You are probably thinking, where is she going with this title?

Bear with me. 

As you may know, I’m an avid podcast listener, mostly those of a business and political nature. This post is inspired by one such episode; the replay of the Ezra Klein Show, “The Best of: Alison Gopnik changed how I think about love.” On the surface, the episode is about parenting. Dig a little deeper and what unfolds is a wonderful story about love and measuring the invisible impact of caring through the lenses of:

  • Relationships
  • Connections
  • Eco-systems
  • The tension between trade-offs and utopia
  • The power of community

All of which are explored through their discussion of differing approaches to parenting anchored in Prof. Gopnik’s study of child development and her book, “The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.” It’s 90-minutes long, but well worth a listen – click here if you’d like to check it out. Especially if you want a more eloquent description of the gardener and carpenter than the interpretation I share below.

The Gardener; The Carpenter

Parents that are gardeners embrace that they don’t have complete control of who their child is or who s/he becomes. They focus more on creating a safe space for their child/ren to discover and flourish into themselves. 

Whereas, those parents that are more carpenter-like in their parenting approach try to mold their children to bring about a particular outcome. Usually, in the form of a mini-version of themselves or the “person” they didn’t get a chance to become.

Again, my interpretation…

But if you visualize a gardener at work and visualize a carpenter at work, you can see the point of Prof. Gopnik’s analogy. Especially as regards power dynamics.

One of my many takeaways from their conversation was not that outcomes only matter to the carpenter – and not to the gardener. 

More like, the process of getting to an outcome, as well as their relationship with the process, is significantly different. 

I listened and immediately recognized my mother’s style as a gardener. Lucky me!

The Parallels

I also listened and couldn’t help but see all sorts of parallels when it comes to money and business. 

Here are a few:


I am not a parent, but from conversations with parents, it seems pretty clear to me that parenting is just as much a personal growth experience for the parents as it is for the child/children they raise. It prompts a slew of philosophical, “what’s the meaning of…?,” type of questions.

In my direct experience, as well as from what I’ve observed, the same is true when it comes to business and money. The questions you have, the problems you’re trying to solve, the desires you’re looking to fulfill all are “invitations” to understand the world around you, your particular role in it, and how you wrestle with the gap between what is and what you want. 

Relationships + Connection

One of the things I remind people of ALL the time is this: You have a relationship with money

Not only that, it’s a relationship that evolves. As all healthy relationships do. The relationship you have with money today hopefully looks different than it did five years ago. And if you adapt based on the lessons you’ve learned, it will look differently still five years into the future.

Isn’t this similar to the parent/child dynamic. As the child grows from newborn, to infant, to toddler, to preschooler, to school-aged, to adolescent, to young adult, to adult, their needs and wants change. The overarching role of the parent doesn’t change, but the specifics of their role during each stage certainly does. 

To me, managing these shifts in roles is all about connection. And it begs a philosophical question of its own, in my opinion: 

As the relationship evolves and your role as a parent changes, how do you ensure the connection stays the same or maybe even deepens as the things you need to do, embrace and accept – change?  

It’s similar when it comes to you and money. Likewise when it comes to you and your business if you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner. How you need to show up for your money and business today is most likely different than what was required of you in the past, and what will be of you in the future


Eco-systems are about interacting and interconnected systems. That includes financial and business systems, too.  It’s why, I think, I’m naturally drawn to Prof. Gopnik’s description of the “gardener.”

Think about what makes a good farmer/gardener; they: 

  • Rotate crops (or where animals graze) – because doing so helps to keep the soil healthy, and is a good pest control measure.
  • Recognize their role in having a healthy animal, or healthy vegetable or fruit plants. But their role is not the only role that matters or that affects the outcome.  
  • Respect nature; they know not every seed will grow, they know plans may go awry.

Everything that is associated with farming and gardening reminds me of what it takes to be successful with money and business. 

It’s why I’m such an advocate for operating with frameworks. I tell my coaching clients this all the time; I talk about this in every speaking engagement to some degree.

Frameworks (or working within an eco-system) help you more easily adapt when your landscape changes. 

Frameworks give you flexibility when you need it most. 

Frameworks help you make decisions based on facts at the moment – not just as they were or as you’d want them to be instead. 

Frameworks help you reassess the risks you’re facing vs. the ones you thought you’d encounter. As well as how you define (or may need to redefine) failure.

So, What’s the Thing? 

I may take heat for saying this, but I don’t think you can have it all

The episode was reaffirming in this regard. Because tradeoffs best the notion of utopia every time. At least in the world the way I see it :)!

Also, the episode highlighted the shifting role of community when raising children. While proximity to immediate family has changed significantly in recent generations, it hasn’t diminished the power of nor influence of community to help parents, parent.

On both fronts, I believe the same is true when it comes to money and business. There is always a choice to be made and, therefore, a tradeoff. Plus, success is never a solo endeavor.

For me, the thing babies, businesses and money have in common is actually not just one thing, but several.

They all thrive best when cared for. 

Part of that care is creating a nurturing environment, one that supports growth and allows you to adapt with ease. One that allows you to honor your curiosity and creativity. One that encourages you to pay attention to what’s needed – and how that has changed and will change.

On the off-chance you can’t tell, my answer to the question that is the title of this piece is this: Be more like a gardener, but with just enough carpenter to remain focused when things go sideways. Because you know…life. 🙂

But I’m curious: What’s your answer?

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