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Lessons Learned from Mentors

Members of the Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) were recently surveyed on a number of topics, with the questions selected by PPN leadership. Responses were varied and included many insightful comments and suggestions, which will be shared and discussed with everyone here over the next few months, and also used to spark ideas for ASLA Online Learning webinars or posts for The Field.

Women in Landscape Architecture

When we asked our PPN leaders to come up with a question for the annual PPN survey, the Women in Landscape Architecture PPN got back to us with one touching on a key focus area of the PPN: mentoring. Many professionals cite the importance of mentorship at different points in their careers. If you have a mentor now, or have had one, name one essential lesson you learned from them.

Advice ranged from calls for landscape architects to be confident and persistent, to unexpected but useful areas of knowledge to develop (“Learn to recognize bird calls”). Below, we highlight a few key themes.

Build Your Network
• “Everything we do is part of a are only as good as the people around you or that you bring to the table...choose wisely and enjoy what you do...”
• “Find your passion and develop a network of individuals that can support your mission.”
• “How to establish and develop relationships.”
• “Make lots of friends within the profession. You will need them from time to time, even if they are your competitors.”
• “Model the behavior you want to inspire - donate your time, be available and approachable, share valuable information widely.”
• “One mentor is not enough; you need a network of people to whom you can turn with questions, seek advice, or to touch base to learn what's going on in the bigger picture.”
• “Treat every client, large or small, with the same enthusiastic energy. Those small clients will remember your sincere efforts and call you back when they have a BIG project to tackle!”

Design Advice

• “Balance client desires with pushing for better design.”
• “Deadlines are important and can actually spark creativity and daring design.”
• “Don't underestimate the value of spending appropriate QUALITY time on the site before jumping in to the design process.”
• “Every problem confronted is an opportunity to exceed expectations with innovative solutions.”
• “Get to really know a site before you do anything else...sleep on the site if you can!”
• “‘It is better to scrape your idea off the ceiling, than to pick it up off the floor.’ Dream big and then scale it back to a feasible reality rather than starting off thinking small because you don't have the budget.”
• “Respect the user of the place. Listen to their concerns and desires.”
• “Sketching.”
• “Stand up for your design.”
• “To focus less on function (my natural bent) and more on creativity - to not be afraid to design outside the box.”

Skills for Success
• “Ability to collaborate.”
• “Active listening skills.”
• “Get a business background and a construction background.”
• “How to see what my private practice really meant in terms of employment; how to deal with the financial aspects of the practice such as billing, collecting on those bills and surviving through periods where finances were extremely low; how to keep my small practice from overwhelming my life.”
• “Learn to work and build with the materials you specify.”
• “Maintain a work/life balance and the best work is produced when you are having fun doing it
• “My mentors encouraged me to stand up for myself and communicate well, not be a wallflower.”

Traits Worth Cultivating
• “Admitting you do not know something is a sign of experience.”
• “Always ask questions.”
• “Always be patient. Don't rush. If we take time to learn how to do something properly the first time, we won't have to fix it many times afterwards.”
• “Attention to details, importance of putting the time in, showing up makes a difference.”
• “Be confident in your skills and potential.”
• “Be curious and look for the relationships between seemingly unrelated things.”
• “Be decisive.”
• “Be open to change and embrace it.”
• “Bring a new perspective to the conversation.”
• “Do not undersell yourself and think critically about whether the firm is a good fit for you, not the other way around.”
• “If you are persistent, you can make big changes.”
• “Never give up in response to criticism.”
• “Stay positive, take time to reflect, continue to set goals that are meaningful.”
• “Strong women are recognized for their hard work when they aren't shy about taking credit or advocating for themselves.”

The Need for More Mentors
• “I did not have a mentor and feel that I ‘wandered’ in part of my career. I would hope that I would have learned to trust my gut even when no one else was thinking about things the way I did.”
• “I did not have a mentor. Did mentor through a program called MESA (Math, Science, Engineering Achievement) - I learned that young girls really needed to see older women in careers in which they were interested.”
• “Mentors are critical. But you have to work with them. They need to share and you need to be open to their sharing. There are very few people with those skills.”
• “My greatest mentors have not been landscape architects - we tend to be a profession of introverts who do not like to share and can feel threatened by the next generation. My two greatest mentors were a business owner (who taught me how to get paid and make money) and a civil engineer (who taught me how to dream AND be practical).”

Interested in learning more about the experience and contributions of women in landscape architecture? Visit the PPN webpage for more information. Remember: ASLA members may join one PPN for free, and each additional PPN for only $15 per year. If you have not yet become actively involved in a PPN, please consider joining one—or more—by contacting ASLA Membership.

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