At long last, I’ve started a new job.
Actually, I started a new job over a month ago, on the 21st June, the Solstice, which seems cosmically appropriate for new beginnings.
For some reason I didn’t want to write about it before I actually started…. Neither have I had much to say about it for the last month. I think I was secretly worried that something would fall through. The opportunity seemed too good to be real. I didn’t interview, and I wasn’t asked for my CV. My cynical self wondered if my new employer hadn’t really done due diligence and I wasn’t going to be fit for the role…. But after 6 weeks I don’t think that’s the case.
I’ve starting work with Berryworld, NZ. If you google Berryworld, you’ll come up with the UK/Dutch breeder of berry genetics, who would also be awesome to work with, but this time I’m working for a small NZ consultancy that uses the berry industry levy funds to do research and extension for NZ berry growers.
I LOVE berry crops. They’re colourful, for one. It’s strange how much working with a beautiful crop is a draw. And My favorite professor is a berry specialist (Marvin Pritts, Cornell). I also liked working with the berry grower personalities back in my Cornell Extension days. I’ve just got good vibes with berries.
Berryworld is as close to Agricultural Extension work as it gets in NZ. Here we don’t have an “extension system” paid for by tax dollars to support agricultural producers like there is in the USA, so if a commodity group wants research and advising done for them, they have to pay for it directly. The “levy” is a self-imposed tax an industry puts on itself to fund R&D, and Berryworld does the levy-funded work for black currants, strawberries, boysenberries, and to a small extent blueberries. That involves pest control recommendations and analysis, a wee bit of plant breeding, and heaps of working with growers. I’m in my element.
One of the main things I’ll be starting with is learning how to manage the “Strawberry High Health Unit” that Berryworld looks after (Ok, it does need a better name). Strawberries are vegetatively propagated, which means there is all kinds of potential for viruses to pass from motherplant to daughter plant and accumulate over the generations, to the detriment of quality and yield. To counter this, Berryworld keeps a stock of motherplants in a clean greenhouse, plants which are handled with great care and virus tested in multiple ways. They are the nuclear stock that the strawberry runner growers start with each year. Two generations down the line, those daughter plants bear the fruit crop for strawberry growers in NZ.
As part of Berryworld, I’m also invited to nose into berryfruit work of all types. Interested in pests and pest control? There’s plenty of those to go around. Plant breeding? The owner of the business does a bit of that, and is happy to share. Plant nutrition? There’s a topic I could get into, and with the new style of berry production being under cover in soilless media, this could be where my greenhouse background could be most useful. So there are lots of interesting avenues ahead.
It’s been a long road since December 17th, my last day at the greenhouse. One insightful friend asked me to reflect back on what I had learned during the process.
Job searching is basically “rejection therapy” on steroids—you keep getting “No, you’re not good enough,” or “no, we don’t want you” again and again, in various guises. I applied for 15 jobs, all of which I though I was qualified for, and none of which I got. For most of these I didn’t even get to interview. I’m honestly not sure I can say that it got any easier as I went along. But I did get more resilient at putting myself out there.
Number one lesson of rejection therapy: getting a “no” reflects as much about the other person as it does about you. Looking back, I think this is true, to a large extent. As an American, not from one of the two NZ agricultural universities, with a horticultural background in the world of animal agriculture, I was just an anomaly, and I didn’t fit the traditional mold in an industry which is very traditional.
I also realized that there’s a significant opportunity cost of working more hours, including starting early in the morning. In the last few months I have experienced what it’s like to be NOT tired and rushed, and it’s very good. I generally have more patience and creativity with the kids when I’m not tired. It’s easier to walk through life in a thoughtful and genuine way when I’m grounded with enough sleep and enough quiet reflection time.
I’m not proud to admit it, but I still place an inordinate amount of my self worth in my career success, or lack thereof. As I’m now back at work, I find myself slipping into the old habit of trying to get that extra thing ticked on the to-do list, to feel good about my accomplishment. But what if our personal value is totally unconnected with what we accomplish? Time off work gives space to reflect on core beliefs, including core beliefs that need changing.