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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
What does the entire garden look like from the second floor balcony? This is THE question of the mature, full bloom stage of summer in the garden. Do all the colors work together? Are the results of your labor now perfuming the July air? Is the dream of beauty imagined back in icy winter planning a fruitful, blooming reality now?
It ought to be.
This moment is what all the worrying, weeding, and feeding is about: high summertime; the zenith of a job; the highest point of a career; the best produce of a lifetime. These are the flourishing days when the salary is the best. Remember not to get “summer drunk”; preserve some of the bounty. These are the days when influence is the strongest. Remember to keep building and maintaining the personal and professional networks.They are like attar of roses.
These are the days when certain prized projects will almost “fall into your lap” like early ripe fruit out of the trees. Keep scrapbooks about them. Keep records (like pressed flowers). Keep pictures (accurate descriptions of your role in projects). Gather stories to tell in the winter (you will need material for S.O.A.R. stories to advance to the next job). Remember to harvest the best and strongest fruits/results for these SEEDS. This is NEXT YEAR’S garden, the future and the heritage.
These are also the days when weeds show themselves for what they really are. Uproot them carefully. Remember they have been stealing your garden’s care and are just as strongly rooted as the good plants living very near them. Remember the old adage, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. It pays now to have mentors’ and career coaches’–master gardeners’–expert advice.
…And this sweet moment is but a breath, so we hold it as long as we can before exhaling slowly. First Harvest is near.