Work. A word that is burdened with so many emotions, meanings, and connotations and can be construed a number of ways. We appreciate hard work, and working hard is a sign of good character. Work can make us feel burned out and lost, it can make us feel powerless. Work we hate is work, but work we love is our calling and doesn’t feel the least bit like working. We want to do good purposeful work but sometimes we don’t want to go to the office at all. We want to know what you do for a living, but, “God, can we talk about anything other than work?” We are a society conflicted about work and work is certainly on our minds.
We might wonder if it possible for there to be joy in the work we do and sometimes we are born knowing what we are meant to do, the path ahead certain and clear. Often though, life will take left turns and at every juncture there is a choice to stay the course or veer off and face change and possibility. Angelina and I had a conversation with Glenn Nardelli, curious about how he came to do the work he does now. The conventional route for Glenn, as was the plan set out for many of us, was to go to college, college being necessary to propel us into the career that we will have, the profession we will take on.
“I look back and think everyone should experience this once, have that experience of being by themselves on the road.”
As Glenn reflects on his past, he recognizes his father’s influence. My father was a structural engineer and didn’t go to college for it, he taught himself and that is one of those professions that is not easily learned on the job and I think he was a good example for me that you can do whatever you want and in some way I inherited that sentiment from him.” Glenn earned his business degree and knew the next step was to get a job. Yet after college the Philly native wasn’t excited about working for a company and his curious, inquisitive nature led him to journalism. Journalism gave way to graphic design and copywriting, and a few years later Glenn was working for an advertising company as a copywriter in the Adirondacks.
It was during this time that Glenn made the decision to try something new and make a move to the Pacific Northwest. “I always wanted to live out west. My friends lived there and I had the opportunity because the ad agency that I worked at said my job would be there if I decided to come back, so there definitely was a safety net there for me. I wanted to spend some time seeing the country, driving across the country, which I had never done. I saved up money for a year and built a sleeper in the back of my truck, and spent a month on the road with my dog,” Glenn recalled.
At the time, technology was not as pervasive nor as intrinsic to our day-to-day lives. today. To have that feeling of being ‘unplugged’ you have to make a conscious choice to leave your phones and devices behind. “That time on the road was before people had cell phones like they do today, so I was truly off the radar, I remember checking in with people using a pay phone or sending a postcard. I don’t know if people can experience that now days,” Glenn shared. As he recalled that solitary time driving across the country, there is a note of nostalgia. “It is something that I am so glad I did, even though it was one month of my life, it was a really transformative. I look back and think everyone should experience this once, have that experience of being by themselves on the road.”
After seeing the country and enjoying his solitude, Glenn found himself in Portland and landed at the Nike World Headquarters. He remembers working with extremely talented people that such an organization will attract. The projects he worked on were exciting and as the creative director he helped bring the company into e-commerce. He recalls hearing executives ponder whether or not people would buy shoes online. Post Nike, Glenn worked on a number of freelance projects producing videos and web content for big brands. He enjoyed the work, but was feeling the stress that often comes from working at a large corporation. “That job was a lot of fun, but it was the kind of job that was high stress with a high burnout rate that can come with that type of corporate job,” Glenn said.
Working long days, Glenn found respite in the garden and being outdoors. “I was producing website and snowboarding documentaries. I always loved gardening and the outdoors, but what brought me into the line of work I am doing now was that I had spent the summer working 18 hour days on a documentary, and the few precious moments I had to take a break I found myself working in the garden and I thought to myself, ‘when this project is over this is what I want to do’, I just knew that was what I wanted.” During this same time, Glenn’s partner Mégan and her sister had opened a nursery and mercantile in North Portland. The nursery’s name, Pistils, references the female part of a plant and is also a nod to the Wild West. Mégan, from Boise, loves horses and the country and the façade of the shop is reminiscent of the type of general store you could imagine existing in times past.
“The few precious moments I had to take a break I found myself working in the garden and I thought to myself, ‘when this project is over this is what I want to do’, I just knew that was what I wanted.”
Glenn saw a future in living design, and was certain that he wanted to trade being behind the computer screen for a life surrounded by plants and soil. Glenn became the principal of Pistils and now leads the Pistils Landscape and Design team. His past experience and creative skills were an asset to him as he pursued this new adventure. He understood the importance of design, having talented people on this team, and working together. “I’ve always appreciated collaboration. When you can build consensus that is where the best ideas come from. I don’t have to have the best idea. Sometimes I do, sometimes someone else does. I love that aspect of it, and I love collaborating with my team and with our clients,” Glenn shared.
As we’ve met with so many creators and makers, we have rediscovered our love for beautiful and functional design. While Glenn also shares an appreciation for man-made design, his passion is in beautiful natural design. Sharing with us his appreciation for well designed living spaces he said, “Nature has its own vibrancy, it is different. An object made by human beings is very beautiful but there is a whole other quality with design in nature.”
“Nature has its own vibrancy, it is different. An object made by human beings is very beautiful but there is a whole other quality with design in nature.”
Nature and working with plants was not a newfound passion for Glenn. He shared that he was always a “plant geek” and that the natural world had always been part of his life. “The reason I moved to the Adirondacks is that is that it is pretty wild there. You could hike, or cross-country ski and I have always loved nature. It is almost a wonder I didn’t get into this sooner, but I can see how the progression of my professional life lead me here and when I think about it I can see exactly how it happened. Landscape and design is a natural marriage of those two things I really love. I think about the transition from media to do this, from working with two dimensional to three dimensional and being able to work in the real world, something that is physical and interactive.”
Running a business is not without frustrations and obstacles, but for Glenn it is all ok because his work is fun and purposeful. “My absolute favorite part of the job is we have the ability to create spaces that people can experience joy in. Whether it is walking in a lush garden, or being with friends and family, these outdoor spaces are where people are going to have good times. Compared to what I used to do, that was fun creatively—working with sponsored athletes and branding—but that is where it ended. Now if you create a beautiful garden for a client, they are going to be able to enjoy it for years to come, good memories are going to happen there. That is really awesome,” Glenn said. As he shared his story, the same excitement he must have felt as he moved from media to landscape design comes through. and said a number of times that he could discuss plants at length, a sure indicator that he is passionate about his work.
Glenn’s work today is satisfying and he feels joy creating living spaces for his clients. He has found work that fulfills his love of nature and his desire to continuously learn. “Plants are so infinite. There is no end to it, it is a bottomless. I’ll never get bored.” Glenn lights up when he discusses plants and all there is to know. He appreciates that he could “study plants for 50 years” and still not know all there is to learn.
“My absolute favorite part of the job is we have the ability to create spaces that people can experience joy in.”
In the same way Glenn loves creating spaces that continue to grow and evolve, I enjoy watching the seasons transform and whether it’s the fall leaves, summer butterflies, or the bare trees that sprout pale pink and white blossoms seemingly overnight, these signs of the shifting seasons is nature’s metaphor for change. This is what I thought about as Angelina and I left Pistils after our conversation: work for Glenn transitioned from interesting, to unfulfilling, to pure joy. Glenn’s path is a wonderful example that doing joyful work is worth the journey it takes to get there.