I often begin tours of our property with this disclaimer: “We are a working farm.” My motivation is to let our guests know up front that we have unfinished projects. It lets them know at the outset that they will encounter some messy, muddy or otherwise imperfect areas during their stay.
I’ve begun thinking I could do the same thing when, as an individual, I meet someone for the first time. A sign around my neck with the words, “Under Construction” would do the trick. Instead of hiding the messy parts of my life, the sign would let potential friends know that I’m a work in progress. It would be my way of inviting others to get to know me, while at the same time protecting myself from astonished would-be friends, aghast that I’m not perfect, that in fact I’ve got lots of room for improvement.
The reaction we get to our forewarning on the farm has been encouraging. A few months ago a sweet couple, who have their own farm in nearby Athens, booked a stay in our glamping tent. I fretted that everything wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it. Was it cool enough in the tent for the pregnant wife? Did the bathhouse meet their expectations? What about the areas around the acreage that were messy? Their response when we returned the next morning for their scheduled bee tour was just what we needed to hear: “Relax.” We were also heartened by their entry in the tent’s guestbook. As farmers themselves, they were very understanding of our never ending list of projects.
We had a similar experience last week. My husband, daughter and I took a friend we hadn’t seen in several years to the farm. He knew very little about our project until that day. As we walked with Yad around the property and shared our vision, we saw his eyes light up. He “got” it! Hearing him say people need to hear “true, natural silence,” and that “there’s never perfect silence, but there is here,” brought smiles to our faces. It didn’t matter that we were in the midst of finishing the septic system or that the seedlings weren’t quite ready to go into the towers. His words, the look in his eyes, gave us permission to not be “there” yet.
It’s daunting sometimes, inviting others to a place where we’ve invested so much. We’re making a choice to be vulnerable and open ourselves up to them. But I’m learning that it can be so rewarding. When they experience the quiet and connect with our desire to share the farm, venue, table and retreat experiences with others, it’s like a silent - sometimes not so silent - confirmation that maybe we’re going down the right path. Maybe our idea isn’t crazy. Someone sees value in what we’re doing.
It’s the same when I feel someone genuinely “gets” me or enjoys hanging out with me, warts and all. It’s a little scary letting people in to see the unfinished, messy parts of me. I want others to see the very best, complete, best side. On the outside I may look like I’ve got it all together, but internally there are areas I’m working on and others that I don’t even realize need addressing. I’m reluctant to share the parts where I’m struggling or failing. But whenever I relax and allow others to see my imperfections, I’m always rewarded. When they accept and like me in spite of my flaws, I’m encouraged. Another benefit is that it often gives them permission to be vulnerable themselves - to show their less than perfect selves.
How do you react when someone is transparent and vulnerable with you, sharing their unfinished self or messy life? Do you treat the situation as the sacred trust it is? Or do you judge and dismiss them as less than perfect? They may not be wearing a literal sign, but trust me, they want to be understood.
Sherry Asbury Clark is Co-Founder of Purdon Groves and a freelance writer. You may reach her at email@example.com. For more info on Purdon Groves, a farm, table, venue and retreat property, check out purdongroves.com, visit their Instagram or Facebook pages, or call 404-606-1243.