Sally Benson August 18, 2016

Mentors and Legacies
Photos: iStock

Times are changing; there’s no doubt about that. And so is the industry. As we transition from one generation in charge to another, how can we help each other to succeed?

You’ve enjoyed a long, successful, satisfying career in horticulture. You met the challenges, you surmounted the obstacles, and you reaped the many benefits. You’ve given it your all, and your hard work has rewarded you in return. Now you’re ready to give back to ensure the continued growth of a dynamic industry.

Or …

You’re five or 10 years into your career in horticulture, and although you’ve enjoyed your work and have progressed in your career, you have a feeling that there’s something more. Time for a change in direction? Need a new perspective?


You’re just entering the field, studying horticulture in school or starting your first job. The prospects for a rewarding future look good, but how do you make sure you’ve made the right decision? What do you need to convince you?

Although demographers love to name generations and to categorize people into age groups, they’re the first to admit that often the lines are blurred. Age groups have commonalities, it’s true. It’s not just the number of candles on the cake that bind us. It’s attitude, it’s passion, it’s experience. It’s shared culture. But it’s also open-mindedness. And those qualities cross generational lines.

In the next few months, we’ll begin our journey, exploring the industry through the eyes of the experienced, the eager and those in-between. We’ll take a look at where we are, where we need to be, and how to get there. There’s no end point; there’s no final destination – that is, other than a greater understanding of each other, and of how we all can count on each other to work toward a stronger, more vibrant industry.

And we want you to be an active participant. Don’t just come along for the ride; work with us. Have fun with us. Share with us. What can you contribute to someone else’s success? How can someone help you? Put your thinking cap on and join in. I’ll be reaching out, but don’t wait for my call or my e-mail. If you’ve got something to contribute, let me know. Don’t be shy.

To get you started, I’ve presented a few questions below. They’re assigned, if you will, to somewhat distinct “age” groups, but they can apply to all. Consider these, add your own, and let’s get the ball rolling.

The experienced

You’re poised to impart your wisdom to an enthusiastic group of budding horticulturists, but they may not be eager to be the first to raise their hand. Where you do start? What should be your approach? You might want to look back at your own career and take stock not only of your accomplishments, but the steps you took to get there.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What would you tell your 15-year-old self?
  • Who helped you when you were young, and how?
  • If you could choose one piece of unsolicited advice, what would you offer?
  • When you were just starting out, what did you wish for? What did you expect?
  • What surprised you the most as you advanced in your career?
  • How did you choose your particular segment of the greater hort industry? Why?
  • When the going got tough, what kept you motivated?

The eager

You’re committed to learning about what the future holds, and what you can expect from a career in horticulture. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to zero in on the right question. What are the challenges, and what are the benefits? How do you find out?

And, let’s be honest. When we say you’re committed, are you really? Everyone second guesses their choices; it’s only human. So what do you need from those who’ve blazed the trail? How can they help you embrace your commitment, and move forward?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the requirements to enter? What are the barriers?
  • Will I truly be contributing to a better environment?
  • What kind of opportunities exist now/in 5 years/in 10 years?
  • How is the industry utilizing technology with which I’m comfortable?
  • How diverse is the horticulture field?
  • Can I earn a decent living?
  • What’s the biggest challenge to advancement?
  • How can I make a difference?
  • Will the industry be thriving in 10 years? In 20 years?

The in-between

You’re part of the industry, and you’re convinced this is the place to be. Sometimes, though, you wonder if you’re headed in the right direction. Maybe you could benefit from the sage advice of someone older, more experienced – but if you’ve grown up in the business, your parents may not be the best source. It can be difficult to approach them, if for no other reason than the fact that they’re family. It’s common, really.

So who can you turn to? And what should you ask?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I progressing the way I should? The way I want to?
  • Am I making decisions that benefit the company as well as my career?
  • Do I need to delegate more of my management responsibilities? How do I do that?
  • What’s the best way to blend all this “new” technology with tried-and-true business procedures?
  • How do I best work with the generations before and after mine?
  • Is the work environment I’ve developed enriching the work experience, or hindering it?
  • Have I reached a plateau in my career? What do I do about it?
  • How can I give back to the industry?

Where do you fit in?

Let’s define the generations — how old are “Baby Boomers” and “Millennials”? — and see where each of us fits in. There’s a significant span in ages, but it’s a good bet that each of these generational groups boasts members active in the workforce. The information below comes from Pew Research, but many other reputable demographics experts view the specific years to be a bit more fluid. For example, demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss, co-founders of Life Course Associates, a “publishing, speaking and consulting company” built on the generational discoveries of its founders, have defined the Millennial group as those born between 1982 and approximately 20 years thereafter. But in 2012 they placed the end point at 2004. So, it’s safe to assume we’ve got a bit of wiggle room here.

Are we missing someone? Where’s the so-called “Generation Y”? Many demographers have ceased referring to Gen Y, considering it an artificial construct that merely helped, for a while, to fill in the gaps between Gen X and the Millennials. Whatever.

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