It’s the summer of 2019 -- and I’m at another one of XO’s many markets/craft fairs we did that year. This one is called Sauced, a market for 21+ that takes place at a different bar around the city. Our After Dark collection always does well at these markets so I’m fully stocked and ready to go with plenty of Malort Marshmallows. One of the other vendors came up to the table and asked if we could trade product for some Malort Mallows (a pretty common practice at these types of markets). I said sure, I’d go check out their booth later. Turns out it was Plant Shop Chicago, and the trade was… a plant. Yikes. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep it alive, but I picked one out -- having no idea what type of plant it was or how to take care of it -- and took it home to live with me.
Fast forward to today. As I sit at home typing this, I now have 52 plants (including that original one), a thriving herb garden, and a blossoming cherry tomato plant. I’d have a full garden if I had the space, but alas, city living. Collecting, growing, taking care of, and propagating plants has become one of my favorite things to do -- it’s cathartic for me.
At the time of the “first plant market”, I was in a condo where the entire building was possibly going to be for sale. It was a back and forth process that started the week after we bought the condo (and went on for over 4 years before it sold) -- so the “fixer upper” space we bought couldn’t really be touched. There wasn’t much of a point. If the building sold, we’d get paid a percentage of the sale based on a predetermined percentage number assigned to our unit -- regardless of any updates we did. So we did zero renovations for over 4 years. We lived in a space that we always planned on gutting, so it didn’t exactly feel like home. (If you follow me on social now, you’ll see we are gutting our new condo and loving it!)
At the same time, I was spending every waking moment on XO. Since opening the cafe in 2016, I was pretty much working every single day either shipping or on the website or marketing or events (you get it) -- so I pretty much lost all concept of hobbies or “activities outside of work”. But then the pandemic hit. Things changed. I changed. I realized the importance of having boundaries, of working on my mental health, of finding ways to reduce my stress, and of creating a space and life outside of work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love XO. I love what I do. And I recognize the complete and total privilege of being able to truly love my job -- especially now. But the way I was working… I was headed to burnout city, where I would have been crowned mayor the moment I arrived. And I didn’t want that. You can wake up and love what you do every single day, and still get utterly exhausted by it if it becomes Your. Entire. Life.
Since the plant that started it all, I had accumulated a few more. Not many, but enough that it brought a little extra green into my home. I saw some of them thriving, and some of them dying -- and I wasn’t sure why. As I began to create some boundaries between work and home (and my time), I started researching the different plants I had and how to take care of them. Then they all started thriving! I was obsessed! I loved caring for them, repotting them with my own hands in the cool dirt, and creating a routine around when to water them. Combine that with the light and brightness they brought to our dark, unrenovated home -- well, they were giving me pure joy.
Yes, I collect plants and fill my home with them because I love the way they look in my house. I love the lush urban jungle vibe they’ve created. I love the added benefits of cleaner oxygen in my home, and the mental health benefits that come with having house plants. But most of all, I love them because they kept me from burnout. They gave me something else to focus on outside of work. They give me a cathartic outlet when I’m stressed. I’ll even wait to repot plants for when I’m really stressed out because it helps calm me. I love the stroke of creativity that I often get while zoned out and focused on watering plants. You know those “ah ha” moments that can happen when you’re in the shower? It’s just like that! I love the community of plant shop owners and fellow plant lovers on social media that I’ve connected with over the last year and a half. Most of all, I love the renewed sense of energy I feel after taking care of them -- and the pride I feel every time I see one of them thriving.
Maybe plants aren’t any of that for you -- and that’s totally fine. The point is that I found something outside of work to help combat my burnout, improve my mental health, and actually give me a renewed sense of creativity and drive when I am at work. Whether you're a business owner, side hustler, or someone working a ton of hours at your corporate job -- it’s important to find something outside of work to bring you joy. As business owners, we often get put into a box and all anyone ever wants to talk about is what we do for a living. It’s easy to tie your entire identity to what you do -- but the problem is, your mood and your life ebb and flow with the stress of your business. If something goes wrong at work, it’s 10x worse than it could have been because it’s your whole life. And it’s actually harder to solve those work problems or think objectively or be creative when you’re working on work all day every day. Whatever it ends up being, I hope you find your plants.