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Why We Do What We Do



I was all set to write a column about the virtues of small jobs compared to big jobs, but I’ve had an experience that leads me to share something more important with you this time.

Most of us have had these moments in our lives in which we are suddenly jarred into evaluating our existence for one reason or another – episodes that give us reason to pause and reflect on who we are and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

As I write this, I’m dealing with an illness in my family that has quite literally knocked the legs out from under me. As I’ve spent time these past few days talking with friends and relatives, I’ve found myself quite often laying on the living-room couch and staring out the window into my backyard – and finding indescribable comfort and solace in the view out to my garden.

Quite simply, what I see out there balances my emotional state and has helped me steady the rollercoaster.


I grew up in a traditional environment in which being a doctor, lawyer or business executive was accepted as a basic career goal – stable, strong, substantial life choices. I followed that path for many years, but as life took me forward, I saw that more than a few forks in the road looked quite tempting.

No, I haven’t made as much money as a landscape designer as I would have had I remained a securities analyst on Wall Street, but that hasn’t bothered me. Yes, there was a tremendous amount of satisfaction derived from being a good analyst, but the work lacked the emotional, aesthetic components I didn’t even realize I was missing until I found myself breaking away and taking a different path.

From the vantage point of my couch, I’ve had a good bit of time to think about the value and importance of my work as a landscape designer and the importance and value of creating beautiful gardens and environments for the enjoyment of our clients (and ourselves).

What I’ve come to recognize through these past few troubled days is that traditional career choices (doctor, lawyer, business executive) may be held in greater esteem by a public and society steeped in traditional values, but that landscape designers or watershapers offer just as much if not more to a public and society that needs ways to steady their own rollercoasters.

We simply need to look around us to understand the incredible value of any pursuit that enhances our visual surroundings. I’m not knocking doctors and lawyers and their potential contributions, but what I’ve seen lately is a world in which there’s an equal value to what we do in creating visual harmony. Regrettably, that’s not a perspective much embraced by our society.

We are typically taught that you go to school, you get a good job, you establish a career, you make money, you buy the things you want and you do the things you chose to do. It’s a simple formula, but why do we stick to it? Why do we so often follow convention rather than spend our time in more creative endeavors?

When I was growing up, I was taught that art and other such pursuits were only to be considered as hobbies. “You can’t make a living doing that” was a message I was not alone in hearing, and like so many others I stuck to the straight and narrow. I can remember being fascinated by (and more than a bit jealous of) people who bucked the system and made their way into realms of visual beauty. I also remember that moment when I made my own decision to take a whopping pay cut and follow my heart.


There on my couch, I thought about what the traditional path would be like without access to the products of the creative few. I thought about how our urban and suburban environments would look if not for the efforts of creative thinkers. And I thought about all those successful traditionalists being left on their own without access to the services of the watershapers and landscape professionals who bring measures of visual vitality to their lives.

In my humble opinion, that world would be a dull, mechanical and sterile place.

So how do we counter the view that a career as a doctor or lawyer has intrinsically greater value than one as a watershaper or landscape designer? To me, it’s all about keeping a dialogue going that emphasizes the importance of our work. This is part of what WaterShapes does for all of us: It’s about building skills and self-esteem and a greater sense of the value of what we do as designers, engineers and builders. It’s about ideas and spreading them far and wide.

The doctor or lawyer who, in a world without visual joys, spends all day at work and comes home to a simple box of a home devoid of furnishings and surrounded by dirt is probably someone who is not going to be all that happy or emotionally fulfilled. Fortunately, however, this is not a world devoid of visual joy, and we help those medical and legal eagles enhance their aspirations and surroundings by applying our own talents and skills.

We provide services that add tremendous (but not always tangible) value to the lives of all those who intuit or understand the need for visual beauty in their lives.

Whether it’s a plant, a watershape, an arbor or even a simple expanse of lawn, the things we offer in some way contribute to viewers’ emotional well-being. When someone looks out over his or her yard and sees only dirt and fences, they won’t find that emotional support.

I’m not suggesting that we turn society on its head and that everyone needs to follow paths of aesthetic fulfillment. I’m not even suggesting that every backyard needs to be a fabulous expression of artistic possibility. What I’m saying is that when our clients engage our services, one of the motivations we need to consider (even if they don’t) is their need for an environment that speaks to their emotional well-being or even to their spirituality.


As I draped myself on my couch, overlooked my garden and pondered deeper meanings in my life, I found comfort in what I saw through the window – and found as well that I had a new appreciation of the value of what we all do as artists involved in visual environments of all shapes and sizes.

I’m certain I’ll still have moments when I’ll wonder why I took the path I’ve chosen, but I know now that even in those odd moments I’ll keep and eye on the big picture. This belief is unshakeable: Watershaping and landscaping offer people emotional boosts that can be just as powerful as any drug or any amount of money. I still want to win the lottery, but I know in my heart of hearts that there’s real value in what I do, and I am happy about that.

I’ve been told that a person’s emotional state when he or she is ill and physically compromised is just as important as the medical care he or she is receiving. If we can provide people with environments that support and enhance their emotional health, who’s to say our contribution is not as important as a physician’s care?

Approaching our designs with confidence in and an understanding of their value to whomever we create them for is just another way for us to instill confidence in ourselves, elevate our professions and develop new ways of enhancing the world around us.

As I trust I’ve made clear by now, I am truly committed to the thought that my career in landscape design is just as valuable as anyone else’s chosen career.

Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine. She may be reached at [email protected].

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