The thorn in your side

by | May 4, 2023

As a kid, I remember eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches watching my mom dig and prune in her garden in Pleasantville. Then came the Jersey years, when you could tell what kind of day she had at school when her response to, “How was your day?” was, “I’ll be in my garden.” Pat (my mom) and Mike (my dad) currently live in Wilmington, NC, in a patio home; their backyard in its entirety is a garden which can be viewed from the 3-sliding glass doors that border it. 

Pat is a gardener. She’s happiest in her garden. She’s been a member and president of her local garden club for 5 years. Gardening is her therapy. Recently, her experiences with gardening have almost caused her to seek therapy, all because of one thorn in her side: Barb. 

Barb is a member, past-president, and newly elected President of the garden club. She’s also a royal pain in the 🍑. She’s one of those it’s-my-way-or-the-highway-type people. Her antics made it Barb’s way all the time through manipulation, sabotage, plotting, and backstabbing.

You might be thinking, “Whoa Erin, take it down a notch! Those are harsh words!” I concur! They are not my words, they come directly from garden club members. 

Here’s the thing…two weeks ago, Pat submitted her resignation letter to the club. Since then, she’s been forwarding me emails from members sad to see her go. 

My mom wrote a thoughtful and considerate resignation letter, alluding to the thorn in everyone’s side as the main reason she’s moving on. She talked about her success as President, her re-imagining their big community art project (with raving success!) and how the theme of her tenure as president was “Together We Grow,” intentionally trying to make a united, cohesive club. Only to be thwarted by the thorn. 

She did not make the decision lightly. We talked through it, as we had talked through a lot of Barb’s antics on our weekly walk-and-talks. Barb sent my stroke-vein off plenty of times. There was the time she decided a paper-shredding fundraiser was on brand for a garden club. Laughable if it wasn’t so dopey. Then the time when she called members behind Pat’s back to tell them not to participate in the new and improved art project. Not laughable at all because it was so mean-spirited and malicious. 

The replies to her resignation have brought tears to my eyes because they are so appreciative and grateful for my mom’s role in the club and in their lives. 

It was the last one that really got me. 

“Please don’t go, although I know why you are…”

“I hope you change your mind…”

“I know you were sabotaged…”

“Members agreed how much better off Art in the Bloom was…”

“…I’m aware of the undercurrents being caused by one person…”

“[If this continues] the club will be nonexistent a year from now…”

“I’m staying, not because I agree, but I hope with enough like minds to stem the tide in a better direction…”

“It won’t be easy, we may fail, but we have to try…”

What I wanted to say was: do you hear yourself?! Followed by: send this to Barb!

The thing about the Barbs in the world, they are oblivious. They don’t care. They won’t change. They get off on getting their way. They thrive on power. Nothing is going to change that. 

The other thing about the Barbs in the world: they drive the good ones out. Pat isn’t the only one who’s packing up her gardening gloves and getting out. 

One more thing: they suck out all the energy, joy, and momentum of a group. 

The good ones leave. 

The ones that stay turn bad. 

You, the leader, are exhausted and bitter and annoyed and frustrated. 

There’s no turning the tide of the Barbs: they are toxic tsunamis. 

Why do we hold on to the barbs? (Lowercase intentional.)

Is this the way we want to be working? Is this the way we want to spend our energy? Is this the level we want to be playing at? 

I don’t know what the answer is for Barb and the garden club. I have a feeling that within a year, that club WILL be gone. 

The question for you as a leader, are you fertilizing the weeds or cultivating the blossoms?Will your team look like a vast wasteland or a fertile garden in a year with the people you currently have?

I don’t know that they could fire Barb. But you, as a leader, have a choice. 


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