My business is a garden, not a line

Lately I’ve been sitting with a lot of swirling thoughts and feelings about my business.

Among the swirling, questions bubble up, and it’s taking time and energy to find answers.

Questions like…

How can a business embody anticapitalist values? (Is this even possible?)

In what ways does my business challenge the status quo?

In what ways does it support it?

What does ‘growth’ mean for my business? Do I want to ‘grow’? Do I need to? What about ‘development’?

Where are the disconnects between the above-ground parts of my business and the below-ground parts, the foundations?

How is compassion, empathy and care baked in to my business (if at all)?

How does my body feel in this business? How does my heart feel? Where is the nourishment in my work?

How are decisions made?

What about ‘scarcity mindset’ and ‘abundance mindset’? Where and how are these showing up?

What does ‘productivity’ mean and how does it show up in my business?

How does the idea of ‘diversity’ show up in my business? And what about practices of inclusion and equity (that give ‘diversity’ meaning)?

How do I ensure that everyone works works for/with or participates in this business (including blog readers) is cared for in these interactions? How do I know this is happening?

Who benefits most?

Who gives most?

What is the organisational structure of my business (and is this the right model)?

What structural models can I see around me? What do I think of them?

What does a feminist business look like? Can a business be feminist? (I mean truly, radically, intersectionally feminist.)

In what ways do I make my business accountable to my team, readers, customers, colleagues, community?

In what ways does my business provide nourishment to me? How about to others?

(There are lots of other questions swirling around in there. These are just the ones I can catch hold of right this moment.)

(It’s a lot!)

My most firmly-held political stance is anticapitalism.

In this I am not suggesting that capitalism is a greater evil than, say, patriarchy, or white supremacy, or cisheteronormativity. Capitalism is an intentionally-created structure that connects and relies on all forms of oppression – in its pursuit of greater profits and greater GDP, capitalism must necessarily exploit and reinforce hierarchies of privilege. I view capitalism as both a gleaming monolithic expression of structural oppression in practice, and a system of oppression in and of itself. For capitalism as we know it today to work, there must be power imbalance, class strata, mainstreams and margins, haves and have-nots. If these are disrupted, capitalism cannot work – the system relies on the existence of ‘lower’, disadvantaged classes not having enough, or not feeling ‘enough’ (and this is to say nothing of the fact that capitalism was built on witch hunts and slavery.)

Capitalism deliberately highlights difference, creates meaningless aspiration, exploits the resulting feelings of inadequacy (or actual tangible lack) and keeps buyers buying stuff and workers working (…so we can buy stuff and/or meet our basic needs).

In my interpretation, capitalism shows us how our societies have been intentionally designed to keep some people down, for the benefit of others. Oppression is not a by-product of capitalism, something we can work around or reduce. It’s an essential part of the system.

So in positioning myself as an anticapitalist, I mean to say that I am working to understand the intersecting structures of oppression that capitalism depends on, and I am consciously working to challenge that (I mean, I want to burn it down, obvs) and imagine, create and model real alternatives.

I want Little Red Tarot to be a truly anticapitalist business.

Can a business even be anticapitalist? 

This is not about switching to an ethical bank or recycling more or having an equality and diversity statement.

I want Little Red Tarot to demonstrate that a business can nourish and support its workers, that work can be a joy, that a business can hold me, can hold others, can meet our needs, not only without perpetuating oppression, but through active anti-oppressive practice. I want my business to be accountable to its readers, workers and customers – especially the most marginalised. I want it to be accountable to the environment. I want to answer those questions I’m asking satisfactorily. Where I can’t do that, I want to dive deeper, work out why, work out what needs to change.

(Maybe ‘business’ is not the right word? Or maybe this is rethinking what ‘business’ can mean.

I mean, ‘capitalism’ is always capitalism, one economic model, and I’m not interested in rethinking that. You can shove ‘compassionate capitalism’. Is the same true of business? Can we play with that word or do we need something new? For now, it’s what I have.)

So, I’m sitting with this swirling. Working with my questions. Taking courses. Reading books and blogs. Drawing maps and diagrams and spidergrams and lists and whatever else in order to tease apart the skeleton of Little Red Tarot. Resisting the urge to make bold sweeping statements or rush to decisions. I’m doing an autopsy on a living being. I’m looking at its childhood, its socialisation, its formative moments, its nutrition and health, its impact in the world. I don’t know how long this work will take. A month? A year? Three? Ten? I don’t know what comes next and I don’t know what comes after that.

I’m also sitting with the fact that thought I want my business to be anticapitalist, this reimagining and restructuring work is taking place under a capitalist regime. There’s no pretending otherwise. I want to destroy capitalism but I have a mortgage, because like everybody else I need housing security and unlike many my financial privilege enabled me to borrow vast sums and pay vast sums of interest to get it. I write this on a Mac that I saved up for. I have a bank account. I have a mobile phone and I buy things in supermarkets. I do not exist outside of the system.

Capitalism is all I have ever known.

But I want to know something else.

While I’m sitting with all of this, I find it helpful to think about the shape of my business.

A traditional business model is like a line. Like, A to B.

Capitalist thinking is necessarily goal-oriented. And the goals are typically numbers. A a number is decided: this is the goal. A route is plotted towards that goal. And then off we go, following the plan, moving towards the goal, on an upward trajectory.

Achieving the goal is what success looks like. Not achieving the goal is failure. The line itself – the process of getting there – is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what is sacrificed, all that matters is reaching that specified end-point.

Not that there is anything at all wrong with knowing how much you need to make to meet your needs, or making plans, or factoring numbers into your plans, or wanting to increase your earning to bring more ease, or working towards goals, or working hard at all. That’s not what this is. My intention is to call out capitalism’s reliance on ever-increasing growth, on aways going beyond what is needed and aiming for more and more without any reason why besides that being the unquestioned central purpose of capitalism, and therefore its willingness to through everything else under the bus in order to get there. Making money, working hard, these are not bad things in and of themselves. It’s when they take place within the context of capitalism, when they are done to serve the capitalist purpose, that they become problematic.

Goal-oriented thinking – where the ends justify the means and success and failure are so clearly defined at the end – is central to capitalism. The ‘sacrifice’ element is really key here. It doesn’t matter who is working a zero-hour contract, or what river is being polluted, or whose sacred lands are being chowed up, or who is being displaced, or who is doing unpaid overtime, or who is eating crap at their desk again, or who is receiving less than a living wage, or who is being framed as an enemy, or who is being made to feel insecure/unworthy/ugly/the wrong shape, in order to build that dam or sell that product. If that is what it takes to make the profit, please the shareholders, generate the bonus, grow grow grow the business… it’s worth it. This definition of success relies entirely on unequal systems – which mean that people, land and other resources are easily exploited – in order to grow.

Yet the creation of these goals and the lines of work towards them represent the most epic and tragic failure of imagination.

Alternative shapes

At first, searching for alternatives to the ‘line’ model, I imagined Little Red Tarot as a circle. A circle which holds things within it but doesn’t force them into specific directions. A space in which things can develop. Attempting to describe this I swooshed my arms around and made ducking and diving motions with my hands, and mumbled confusedly about space and movement in different directions.

The circle became a bowl, the bowl got filled with water; hmm, now it’s more of an unconscious space for play and experimentation, for intuition, for floating and swimming.

But that still feels kinda intangible. I still didn’t know what I could do with that shape, and my capitalist-conditioned brain wants me to define myself more clearly.

What do I mean? I want to see my business not as a set of arbitrary steps towards a goal, but as a space where process and organic growth were centred, where success and failure could be defined differently.

Oh yeah.

My business is a garden.

When I hit upon this (yes, overused) analogy, I was delighted. A garden! This metaphor can be extended in any direction! The symbolism is endless, and very pleasing!

For example…

A garden is always in-process

A garden is never ‘finished’. It is an ever-turning cycle of processes. A gardener is not (typically) someone who works through a list and ticks off accomplishments, but a person who observes the seasons, watches the soil, tends the plants and tries to give their garden what it needs to become healthy and abundant and beautiful. Gardeners clear away what is not needed and make space for what is coming through next, gardeners learn what is most nourishing and helpful, gardeners know when to step in and when to hold back and watch. Gardeners learn to be at peace with organic growth; some plants grow, some don’t do so well. Sometimes you get a plant that you didn’t even know was there.

A gardener might make some plans, of course. Like, “I’m going to grow squash there, and lemon balm there”, and they might take planned steps towards that goal, and hopefully, the things they want to grow will grow. But maybe some of the seeds won’t sprout, or the plant won’t fruit, or the mint patch takes over, or the whole thing gets eaten by slugs. What then? It’s disappointing for sure, but there’s lots of learning there in that joyful work – about soil culture, or attracting more bees, or slug protection – and besides, there are other things going on. Everything did not hinge on that squash.

I want the joy and the learning in my business to come from process. I want to be okay with ‘failure’ and find the fruit in reflecting on what didn’t work out as well a what did. I want to go about my work with an open and loving mind and heart and allow my intuition to guide me, sometimes towards goals, sometimes in other, unexpected directions. I want to remember the importance of stepping back and watching.

A garden helps us redefine abundance

An abundant garden might be one with lots of lovely vegetables in neat rows. Or it might be one where native herbs are blooming all over. Or it might be one that has gone wild but is filled with birds and bees. Or it might be a garden that is run by volunteers who are all doing different things and who are nourished by each others’ company. Or it might be a quiet space for grounding or prayer or exercise. Or it might be a patch of land that looks empty, but where soil regeneration is taking place. Or it might be one where nothing you planned actually grew…but seeds that came in on the wind are offering something different. Or it might be one that’s roughly paved but where pretty weeds are coming up between the cracks and where friends gather for a chat. Or all or any of the above.

I want my business to nourish me in many different ways. I do need it to provide me with a certain amount of money so that I can meet my material needs, but I can also want it to bring me joy. I want it to pay other people properly, but also to offer them other forms of nourishment. I want it to progress interesting and important conversations. I want it to be an open, friendly space where folks feel welcome and cared for. I want it to feel like an abundant place where folks gain something from participating. So there is not only this flow of cash from consumer to producer, but a more circular flow of giving and receiving that sometimes involves money and often involves sharing other kinds of resources.

A garden is a space for experimentation

Maybe there’s an unlabelled packet of seeds. The gardener can sow them! See what comes up. Maybe they’ve never grown this particular plant before and they want to find out if it does well in your garden. Maybe they’re gonna check out the difference between plants watered with tap water and plants watered with rainwater. Maybe they’re inventing a new kind of fertliser.

I want my business to be a place where ideas can be tested, where goals may be set, for sure, but where the fun and the growth and the learning is in the process and the experimentation, not just the end result. I want to feel free to say yes and no when my intuition guides me, not only in accordance with ‘the plan’.

A garden is a space for personal reflection

You don’t always have to be working in the garden. Sometimes you are standing out under the stars at night. Sometimes you’re sitting with a mug of steaming tea on a frosty morning, enjoying the light. Sometimes you are lying on the grass, soaking in the sun. Just being yourself. Just hanging out, unconsciously taking in the energy of this living, breathing space.

I want my business to be a space that sometimes just holds me, that doesn’t need me to be working in order to engage in it.

A garden has energetic cycles

From planting seeds in spring and nourishing them through to high summer’s abundance and early autumn’s harvest, to the fading light and slow decay of autumn and winter, and the quiet, dead-looking time of the cold, dark months, when next year’s new life is being incubated, there is a steady, ever-repeating rhythm in a garden. There are times when the most important job is tidying and cleaning, times when it’s feeding, times when it feels impossible to keep on top of all the new growth and ensure everything has space. The work shifts with the seasons. (And don’t forget there are the other plants, the ones that don’t follow the mainstream rhythm, the winter flowering jasmine, the snowdrops, the kale and chard we harvest at midwinter.)

There is no ‘dead’ season, but shifts of energy, outwards and inwards. I want my business to feel this way, for projects to move in cycles, for inward, regenerative time to be as valued as outward, manifestation time.

A garden is a team effort

It’s debatable, but I’d say gardening needs more than instinct. Gardeners learn from each other, swap seeds and cuttings and tips, visit each others’ gardens to see what’s happening there. Even working ‘alone’, a gardener is still part of a team. They are working with the sun and the rain, the seasons, the insects, the worms, the soil, the history of the land. They are working with the latent energy of the plants, which each contain their own purpose.

I want my work to take place within the context of the wider ecosystem. My business does not stand alone in the world but connects to people and businesses and projects all over the place. It takes place within a culture we are all creating, and within other cultures that we have inherited. It is in a continuing conversation with all of these.

A garden is a place that everybody wants to hang out.

I can hold barbecues and picnics, I can host a pot-luck, I can have quiet one-to-ones with dear friends, and parties that go on all night. My garden can be a public space or a private one. A space of healing and personal growth, a space for fun, a space for quietness and for connecting with natural rhythms and energies. A safe place to experience the weather.

I want to use this blog as a space to splurge things as I find the words for them, to test out the words, to work towards something. Don’t hold me to the things I write here, but allow me to work through them. I want to do it publicly because I value this community and this space and I’m interested in feedback, but don’t take any of this as conclusive or a declaration of intent.

This post is not a finished product, that was not my goal. It’s a tiny piece of a process. A day in the garden and some of the thoughts I had.