Once you hit 50, it’s smart to think of your career like a garden. You need a vision framed by reasonable boundaries, a growth plan and the fortitude to rethink the whole process when things don’t work out the way you expected.
Let me tell you about how my gardening and career have been entwined and offer advice to help you nurture your career, whether you garden or not.
My Garden and My Career
Twenty years ago, my husband and I bought a farmhouse and 45 acres in lovely Rappahannock County, Va., 80 miles from our home in Washington, D.C. At first, when I was a corporate executive, I gardened just on the weekends, with great enthusiasm and a sense that my flower, herb and vegetable patches would expand beautifully.
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But the area of lawns and beds grew to about two acres, a bit more than we could manage, and the garden became a burden. So I learned to cut back a little, to accept what I couldn’t control and to focus on making the garden more interesting and fulfilling, not bigger.
Since 2000, as I’ve adopted more realistic and rewarding garden plans, I’ve adapted these lessons to the creation of my practice as a career coach.
Making Every Minute Count
I’ve noticed other professionals over age 50 approaching their careers like gardens, too. Serial entrepreneur Donna Marquisee, 55, is thinking about her next act and is a landscaper and master naturalist in Virginia.
“For me, every career move has been like planning a garden,” Marquisee said. “What I’ve noticed now that I’m over 50 is that I’m thinking on a different scale. My older clients want gardens that are smaller and more manageable yet highly rewarding and I feel the same way about wanting to design a business that doesn’t require working around the clock but allows me to enjoy every aspect.”
Seasoned gardeners learn to create a vision that’s not too big or complicated. By about age 50, we understand there’s a limit to the amount of time and energy we should devote to our garden. That’s the same way you should be thinking about your job. You may work fewer hours on your garden and at work than when you were younger, but you now put greater value on getting the most from every minute.
Sandy Wilson recently retired from practicing law for nearly 30 years in Washington, D.C., and is planning to open a landscape design business to help people “create low-stress gardens in a high-stress world.” Wilson told me she’s moving carefully and enjoying the process as she prepares to serve her clients. “What I’ve learned from creating gardens is that you need a vision of where you want to go — and that takes a while to refine,” she said. “The important thing is to take time to enjoy the journey along the way.”
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4 More Career Lessons From Gardening
Here are four more gardening lessons to help you nurture your career, no matter what profession you’re in or planning to enter:
1. Get comfortable with new plans. Some novice gardeners decide exactly what they want to grow then become frustrated when their plants don’t cooperate. Perennials grow too tall, annuals appear where no seeds were planted and color combinations seem to clash. Eventually, gardeners learn that nature is full of surprises and the most beautiful displays are sometimes the ones that weren’t planned.
A more relaxed attitude can help you at work as well.
If your bosses or clients have a vision that doesn’t match yours precisely, find a way to give them what they want without letting it bother you.
If your market evolves in an unexpected way, shift your strategies and tactics accordingly and embrace a new set of opportunities.
Successful careerists, like successful gardeners, go with the flow when their original plans need revising.
2. Use whatever resources you have. I began gardening with little money or time, so I couldn’t create long, lavish flower borders using deep digging techniques shown in books. But I did have lots of organic material in the form of weeds, so all summer I threw them into compost piles at the ends of my borders. That slowly created rich soil and longer beds for the next season.
To advance your career, don’t obsess about credentials or skills you lack. Instead, find ways to build on your existing experience and talents. Use the strengths you have to offer more value at work.
3. Hunt down expert advice. My farmhouse garden vision really came to life about six years ago when Marquisee began providing tips and assistance.
It’s great to have a coach as you pursue your career, too. But you can also pick up smart advice for your current job (or your next one) by working your network.
Your friends and their friends have strengths and knowledge that aren’t the same as yours. So consider convening a small support group to meet regularly, talking through each other’s job challenges and brainstorming about opportunities.
Kerry Hannon has two excellent Next Avenue articles explaining why women should join networking groups and how women can create career transition groups.
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4. Value open space. In my garden, I’ve grown to realize that broad paths and resting spots provide great vantage points for appreciating plantings. As a result, I'm reducing the size of my flower beds to allow more open areas.
It’s also healthy to leave some open space on your calendar as you structure your work life. When you’re on the job all day and night, you become less reflective and creative.
So, force yourself to schedule time to connect with friends. Meditate or practice yoga. Learn something new, perhaps by taking a class at a community college or by reading a nonfiction book about a field far different from yours.
Or just relax with a glass of wine. Give yourself a chance to regain perspective and bliss out.
Beverly Jones is a leadership and transitions coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and Rappahannock County, Va. She was formerly a lawyer representing energy clients, universities and nonprofits.