12 Career Lessons I Learned From My Garden

By Vicki Voisin, ACP

As I was working in my garden this past weekend…digging, weeding, planting and transplanting…I noticed the parallels between all the flowers and a paralegal career. There are lessons to be learned from the soil and the plants:

1. A successful garden involves careful planning and consistent action, as well as dreams and anticipation. Gardens don’t grow and flourish without a little help from a skillful, attentive gardener who thinks about what will grow best, plans for successful results, dreams of a bountiful harvest, and looks forward with anticipation to the good results. Your career requires the same planning for the future, dreams of what your career should look like, the knowledge that the steps you take today will impact your future, and consistent action to bring your dreams to fruition.

All of the flowers of tomorrow are the seeds of yesterday.
~Proverb

2. Regular maintenance is essential. Just as gardens require regular, ongoing maintenance such as weeding and feeding, so does your paralegal career. Your career’s “regular, ongoing maintenance” should include continuing legal education, particularly ethics education, reading Lawyer’s Weekly and your State Bar’s publication so you’re on top of case law and changes in court rules, and attending live meetings and conventions…for two purposes: learning and networking.

3. The growing process can’t be rushed. Every plant begins small and takes the season, sometimes several seasons, to reach its full potential. A paralegal career develops over time…and usually slowly… beginning with education, then a job, and then all of the experience and experiences necessary to reach your full potential. Be patient but be sure you working on your career growth every day.

Growth takes time. Be patient. And while you’re waiting, pull a weed.
~Emilie Barnes

4. Put down roots. The deeper a plant’s roots, the more stable it becomes and the more nutrients it can reach. Your paralegal career needs the roots you put down when you join local, state and national associations. Beyond joining, though, become involved and your “roots” will reach all the nutrients you need for career growth and satisfaction.

5. Nourishment is required. Gardens need just the right amount of water and sunshine to nourish the plants. Your career also requires nourishment…you can’t stop in your tracks once you get your first job or your career will wilt on the vine. Taking a certification examination is the best nourishment for your career. This will demonstrate your skills and expertise and set you apart from paralegals that fail to nourish their careers.

6. Stretch! Tiny plants are drawn out of their comfort zone by the sunshine as they grow and thrive. Take the time to “stretch” in your career. If you stay in the same place forever, if you don’t reach toward the sunshine and take a few chances, your career will be stale. Growth is good!

Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dreams.
~Barbara Winkler

7. Make the most of a difficult situation. Flowers deal with inclement weather, nasty weeds, poor soil, and persistent insects, yet they grow and flourish. Like flowers, paralegals may not always have ideal working conditions. There may be difficult co-workers, endless responsibilities, impossible deadlines, etc. To flourish in your career, end your arguments with reality and look for ways to deal with…and overcome…those difficult conditions and obstacles. When you do, your career will thrive and to grow.

The fair-weather gardener, who will do nothing except when the wind
and weather and everything else are favorable, is never master of his craft.
~ Henry Ellacomb

8. Create a network. A single Daffodil doesn’t attract much attention. A bed of Daffodils makes a dramatic statement. The same goes for paralegals. If you isolate yourself, you might think no one else understands your challenges or has the same issues as you. When you join other paralegals…either in person or online…you’ll impact the direction of both your career and the profession.

9. Pay attention to your instincts. Plants seem to know when to grow and when to take a rest for the winter. Paralegals need to pay attention to their instincts so they recognize industry trends and hot specialty areas to position themselves to take advantage of change. Reviewing salary surveys, subscribing to legal blogs, and reading journals from professional associations, such as NALA’s Facts & Findings, the NALS Docket, or NFPA’sNational Paralegal Reporter, can accomplish this.

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.
~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

10. Transplanting can have big results. The Peonies in my garden grew so large that they were bursting out of their space so I moved them to a new area and they’re thriving. Your career may need a ‘transplant’ to a new locale…either a new specialty area or even a new work environment…so that it continues to thrive. If there is no ‘transplant’, your career could become root bound and stop growing altogether.

11. Sharing brings great rewards. When flowers and plants are shared with others, the joy is spread to many. When paralegals share their knowledge and expertise with their peers and with those who are new to the profession, they experience personal growth and they ensure the continued success of the profession.

12. Perennials are committed to the long haul. There are two types of flowers: annuals and perennials. Annuals put on a show for one season but perennials return year after year and grow stronger over time. Paralegals who plan to be ‘perennials’ have vision and understand it takes time for a career to take root. They know that the steps they take today will impact their career tomorrow.

Gardens require hard work, planning and constant attention. Ignore them and weeds will take over. Nurture them and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers. Your career is your garden. You have the talent and ability to survive and to thrive, to produce a career that is beautiful and satisfying. Will you choose flowers or weeds?

The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are
always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied.
They always look forward to doing something better
than they have ever done before.
~Vita Sackville-West

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©2010 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com