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Nurture your working life: part 2 (Foundation)

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This is a 4-part series to help you nurture your working life. Read Part 1 (about expanding your definition of “working life” and setting intentions for your garden) over here.

This is a story about sheep manure and one of my favourite workplace metaphors. It’s about caring for the soil, so the soil can care for the plants.

I never thought about soil before 2020. I moved between rented apartments with one or two potted plants. No plant of mine had ever been transplanted or fertilized. I thought fertilizers were toxic chemicals that you put on plants and then avoided touching (sometimes they are).

Then I learned about sheep manure. Turns out: fertilizer is any material added to soil that promotes plant growth. My in-laws get bags of it every year, and they are generous with it. Last year, entering my second spring with a garden (my thumb desperately yearning to turn green), and asking my mother-in-law a lot of questions, she told me, “take a few bags!”.

She even placed them in the trunk for me.

They live in a neighbourhood that used to be fruit tree orchards and is now homes and a golf course. Most of the soil is sandy and worn out, but not theirs. Theirs is rich and fertile, because every year they nurture it with a mountain of sheep manure.

Their property is literally on higher ground than their neighbours’, because they’ve been nurturing their soil so effectively for thirty plus years.

Refocus on your foundation / my favourite workplace metaphor

Ah, the plant. Alive. Breathtaking. Blowing in the wind. Vibrant colours catching the light and hosting the bees all summer long.

No one’s fawning over the soil like that. But the plant – even the perfectly watered and sunlit one – is in trouble without healthy soil. The soil is the foundation.

Nurture the soil and the soil will nurture the plant.

Your working life, my friend, is a group of plants. Or maybe one towering plant – you decide how much variety you’re reaching for. In order to grow your plants properly, you must be planted in fertile soil.

This is non-negotiable.

There’s a reason why fertile soil is my favourite workplace metaphor: it’s the perfect way to describe the unique set of conditions required for YOUR growth. This is the foundation of everything you desire to create.

What does “nurturing the soil” mean for you and your working life?

First of all: it means choose well. Choose well where your plants are going in the ground. We’re not container gardening here, or hopping from place to place, these are ideally longer-term placements, with solid opportunities for rooting and expansive reach.

Soil can be enriched, but it takes time. Workplaces are the same. How responsive they are to your influence varies greatly. In the case of my in-laws, soil nurturing took thirty years.

So choose your soil wisely. Build on a fertile foundation. Here are some hallmarks to look for:

  • Internal people development (evidence of people like you succeeding at goals like yours)
  • Leadership capacity in your direct supervisor(s)
  • Some degree of alignment with your core values (or at least not total misalignment)
  • The presence of empathy in the culture

Even if it’s not perfect today (and let’s be honest, most aren’t), choose soil that has potential. And be part of nurturing that soil to benefit all the plants, including yours.

  • If you’re a boss, be an exceptional one
  • Advocate for growth
  • Look for opportunities to stay on mission with company values
  • Be a whole human at work

More job and career changers do so because of soil issues, rather than water or lighting (I call those inputs – and they’re up next in the series). You can usually solve an input problem more easily than you can solve a foundation problem.

Choose wisely. Nurture your soil. Let your soil nurture your plants.

Comment below or DM me over here to share your thoughts.

I’m cheering you on.

Want free weekly support? I recently launched The Check-In to share what I’m working on and help you nurture your working life. I would love to share it with you.

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