t coming back to admire the hedges.

Maybe I’m going to wreck them. Oh well, they’re mine now to wreck. I’ll try not to, but they’re mine to trim into what every shape or mould that I feel my hedge should look like.

A paint roller and a half painted wall
I’m painting your walls too, Joan. Wait, I mean my walls!

And while trimming I reflected on how this stance I had I’ve felt before. It’s a feeling I get when taking on a new job or a new set of responsibilities. Maybe you’re like me and you always feel like you want to preserve the legacy of the previous occupant. You want to maintain the website or system the way they would.

But this isn’t Joan’s hedge any more. By denying that I owned the hedge, I let it deteriorate. Not terribly, but the hedge needed a trim. By denying ownership of a project or position, by refusing to take it on, by refusing to make it your own, you do that project or position a disservice.

You need to own your new job. You need to do things the way you would, not how they would. It’s your Moodle now. It’s your WordPress site. It’s your database. You can’t be afraid to throw out their style guide or install the plugins they didn’t want.

You need to get in there and start painting the walls a shade that you like.

I’m not saying I have to freak Joan and Ted the f&@* out, after all the garden is what sold me on the place. I don’t want to change everything for change’s sake. But I need to own it, and make the changes I feel are right, for myself.

Because Joan ain’t coming back.2

Note

  1. Joan’s name isn’t actually Joan. I don’t know if it matters but I thought it’d be best to use a pseudonym here.
  2. Joan and Ted are welcome to come by for a coffee and to complain about their walls and hedges at any time. They really are nice people.

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