Plant Wisdom: How to Be Well at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Last Spring I took a vacation with my family in the desert of southern California. By mid-March, most of us living in the Pacific Northwest are at our wits' end with the grey, the cold, and the relentless rain. Migrating to where it's hot and sunny for a week felt a little like a pilgrimage: we took a journey into the desert, seeking rest and renewal. Vacations are wonderful, in part, because they give you an opportunity to remember your body's natural rhythms. When there's nothing you really have to do, you can simply pay attention to how you want to be. The goal of my vacation was to just soak up the beauty of the desert, the words in the books I wanted to read, and the epic cuteness of my toddler nephew.

A recurring theme throughout our trip was the amazing nature of plants - how even in the harsh climate of the desert, they find the resources they need to survive and even do so beautifully. The plants we saw were spectacular - huge blooming succulents, ancient palm trees, and bright, prolific bougainvillea.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

In the West, many of us have a very separate, objectifying relationship with plants. We don't recognize them for the animate, wise creatures that they are, and many of us don't consider what we can learn from the flora and fauna around us. For instance, I think it's safe to assume that you've never read a blog post on what the plant world can teach the modern professional (until now!).

In a beautiful podcast episode with the botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, I learned that research done with plants shows that they actually have memory and possess the capacity to learn new things. Kimmerer pushes us to see plants as more than just nice decor for our offices, but as beings that we can actually learn from.

You see, plants, and flowers in particular, are excellent at simply being

You won't find many flowers that are overworked, overwhelmed, and running ragged to attract their next client. Flowers don't have to take classes or get certifications on how to "do flowering," they simply are. They grow and bloom according to their nature, making small adjustments along the way.

Louie Schwartzberg, who directed the film Wings of Life, says that "Mother Nature teaches you how to live a creative and sustainable life." Today I want to share four things that Mother Nature, and plants in particular, teach us about how to be well at work.

1. Mind your roots.


Most plants have to be rooted into the earth in order to survive. I would argue that humans need to be rooted, as well. This is easy to see if you've ever known someone who is totally ungrounded - living frenetically, constantly getting sick, and one crisis away from total breakdown. Our roots, meaning the fundamentals of healthy living, are immensely important as we create a harmonious worklife. Without essentials like a healthy diet, enough rest and stillness, supportive relationships, and exercise, being well at work is going to be real tough.

I know that prioritizing your "rootedness" can seem like a difficult transition to make, but consider how the nature and quality of your work changes when you are well. We have to start seeing the value in being healthy versus doing more. What's one fairly trivial, inconsequential thing you have on your to-do list today? Cross it out and choose to spend that time being well instead, whether it's just sitting quietly at your desk, moving your body on a short walk, or emailing an old friend.

2. Grow toward the sun.

Phototropic flowers like tulips and sunflowers actually bend toward the sun. Many plants, if they're too shaded, will shoot out leaves or tendrils to get closer to the light. What are you currently growing toward in your worklife? Are you walking a path that leads to what nourishes you? Let yourself simply grow and stretch toward what feels good to you today. If there's a project you've been toying with doing, propose it. If there's a new career path you're interested in, make time in your day to research it or imagine what it would be like to actually make that transition.

Be mindful of what you want to grow toward, and work in a way that honors it.

3. Attract with beauty.


Since flowers can't move to mate with other flowers, they have to rely on pollinators like bees and hummingbirds to spread their seeds. They attract what they need by sharing their natural beauty with the world.

You don't have to try to be attractive, you simply have to uncover what is naturally - and already - within you. When you are true to who you are, you become magnetic (here's another blog post I wrote that applies here, called Standing Out from the Inside Out). While I was relaxing poolside and reading books that I loved, more people than ever before scheduled consultations on my website. I don't believe that was an accident. When we're honoring who we are and how we want to be in the world, the things we seek can find us much more easily.

How can you be your best self today? When could you squeeze in 10 minutes to do something that makes you feel like the best version of yourself?

4. Give more and develop partnerships.

In the podcast episode I referred to above, Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about how moss - a small, seemingly inconsequential creature - became the most prolific member of the plant world. Moss did it through giving more than it takes from others. Moss nurtures other creatures like crazy, and in return, is able to reproduce and grow with minimal effort.

In most of our workplaces, we exist in competitive, zero-sum environments where we assume that in order to succeed, we have to defeat others around us. The plant world teaches us that partnerships are actually the sustainable way to survive. Where can you partner with others in a loving way today? Look for opportunities to give more of yourself - your time, your insights, your referrals - to those around you. If the thought of this feels totally overwhelming, then give more to yourself first. Replenish your energy stores so that you can build the partnerships that will enrich your life and the lives of others.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Being well at work requires that we live sustainably - that we attend to our roots, grow toward what nourishes us, be our attractive selves, and form partnerships with others. Incidentally, like plants, this is our natural way of being. In our modern workplaces, we've traded this innate way of living for one that's simply unsustainable and burning us out by the masses.

I hope that you choose to include some wisdom from the plant world in your work today.

Even if it's only for a minute, try focusing on how you want to be instead of what else you have to do. I bet you'll see how much better it feels.