How Does Your Career Garden Grow?
- Employment, Job search, Networking, Lifelong learning, Career pivot / transitions
I love gardening, though I’m still striving for that elusive green thumb. My garden in Connecticut this year is lush and full of flowers with so much rain – but it also feels somewhat out of control – not unlike my career at certain “high growth” rainy times.
It's the end of summer and I would rather be gardening or in my kayak exploring a nature preserve (but for the rain) - than working or looking for clients. But getting back into the soil and nature is restorative and a great way to refresh and get perspective on work – and life generally.
Moreover, I have learned a few things about gardening – lessons that can be shared and applied to anyone struggling in their career and work search. Here are a few of those learnings which I hope will refresh and grow your thinking:
1. A key question to start: How does your garden grow?
A garden, like your career, is uniquely yours, and it is all about growth. But for your garden (and you) to grow, it takes continuous learning. It’s learning about the gardener, the environment, the soil, a plan, the right plants, flexibility, luck, and more. This is no easy task. A garden is never done, it’s an ongoing process. Mistakes (such as killing off plants) and joy (such as growing flowers from seed) are equally part of the process.
Self-awareness is usually a good first step. I approach my garden with a personal love of flowers (peonies and dahlias), herbs (lavender and rosemary), and hydrangeas. I love growing from seed, planting new things and experimenting. The discipline of weeding and upkeep I like not so much. Put me in a job that requires high levels of structure, process and driving repetition, and I’ll wither faster than a flower bed without water. Put me in a role that requires and reinforces innovation, creativity, forward thinking, and people skills, and I’ll thrive. In what conditions do you thrive?
2. Study your environmental “operating conditions.”
I’ve learned to pay much more attention to the conditions that my garden operates in. The conditions of your garden are like your team environment and business strategy. Every business leader is responsible for executing a business strategy and getting required business results. That’s what we get hired to do – deliver outcomes for an organization. We usually do this through teams that work well – or sometimes not.
It’s been very rainy this year and there are many more bugs and not a lot of sunlight in my garden. Maybe you have that problem of not a lot of sunlight in your garden or your career? We have all been in teams that are more punishing than productive, often the result of a drive for results in not so sunny conditions. Finding that right fit on a team to execute results can make all the difference.
3. Explore your future growth opportunities.
Often when a job change occurs or is pending, people will start by putting a resume together. It’s like putting together a picture of their garden last year. But perhaps it’s more important to study your garden’s conditions to anticipate future growth. It’s time to explore what the opportunities are not just what has worked in the past.
Start by reaching out to your network, get feedback. That’s like testing your soil. What have you learned about the environmental conditions of your current career – what types of teams do you work well in? Which types of managers should you avoid? Where have you killed a few plants? Where have your plants thrived? Where are the future growth opportunities?
4. Now it’s time for plant selection to fit your future opportunity and plan.
Skills are like the plants in your garden. They are ever changing to fit your environment. I always have a garden plan (and read tons of gardening books), but my plan is also 100% flexible. There are some plants that are a natural fit and you know you want to grow them like my peonies and hydrangeas. But admittedly, I’ve killed off a lot of lavender which doesn’t do well in my claylike Connecticut soil. I’ve made adjustments.
I tend to invest in seeds and bulbs – but you never know if they pay off. (I’m an entrepreneur.) Often they don’t – but when they do they can be spectacular. I like the risk taking and find it worthwhile to take chances in my garden. My business plan, not surprisingly, is largely opportunistic, subject to new plantings and multiple pivots.
What kinds of seeds, bulbs and plants are you planting in your garden career?
5. Water, compost, fertilizer, and maintenance are key to ongoing success.
Now, what are you doing to support the ongoing health of your plants? Are you watering often? My sprinkler system (like my MBA) was a major investment. Are you composting? Now there’s a good career analogy. Can you take the scraps of a former time and recycle them in a new and positive way? Imagine that former boss in the compost heap as you recycle what you learned. What’s in the compost pile ready for a healthy new relationship?
And how are you fertilizing your garden with ongoing new relationships that strengthen you bed? How are you introducing new elements into your garden with the right balance of nutrients may prove critical to future growth?
6. Weeding, thinning, and pruning are critical to the process.
I hate to pull and thin plants that are no longer useful or getting in the way of future growth. I tend to save plants that others would readily yank. I have a large hyssop now growing in my garden. I need to pull it as it has taken over a border. I have some spectacular milkweeds which have been home to our yard’s monarch butterflies – but they are tall and now in the wrong place. Are you weeding – or moving things to their proper place?
What gets in the way of your future career growth? It may be relationships, a toxic work culture, or a dysfunctional team. Learn what must be yanked, pruned, or weeded to grow your career garden.
7. Appreciate and have gratitude for things that do succeed – and let go of those that do not.
In a garden, celebrating the small victories can keep us going. My hydrangeas are spectacular this year, as is my butterfly garden. And I’ve managed to grow some tasty tomatoes and peppers celebrated every night in our family dinners. Likewise, I’ve been happy with many of this year’s career accomplishments tied to my executive peer council and research. What are you celebrating and grateful for in your career? Is it colleagues, clients, teammates, publications?
On the other hand, my zucchinis are not doing so well – turns out I only have boy zucchinis in my garden. Who knew that zucchini and squash are male and female? (Not me until this year). Most likely it’s because we have had so little sun, not enough fertilizer, and too much water. Girl zucchini require more energy (nutrients and sun) to produce the fruit. You may identify with girl zucchini and cucumbers who require more sunshine to get the job done? I do. What are you appreciative for? And where do you have only boy zucchinis – and not enough sunshine to grow?
8. Working your garden – like your career - is an ongoing job.
Working a garden – like working a career - is a lot of work. At times that work feels aligned with your passion, your plan, your instincts, your interests. And at times, it does not. There are always surprises. Like in a garden, we must continue in our careers to adjust and adapt to make use of what nature has provided us. We must act into the opportunities that present themselves. As I said, it’s your garden and career to grow.
And while others may have better looking gardens, I’m still enjoying my unique garden. It’s mine and mine to grow. I’ve nurtured its beauty and suffered its losses. I’m getting my hands dirty and investing my time and passion. And I’m still chasing that elusive green thumb.