What's Your Sweet Spot?

"An Ant on the move does more than a dozing Ox" - Lao Tzu
The ants go marching on and on

One of my favorite jaunts every morning is to wander around my garden enjoying the dew and sweet smell of the plants. The flowers are fresh and shimmering in the early sun.  Everything is slowly coming alive and ready to face the day. Mornings are also the best time for me to hunt for bugs or rodents that have busy over the nighttime hours.
This week during my wanderings, I was taken aback by the hoard of tiny marching ants on one of my weeping white pines. It was apparent that it was a party that I hadn’t been invited to. Usually the ants are in the hundreds of ant hills hidden on our sandy ground or lounging on my Peony plants. I quickly discovered that the star of the party was two hanging pine cones dripping with sweet sticky sap. The ants had found their “sweet spot” 

When most of us think about ants on the plants we think of beautiful Peony plants that open with a large display of color. Ants are notorious for scrambling all over the flower buds and there’s an active myth out there that the Peony flowers need ants in order to open and bloom. Not true by the way. The ants are there for the sugar high that they receive from the sticky nectar on the buds. Ants crawling on flower buds are probably beneficial because no other bugs will visit and the ants don’t do any harm. Once the Peonies open, the ants move on because the nectar on the flower disappears. 

 Many plants like Peonies and tropical plants have rectory glands. These glands are an organ on flowers or a leaf of a stem (Webster). The nectory secretes nectar that ants love to munch on. Ants are also drawn to plants because of Aphids. Aphids are small orangish sucking bugs that attack plants. They don’t kill plants, but they are a nuisance and you should spray a strong shot of water at them to knock them off. As they attack, the aphids secrete honeydew which quickly brings ants to the party to eat.  

You would think that since ants are little nectar eating factories that they would be great pollinators as they move from plant to plant. They aren’t. They can’t fly and they only have their little legs to get them around. Surprisingly, some ants secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. The antibiotic protects the ants from bacterial and fungal infections. Unfortunately, this substance also quickly kills any pollen grains and so there can’t be any pollination. US Forestry Service 

Ultimately, most ants on your plants won’t do any harm. They are just doing what they do best – looking for a great sugar high and some plants are more generous than others. Unless they are driving you crazy or you just plain hate ants,  you don’t need to do anything. Ants are actually beneficial insects because they can help clear your garden of Aphids or other pests during their sugar journeys.  Maybe the ants are even smarter than a lot of us. They are very effective in finding their “sweet spot”.

As I thought more about the ants, I become a bit jealous. Think about it. They are programmed to seek out and find their sweet spot. Moreover, they find it. How many of us are still wandering around every day in a fog?  We go to jobs that we can’t tolerate or even hate. Some people just show up and give enough to keep their job and collect a paycheck. They live for weekends and work makes them physically sick. Then there are those of us who are challenged, energized, and engaged at work every day. We love coming in to learn something new, have an impact, feel fulfilled, and ultimately make a difference. I’m fortunate that like the ants, I have found the nectar and my “sweet spot”. I’m one of the lucky ones that have been able to sip from the nectar where my interests, skills, and a great opportunity have merged. Are you still looking for your “sweet spot”?

“People are most successful when they are in their sweet spot. Your sweet spot is the intersection of where your passion meets your greatest strengths” – Ken Coleman 

Do you need to go on a journey to find your sweet spot? Maybe this will help:

·         Take a close look at your genuine interests. What really lights you on fire and makes you glow? Follow the light and stay interested.

·         Know thyself.

·         Take risks.

·         Know what your passion is. Find it now.

·         List your key skills and stay away from your weaknesses. Keep your gifts close and use them every day.

·         Have a personal vision, identify your goals, and live your values every day.

·         Develop your own style. Don’t let anyone steal it or squelch it.

·         Do something that will bring you joy every day.

·         Know what culture that you need in order to grow and the type of people that make you light up with vigor.

·         Make life and work balance a priority.

·         Run from anything that bores you or saps your energy.

·         Build strong relationships and network to see what is out there and who can help you.

·         Find a job or life coach to find what you need, where you need it.

·         Have fun!

·         What will people pay you for that you love doing?

·         I s money really more than sipping sweet nectar?

·         Never settle.

Life is too short to NOT follow the path to finding your own “sweet spot’.  If you are in a job that you hate or you are drained every day only you can change it. Start your journey right now. Get your little legs moving and seek out some nectar. You CAN find your “sweet spot!”


Hop Up For Some Balance!

Hops growing everywhere in my garden!

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut!" - Ernest Hemmingway

I love a new challenge so last year I added some hop plants to my garden. We have an old unused chicken coop complete with some chicken wire supported up high and it seemed the perfect spot for scrambling vines. The soil was still very  rich with chickie compost and the spot has ample sun. Hops are a low maintenance plant so I just planted and ignored them.  Boy! Do we ever have hops! The vines grew far more robust than I expected and we have hops trailing all over. What a beautiful scented sight!

The city that I live in was named "Beer City USA" last year. Yes, we are quite proud of our new designation. We are eloquent and cultured beer drinkers (well, I don't really like beer but...).Craft breweries are the rage throughout the country. We have varied and unique breweries popping up every week in the Midwest. Recently, the demand for fresh hops skyrocketed and hop prices jumped. Along with our new breweries, there are a whole lot of home brewers as well. Whether it's for pleasure or profit, hops are the new game in town. The hops hoopla hasn't gone unnoticed and farmers, entrepreneurs, and garden peeps like me are jumping in. Locally, hops sell for roughly $14 a pound and they are worth it. The aroma is divine depending on the variety that you grow. They have the freshest smell when you pick them at their "papery" stage and roll them between your fingers. Hops have a spicy, herbal, floral, piney smell depending on the variety. There's a great article on the impact of hops in Michigan at Hop of faith: Michigan and more entrepreneurs, farmers, growing the plant for Michigan beer

You may be asking "What are hops - they are in my beer?" Hops are technically "Humulus Lupulus" which is a "sticky" vine that can grow up to 20 feet tall. Hops are actually the pine-cone like flowers  from the female plants and they are from the Cannabis family - perhaps why we love beer so much? Hops are grown on tall poles with long lightweight cords attached - like a trellis but much taller! As I learned this summer, my chicken coop growing system needs to be raised significantly next year! Hops grow up from the roots every year so clean up involves cutting the vines to the ground after harvest. Hops contain lupulin  which is secreted from the hops when they are boiled. This magical substance contains all the oils, acids, and resins that are needed to make a great beer. Brewers can control the taste of beer by deciding which types of hops to use and when to add them to their brew.

Hops have an important job - without them there is no beer. There is a lot of chemistry and science involved in making beer. There are special "Beer Universities" (real colleges - not your son's dorm room) and distinguished brewers are called Brewmeisters. Top brewers can command a six plus figure salary in the industry. Hops can offer beer the following: The importance of hops for brewing

  • Counterbalance any sweetness from barely with their bitterness
  • Add unique flavor
  • Provide aroma
  • Preserve the beer and add stability

Guess what hops is most  famous for in brewing?

Stability and Balance - sound familiar?

"No one welcomes chaos, but why crave stability and predictability?" - Hugh Mackay

We currently have a lot of unrest all over the world, both politically and economically. There are financial wars and squabbles that people don't even remember why they are fighting in the first place. The root cause of so much of this strife? Instability and lack of balance. Think of when you once played on the playground on the seesaw. What happened when there was no one sitting opposite of you? You sat there looking like a dork - waiting for a friend. What about when you were happily bobbing up and down and your partner jumped off while you were in mid air? OUCH! Down on your tush. The best case? When you and your partner balanced up and down in tandem so that your feet barely touched the ground. It was the best!

This balance is what sound leadership is all about and what it offers. Like the hops in the brewing process, you won't have effective leadership if you don't bring balance and stability to the table. You don't have to be "the" top leader either to bring something of value to the process. Be yourself and be the "lupilin" within your team.

Beer gone wrong can be sour, cloudy, acidic, or skunky. It kind of sounds like some companies doesn't it? I worked for one once and it would have taken a whole lot of "hops" to bring in some balance. Unstable leaders offer poor communication, resist change, love stagnation and the status quo, and remain poor communicators. They are anything but the "yang" to the "yin" and content with jumping off the seesaw while you are in the air. Don't be that person. Hop in and bring balance to the crew.

Today's hops harvest!

Here's what balanced leaders offer to the mixture:

  • Well intentioned strategy and vision for their own lives and that of their group. They follow the vision they have but like a brewer, are willing to make changes.
  • They are committed to the long view. Just because you have some bad hops doesn't mean you give up. Dig in your heals and plug along making the next harvest better. Have the same attitude and balance with people.
  • Maintain strong values. Values = Stability. Decisions must match your values or you risk instability.
  • You can't do everything and have everything. Strive to keep the seesaw balanced.
  • Balance your weaknesses with strengths. Do the same with your people and the team. It takes a concerted effort and dedication.
  • Give and take. Like our hops, you need to balance the sweet with the sour.
  • Follow a steady path and encourage your people to do the same. Steady wins every time.
  • Steady in the long run always means steady in a vertical sense. Stand up for what you believe and for your people/team. Hops need a strong vertical structure to climb and thrive. Your people do too! Be their trellis.
  • Communicate. The right communication is like adding the right type of hops to a brew. Every type has it's own taste and smell, your communication has to be "right" as well.
By now, you know enough about hops to be dangerous. In order for the hops to climb tall and flourish it needs a strong support system. Be a strong balanced structure for your people and grow some "hops"!