September 3, 2019
Ignorant, negative comments are real, but
I don’t let them change me!
BY TONY LOMBARDI
I have always enjoyed working outside. As a little kid and now, I have always enjoyed digging a good hole, and planting a new shrub or tree, cutting a nice fresh lawn and admiring the lines in the grass, grafting cherry tree branches onto apple trees, pruning grape vines in my grandfather’s back yard, installing a water feature, installing a hedge, a footing for a gazebo, gravel for a patio … I love what I do.
A few years back, I was working in the hot sun and having a rough day. While working, my client came out of his house to talk. He is a very long-standing client and we are friends, so after we exchanged a few of the issues with running our businesses, he said, “Look Tony, if owning and running a business was easy, everyone would do it.” At 78, he still runs his company with his son and daughter. I still work with that client and we still talk very often about business and it’s challenges. However, I will never forget that one line — “If owning a business was easy, everyone would do it.”
A lot of our work requires physical strength, but it also requires a great deal of mental strength. Physical strength can only can take you so far — you need your mental strength for problem solving, stress management, sorting client matters, staffing issues, and more problem solving. You really need to master a balance of your physical strength, combined with your mental strength to operate a good and sound business. Nothing is easy with the landscape business, but I still love what I do.
I have great clients, great staff and I get a lot of satisfaction in having the choice to do the right thing, and the right way. It’s why I have my own business — I can make my choices and I can enjoy the rewards of success. Success doesn’t come easily and in fact, it doesn’t always happen. I have to make a lot of sacrifices. I work long hours. I make mistakes. A lot of them. I have hired the wrong people, I have lost the right people, I have had client problems because of mistakes on- and off-site. There are things that I can control and a lot of things I can’t control — rain days, snow days, truck problems, labour issues, traffic, rain days, equipment problems, material shortages, scheduling issues … did I mention rain days? All these issues make for a lot of stress. They can test the most resilient of people and make them want to look over the fence and jump, to see if the grass is actually greener elsewhere. Well, I tried that also. I have done research work in a library, worked in an office, worked retail, worked in corporate offices, etc. I even worked at another great landscape company and I can tell you with certainty — most of the time, you have to focus on your own lawn, and decide what you have to do, to make your lawn, the best lawn, for you.
Recently, Tony DiGiovanni wrote a piece in Landscape Ontario magazine that addressed some of the negative perception and stigmas of our line of work. Sometimes we have dirt under our fingernails, that won’t come out for days — even with a good nail brush. Sometimes, we can’t get the green off our hands, from cleaning wet grass out of a lawn mower. Sometimes, the dirt that tracks in our house, after a hard day slopping in the mud, makes your Mom, wife, parents or kids yell at you. Sometimes they tell you that you need to find a job in an office, so you don’t make this mess in their house.
Unfortunately, sometimes we create our own negative stigmas within our own industry. Sometimes, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, give our heads a shake and make the decision to be better. We need to start with the person in the mirror.
Over the last couple of years, our industry has seen major challenges with labour, weather and issues related to growing cities, changing demographics and attitudes in the work force. We are faced with more problems of varying degrees and complexities than I have ever seen. I have seen several of my friends close their businesses, which have been running for over 30 years. For some, the challenges have been very hard to overcome. With all these challenges and negative issues, I still love what I do.
One issue I didn’t foresee were negative comments coming from areas I never would have expected. Some were pretty close to home. Some hurt really badly. Here are but a few, which are verbatim:
“No offense, but don’t you think you should find a better line of work? Don’t you want your kids to have a better future?”
“Don’t you think having dirty nails is un-lady like?”
“I don’t want my son to come home with dirt on his boots; he should get a nice office job!”
“Tony, your business doesn’t belong here — there are better businesses that will take your space and pay more money”.
“Hey Tony, what kind of example do you want to give your kids? Do you want them to do this kind of work?”
“Tony, I don’t see myself having a future with your company.”
“Tony, I don’t want my daughter to do this kind of work — she deserves better.”
“Tony, how long do you think you can keep this up? Aren’t you getting old for this type of work? Doesn’t your back hurt?”
These comments are real. They came from people who were very close to home. They came from staff. They came from strangers. They came from people, who I thought respected what I do for a living. Did the comments hurt? Absolutely. Did they create doubt in my mind about what I do for a living? Absolutely. Did they make me upset? Yes, absolutely. Those comments also made me think hard, and they made me reflect. What have I done with my life? What do I do now?
Do I quit?
What would quitting do for me? Well, I would give up on a profession that has made me happy and I have worked hard at for the last 25+ years. What would it teach my kids? It would teach them that when something is hard, you quit. When people are cruel and doubt you, you quit. It won’t teach my kids how to find solutions, to make something work when times are hard. However, I can teach my kids the value of hard work and I can share the wonders of the living world with them. I can teach them the value of planting a tree properly. How to care for a garden. I can teach them about business, how to manage work, schedule adaptively, manage finances, how to work with people effectively and with respect. I can teach them how to promote and care for the living part of our world, which is critically valuable and desperately in need of our help! I can teach them about the past and how to plan for the future. Would quitting solve any of my problems? Probably not. You cannot run away from your problems, you have to solve them. You solve problems with knowledge, experience, education and perseverance. Would quitting help solve the problems of ignorance and misconceptions towards our line of work? What would quitting do to the staff that work their tails off for me and put their hearts into my business? What good would quitting do? … Nothing — if I quit.
Problems are everywhere. They don’t go away when you quit.
So, what did I do? Well, I got motivated! I focus on bringing the positive things I have done with my business, to light. I can push to be an advocate for the environment, when so many are devaluing it. I can advocate to help educate and inform others about the importance of what we do. I can encourage and help my staff work as a team and get the job done, efficiently and properly. I can keep pushing for better business practices, running a leaner, more efficient business, reducing waste, giving back to my neighbors, community, schools and the less fortunate. My kids, my staff, my family have a future with all that we do. Focus on the good, important things.
I have always enjoyed building things, taking a step back to look at our achievements. Yes, my back hurts sometimes. Yes, I get tired, and yes, some days are hard — so I bought two skid steers, two excavators and a crane truck – and my back doesn’t hurt as much. I keep pushing to work smarter and better. Yes, I get some customers who express discontent with a problem, but there is a great deal of satisfaction when a customer is happy after I solve those issues. Yes, there are some days when I lose money because of a mistake, but the sun will rise tomorrow and we have the chance to start again and learn and do things differently, to make up for those losses. Yes, there are people that will make irreparable and damaging comments. I turn those negatives into the fuel that pushes me to keep working hard and stay focused on what really matters.
There is nothing better than driving down the street where my business started, past the thriving 50-ft. beech tree I planted. There is nothing better than to see a fence I built in 1996, still standing. There is nothing better than when a return client asks me to design and build another new garden — for their third house. There is nothing better than when a client says, “I trust you to do the right thing to make our garden beautiful for our daughter’s wedding.”
There is nothing better than when your friends call you for help, and you can help them get back on their feet. There is nothing better than to be asked by your nursery stock supplier to design and build the gardens around their offices. There is nothing better than seeing my staff standing in front of a beautiful garden they just completed, with a glow of pride on their faces. There is nothing better than to know with confidence that thousands of us, are all in the same muddy puddle, working hard, day in and day out.
There is nothing better than waking up and my seven-old son is outside at 5 a.m., watering my nursery stock, so I can get an extra ten minutes of sleep. There is nothing better than when a client says, “I trust you.” There is nothing better than when my nine-year-old son and I were building a shed in our backyard, and he asked if he could work with me “when he gets bigger”. When I asked why he would want to work with me, he replied, “Because you work so hard, you do good things and I like that. I want to help you.” Right there and then, I smiled and I came alive again. All the doubt and negative things that were weighing on me, went away. There is nothing better than to know — I am not alone.
Why do people make comments that are hurtful and damaging? I don’t know. Why should I care what they say? It bothers me, because I care about and I really believe in what I do. It really bothers me because their ignorant comments attack me and damage the little bit of grass I am trying to grow and make green. It bothers me because they don’t understand why I love what I do. Well, their ignorance is their problem.
What is important is that I stay focused. I need to focus on making my lawn greener, for my clients, for my staff and for my family. All those people who make comments are probably jealous, when all they need to do is focus on their own lawn and they might be happier. When people are jealous, they tend to attack others. It is their misunderstanding of the true value of what I do and why I love doing it. There is an expression: Jealousy abounds on the lips of fools. I will let them be the way they are. I will keep my focus.
Again, if running a business were easy, everyone would do it. It is very important that everyone in our industry knows that you have good company in all the challenges of your every day. We are all in the same boat and have the same issues and challenges, and it is up to us to find solutions to make our lawns greener, for us. No, it is not easy and there is no magic potion to get past the hurdles of your every day. It’s okay to have bad days — those bad days help you look towards good days. There will always be people who will doubt you and be critical of what you do. Focus on the good things. Focus on what your passion is and focus on the things that truly make you happy, even if it is something simple as digging holes and putting good stuff in it. This applies to all the great staff out there — you are the backbone and strength behind all the companies in our industry. You don’t need to run your own business to believe in what you do.
Remember: If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect other people to believe in you?
As for those people that have nothing good to say? I don’t let them change me. I can’t let them get to me. I focus on the things that are positive for my business, for my staff, for my family, my health and my life. I focus on the clients that keep calling me back, to build them beautiful gardens, big or small. I focus on the things that I know will benefit the important things in my life and make my lawn greener. I won’t let them change me.
Tony Lombardi BA, CLD, CLP, DM operates Scarborough, Ont.-based Dr. Landscape.