The Seasons Of A Career


“To Everything There is A Season”.

My mother’s kitchen garden taught me the lessons about life I learned best and that mean the most to me.Best of all I loved the tomatoes and the roses. In those days, the relationship between mind, body and spirit was harmonious and emotionally entwined with the earth. Entry into the educational system introduced disharmony but the garden, especially the roses, kept me internally bound together. Fascinated with roses, I grew various cultivars whenever my family made home. Roses symbolized permanence in a decidedly mobile lifestyle.

I am a “job gypsy”. Business folk call this “job hopping”. I have gained and lost employment over 8 times over a lifetime. One of the first things I noticed that would happen whenever I lost a job was a loss of time sense. Days seemed to run into each other without definition of the day or hours in the day.Being a history lover and a teller of tales, as well as a lover of gardening, I began to pin my sense of timing to the natural seasons of the year in the manner of the ancient Celts instead of relating my personal timing to the academic year or to the business work day cycle.

The earth’s seasons move in predictable cycles from winter to autumn as the ancient Celts reckoned the year. Life progresses similarly in predictable, cyclical seasons from pre-birth to death. Here it is: just as there is specific work that must be done in each season of the earth, there is specific work to be done in each season of a human lifetime. Gail Sheehy in her book, “Passages” introduced us to that decades ago. Then, within the circle of a lifetime are many other “cycles”; the career cycle being the most pronounced. A career has seasons from pre-hire to exit and each job in that career progresses through its own seasons from the first day of employ to the end of employ. Between each season is a transition.


The Cycle of Career Seasons

Every season of a career has a task associated with it. The year begins in darkness, emerges into the light and fades back into the darkness. Seeds are dropped into the soil and covered in darkness to develop. They emerge into the sunlight then come to leaf, flower and fruit. They are harvested and what remains falls back into the darkness to nourish the soil. Human beings are formed in chaotic darkness, emerge into the light of being alive then return to (as we see it from our perspective) the mysterious darkness.

Winter’s Work

Career winter is the time of non-employment but not a time of non-activity. It is the time of harvesting the winter crop; keeping the tools sharp (Dr. Stephen Covey taught us that in his revered work, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. See, habit #7’sharpen the saw’). Winter is for taking stock of the entire past growing season, envisioning the new garden of the year ahead, designing and planning the seed beds, and determining what seed, where and when it will be planted.

Spring’s work

Spring time in a career or a job is the time of the new hire, especially the first 90 days. This is the time to start some seeds indoors–keeping a new employee under the care of a veteran staffer while the adjustment to the corporate culture is forming and expected behavior is learned. This is also the time of clearing the winter kill of a job or situation just exited. For example, what remains of being a student or negative feelings related to leaving the last job. This is understanding the nature of the land, amending the career soil and making the land ready to be planted. This is where the beds are laid out in order, the seeds are planted and the “hardening off of the young plants” happens or when a new hire is at last allowed to conduct projects autonoumously. This is also the time of the early starters–the idea seeds that have been allowed to “winter over” in a protected place will be set out into the open air for the first time. Think of new graduates in the early days of the very first professional position.

Summer’s work

Career summer includes  an employee’s first year to mid-career. This is the over-the-top growth and expansion time requiring the most weeding feeding and tending; the most productive time of a career. Tracking growth, repotting or transplanting–changing positions within and out of the company when appropriate happens in the summer. This means reflecting and reviewing a career position at specific intevals; executing career management moves including making strategic job changes at the correct time.

Autumn’s Work

The autumn of a career is recognizable as a chill comes over a worker who no longer has that summertime passion for a position. There is boredom. There is a longing to move on. This is the season of decision; a season totally dedicated to transition. These are the days of harvesting the fruit of a career or a job in preparation for the next move. It is a naturally tense season because it is here that workers begin to “look around” feeling a tingle of dissatisfaction at work. The leaves fall and reveal the real structures of trees. The leaves fall in a career and a worker’s real strengths reveal themselves in unmistakable ways. The leaves fall in a company’s life and whatever was hidden becomes plain as it changes under new management or goes into a state of no growth/slow growth.



The Grace Of the Pruning Saw

Remember all the biology classes you have ever taken? Remember how we came to understand how to distinguish living things from non-living things? (Forgive me. The third grade teacher in me is coming out.)

Living things move. Living things respire. Living things grow. Living things excrete.

In soul, in body and in mind we move; we respire; we grow and we excrete. There is within us an innate pressure to grow and expand throughout our lives. In the world we live in, Life and Death are entwined in a lascivious dance. Occasionally, parts of us die: beliefs shrivel; dreams shrink. Then again, we get “leggy”. We grow too much in the wrong direction.

That is when we need

vintage pruning saw.
vintage pruning saw.

the “grace of the pruning saw”. My pink hybrid tea rose, Rachael, was a vigorous producer. This ordinary,”Tiffany” cultivar from a Home Depot bare-root bush grew into a tall, queenly plant that I took several perfectly formed floral gifts from over the years. However, I discovered over the time that because she was such an eager producer, she would sprout new, weaker stems that grew progressively smaller and smaller flowers. She was spreading her energy to supply all those flowers. The following spring after this realization, I pruned the rose, carefully and purposely reducing the number of new branches. My hypothesis was that energy would go into making fewer, but individually stronger flowers. It worked. In the process I had to take off some winter-killed older canes (big, burly primary branches with thorns like spikes). I also had to decide which of some of the promising new branches to prevent from flowering.

It occurred to me that the same thing happens to us in many aspects of life.  Pruning the rose was all I needed to convince me that to periodically take stock of the direction of my growth and development in every area is a good idea. At specific times such as the anniversary of my arrival on earth, special commemoration days and the change of seasons I would pause to examine myself to see if I was “getting leggy” or producing thin, weak branches with small flowers–getting distracted by trivial obsessions–, or going off on spurious paths that led nowhere and sucked up inordinate amounts of energy.

 More often than not, I found on those occasions that my life was in a good position to receive the grace of the pruning saw and was confident that I would be stronger and more productive than ever.

Second Harvest: Capturing Career Summer’s Harvest

Summer Captured
Summer Captured

The dog days of summer are nearly over and twilight lengthens, dissolving into cooler evenings. Some places in the garden are getting that summer fatigued stoop and the mind lightly turns not to love, but to football!

This is the perfect time for setting out the fall bloomers so the land will not become suddenly, depressingly colorless. From the 9th floor of my building I note the topmost maple branches blooming, dreaming about spinning their cups into gold. My thoughts light like the first emerging monarch butterfly upon how time is hurrying to the end/beginning of the Earth’s circle dance around the sun. With that idea in mind, I start turning in at the craft store more often, planning the next seasons’ home decor.

Autumn is coming. Is the light fading at work? Is there a little less joy when the commute ends in the parking lot? Are fewer challenges presenting and every project old news? At the top of the salary grade for the position?

It may be career summer’s end. Start collecting positive evaluations.

  • How much did your sales influence the company’s bottom line? Can you quote numbers for your resume update?
  • What quality of work did the team under your watch produce? Do you have graphics to prove it? White papers?
  • What did the clients say? Can you get those glowing reports in post-able form?
  • Is there a digital album of the “best of the best”–the sweetest fruit–in words and images?
  • Is there a Linked-In profile update working? Are other companies watching you?

Like the first tints of gold on the Maple leaf, that comfortable, but slightly itchy feeling may be the first sign of stagnation at work. When the “light” or the “passion” shifts in a career or a job there comes a “summer fatigued” feeling. It may be time to do what my mom used to do when summer’s best was all over the kitchen table, at its peak and abundant: start canning, preserving and making wine. Start capturing the best of career/job summer before the frost of disaffection comes.

Ready Or Not?

Harvest Ready Fruit
Harvest Ready Fruit

Each kind of fruit has its own harvest-ready days in this season and many, noticeably,come to full readiness beginning mid-summer. Consider the “delicious time” of a career. Early harvest is a fortuitous time to stop and carefully examine the earliest produce of the first 30-60 days of a new job. For many employers, this is a “trial” period. Predictably, any kind of trouble in these days could mean loss of an entire harvest later.

Employers expect certain kinds and quality of results and development in workers within a specific time frame. Employees expect certain kinds and qualities of satisfaction and advancement in a specific time frame. There do exist situations in which the sampling of a worker’s produce is done way too early. Certain results/professional development need longer times. However, especially for workers in the lower tiers of the workplace terrace, the expert eye of a supervisor is often on-point.

As has been mentioned before there are expectations (new hire may or may not be told) already in place to be met. The 30-60-90 day plan from the employer’s viewpoint is intended to predict a potentially outstanding harvest or a productivity disaster (costs the company lost time and financial gain).

  • Employers want to know as early as possible whether or not to continue investing time and expertise (care, attention and fertilizer) in developing an employee.
  • Employees want to know as early as possible whether or not the workplace soil (opportunity for growth and learning) will support ongoing development.

Hopefully, the employee knows how she/he will be judged and has before accepting the offer presented the employer with a “preview”–the 30-60-90 day plan–the seed packet illustration of what kind of bloom to expect. In the garden and in careers certain questions have to be answered.

Here are the questions: Does the late summer sample show a potentially good harvest or a poor one? Is this tree/flower/worker going to produce a prize winner or an average bloom?

Is the fruit ready or not?