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Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now...

Joseph Fearn


On June 27 this year I turned 55. Now this isn’t a defining age as much as say 21 or 65, but is significant. I am not a person who puts all my stock in chronological age. I definitely think there can be an old 30 or a young 70, but again I say 55 is significant. I am now seriously contemplating retirement although I can’t see how I won’t have to work until 70 (or longer) if anyone will have me. I have been in commercial grounds management since I was 23. I know there are many people who have more experience, more talent, more training or just more of something than I. But, I say with humility, I’ve earned a seat at the table. So, it is in the desire to prevent some unnecessary bumps and bruises for my newer-to-the-game brethren (and sisters) that I’d like to share some insights I wish I’d known long ago.


Turning 55 and still very much in the game.

Enjoy the ride; You may end up where you SHOULD be...
I distinctly remember one day at work when I was in the early stages of a landscape bed renovation. I was working alone removing old shrubs and installing new shrubs/perennials. I was working fast because I was so eager to see the finished product. Problem was the weather was hot, the work was hard, and my progress wasn’t what I expected. I found myself frustrated until I viewed each step as an accomplishment in itself. A career can feel like this sometimes too. The job we have isn’t fulfilling, myriad organizational roadblocks get in the way, or sometimes significant weather events can disrupt work for long periods of time. The key I’ve found is to look for success where you are and find positives that may add to your competency and potential. Plans and careers are a lot alike. Sometimes when they change, there are great results.

The key I’ve found is to look for success where you are...

Get certified and be a lifelong learner...
I am a Certified Arborist/Municipal Specialist with ISA and a Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) with PGMS. I wholeheartedly believe these are reputable credentials that demonstrate an understanding of, and commitment to, superior grounds management. Although I have held these both for many years, I did not pursue them until I was well into my career. While I am very satisfied where I am now professionally, establishing these certifications earlier could have expanded my opportunities for career paths and development. Credentials enter one into professional circles (TurfNet) that are invaluable. Grounds Managers hear fresh ideas, question old ones, and establish professional relationships that can be references for employment or improve current performance. Ongoing CEU requirements force us to be lifelong learners. For us time challenged grounds professionals, sometimes being forced to do something is the only way it gets done.



Relationships are key to success. Protect them.
As a young man I spent five years working in a paper mill in Connecticut. It was smelly, loud, repetitive, and ultimately mind-numbing. I hated it. When I left at 23 to make my way in the world, I made sure to let everyone know I was getting out. Well, after three months guess who came back to look for a job. The boss wouldn’t hire me because he knew that I hadn’t changed (matured) and that the negativity I brought to the job (rarely is a bad situation completely one-sided) was still in me.


21 years old and so much to learn. Would I have taken a chance on me?

This impacted me in two ways. One, try to be at least a little positive. Two, remember that the people you are with now may have an impact on you at some point down road. If you can cultivate positive relationships and help others in some meaningful way, it will likely come back to you. Since those early days, I have been rewarded many times by someone I have maintained good relations with. Even better, you may have chance to return the favor!

Put people first.
I, like most of you, am challenged every day to accomplish more with less. This creates pressure which can sometimes force our teams into blunt force operation. There may also be a belief that results are all that matters and work trumps fulfillment. Both of these can drive performance but will usually come at a steep cost (conflict, absenteeism, turnover, etc.). Running a grounds team where the personal lives and personalities of the team are appropriately meshed with the organizational goals just makes sense. By demonstrating an authentic appreciation of your team's unique personalities (Oh, the personalities!) and motivations you create the desire to participate in the team's success. You diminish the antagonism between individual and organization. If you put your work and accomplishments first, your team may find fulfillment, but, if you put fulfilling your team first, you will work better and accomplish much.

By demonstrating an authentic appreciation of your team's unique personalities (Oh, the personalities!) and motivations you create the desire to participate in the team's success.


Allowing your team's personalities to add to your efforts creates great results.

A career should be a continuum, but not necessarily linear.
Over a career, all of us evolve. This is the career continuum. But not all evolution results in success. I have learned, applied and discarded, many managerial/occupational practices over the years. I have also, fortuitously, found some that have helped me run a productive and fulfilling grounds operation. But this learning has not been linear. I am still actively succeeding and failing. What I really hope to impart, especially to younger managers, is to be your best where you are at the moment. Know that you will evolve. But be very open to learning from anyone/situations around you. Especially the ones that challenge you to look at things differently than your status quo. Hopefully it won’t take you 30 years to learn some valuable lessons.

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