On Cultivating One’s Own Garden First

18th century philosopher, Voltaire, famously asseverated that “one must cultivate one’s own garden”. I am not a gardener, though I do appreciate the aesthetic of a verdant landscape, but this metaphor is increasingly apt for all of us in modern society.

Largely because of technological advancements we are able to scope the affairs of any location in the world at any given time. We can swiftly gain a thorough sense of what our distant acquaintances are up to via our commonly superfluous social media networks. We can speculate on business rivals’ visions. We can compare our physiques and training regimes to ‘influencers’ on Instagram. And so on and so forth.

In short, and with our smartphones invariably tethered to our hands, we are constantly tending to the gardens of others. While our own backyard burgeons with weeds.

And our plants, perhaps symbolic of the meaningful pillars in our individual lives, wilt from neglect.

Even the most headstrong of us succumb to the ineluctable perils of modern technology. The algorithms that drive traffic to and within social media platforms are constantly being refined, and individualised based on tracked personal activity, to become even more addictive.

With greater addiction to our devices comes greater use, plunging us further into a fearful state of missing out (‘FOMO’)… At the expense of our immediate environments, our direct eco-system, our own garden. Perpetual consumption of extraneous content quickly becomes a black hole that clouds our own sense of self, our unique viewpoint of the world; stymieing the unvarnished individuality we are all born into.

Life satisfaction and fulfilment derived from that with which we engage in, is intrinsically linked to the depth of agency we wield over our lives. In other words, the greater the sense of control we perceive ourselves to have the more likely we are to be happy. We have little to no control over the affairs of others, and yet we spend perverse amounts of time scrolling through such every day.  Distracting ourselves from our own reality, and immediate sphere of influence.

Former American President Theodore Roosevelt averred that “comparison is the thief of joy”. There is profound truth to this quote, and it complements what has already been said above. However, it carries most relevance for the aspiration of success. For authentic success is an inalienable manifestation that is born from intrinsic motives, and attained on one’s own terms. However, It seems that a vast majority of us today are quantifying and qualifying markers of success on extrinsic motives, and arriving at goals that are fuelled by the approbation of others. This pervades the fitness domain, particularly; a domain typified by egocentricity and vanity – traits governed by interpersonal influences.

In this realm, if one isn’t comparing oneself with another’s profile or posts, one is often posting to elicit validation from others more so than to derive fulfilment from the workmanship itself; the process culminating in the ‘art’. When our decisions are governed by the opinions of others, we lose respect for ourselves and become hard-pressed to extract meaning from our pursuits.

Venturing too far and too frequently from one’s own garden can easily degrade one’s otherwise remarkable life, induce anxiety, stir up insanity by way of self-delusions, and rob us of the privilege it is to be a human being. On the other hand, muffling the ubiquitous noise in a distracting world, to cultivate skills and a sense of individuality that we can be proud of, is a healthy means to not only retain sanity, but also to exert a positive influence over the environment and relationships that truly matter to us. Our nuclear sphere. Not the great digital nowhere.

First, you must cultivate your own garden.