The Business of Surveying

December 4, 2005
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The pattern of professional life.

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away a few small stones. - William Faulkner

In this series, "The Business of Surveying," we've looked at a few observed deficiencies in the aspect of professionalism in the surveying community. My hope is that our awareness has increased so we can improve our actions when we are not representing the profession as well as we could-and as well as we should. It's easy to identify the deficiencies in others, but it is much more difficult to notice deficiencies of our own. When I set out to write this series of articles, more than one colleague commented that the folks who need to improve on their professionalism likely aren't the type who will be reading a professional publication. This makes it all the more important for those who do care how our profession is represented to take the time to educate those who are failing.

Change is indeed challenging, and most fear it. Yet, there is an interesting and exciting pattern we humans follow. "The Hero's Journey," a life pattern explored by American professor/writer/orator Joseph Campbell and Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, is ingrained deeply into human beings. I believe it is a pattern most of us follow not just in our personal development but also in our professional development. If we evaluate the elements of this pattern, it can aid us in helping others or to chart our own course to becoming professionals.

We begin our journey in what Campbell and Jung call the "Ordinary World." This is our movie set-where we live, eat and sleep-it's our environment, and it includes the people we interact with. It is important to analyze this phase of our existence and to take a mental snapshot of it so we are aware of our foundation. Before we progress in the journey of life, we need to record how we feel about ourselves and the impact our life has on ourselves and on others.

As we journey forward, we find "The Call to Adventure." This comes in many forms during our lives. Hopefully, for a few of you, these articles have been your call to adventure. Adventure can also come in seeing an inspirational movie or reading a great book. Maybe you find inspiration at a seminar or from a friend. However we find adventure, if we are truly part of the 20 percent of the population who desire to be successful professionals, then we must act on it.

The next experience along our journey is "The Refusal of the Call." We'd all be lying if we said this phase hasn't happened to us. How many times have we felt deep inside that tug to act, but fell back on something that allowed us a way out from acting on it? For example, if we see an elderly lady on the side of the road in the evening with a broken-down car, we may slow down with the intent to help. But then a friend whispers in our ear, "C'mon, I'm sure she has a cell phone." We nod and drive by. It's natural for us to take the easy road, but at that point, our journey could end because we've given up the challenge.

Those who do take the challenge must fend off "Threshold Guardians," those people who seem to give us an easy way back to the "Ordinary World." Remember back to a time in your life when you dedicated yourself to a new ideal. Maybe you decided that you were not going to leave the field again until you checked your work. For a few weeks you stick to this new ideal, but then one Friday, at 2 in the afternoon, you finish a traverse along a steep, brushy hillside to set the last property corner on a particular project. Your crew is hot, bloody from scratches and ready to go home. Your new philosophy dictates closing the traverse. But you've turned two sets of angles at each setup and feel confident your work is good. As you stand there thinking, your survey technicians begin a tactful verbal assault on why you should call it a day. These folks are your "Threshold Guardians." If you overcome your Threshold Guardians, next comes the "Meeting with the Mentor." Finding a qualified mentor is not easy. We have to seek one out. They are few and far between, for a mentor is an extraordinary person who embodies what we seek and provides what we need. This person gives us that special advice and that little push to improve. Then"¦ we suddenly find ourselves facing "The Crossing of the First Threshold." Now we must take action. We begin working, taking classes, dedicating time each day to studying books or audio recordings, and tracking our progress. Beware, however, those "Threshold Guardians" who are lurking close by, and whispering in your ear about how nice it would be to drift back to your old life.

Now the journey picks up speed, and you experience "Allies and Enemies." For a few weeks we've been meeting with our mentor and studying the works of the greats. We are starting to see the world a bit differently, but it's difficult. Our old friends still have the same ideas and philosophies, and we find it hard to find companionship. We experience times of trial where our character is put to the test. Before embarking on this journey it would have been easy to let someone else worry over the fact that a project is going over budget. But now things are different, and you know why this project is going over budget. The survey crew spends more time at the coffee shop than working. Your first thought is to go to the survey manager and explain, but that doesn't feel right. Confronting the problem where it lies is the solution. You take the crew out to lunch and in a friendly way describe what their laziness or rebelliousness is doing to the company. You provide a spreadsheet that shows how much budget is wasted by their actions. At this time, one of two things will happen: you will either gain their respect and possibly some powerful allies, or you will make enemies. If you can communicate the problem tactfully enough, you can possibly absorb the antagonist's energy and use it as you move forward in your journey to becoming a professional.

This confrontation, or "Ordeal," is often a turning point. If we successfully face our fears and defeat the enemy, we are transformed. Our "Gift" or reward is not only getting a project budget back on track, but also gaining the insight from successfully overcoming our adversary. We take our "Gift" and travel back to the "Ordinary World." This is often yet another time of trial along the journey. Our success makes us see the world differently, and we find we need to rededicate ourselves to continue learning. Joseph Campbell entitles the person who succeeds the "Ordeal" and returns to the "Ordinary World" to be "The Master of Both Worlds," a person who is truly different from his or her experience but yet understands the world he or she came from. This person is now a freer person, one with more insight and less fear than before. He or she has attained "it." This person now is one of the few whom others look to and wonder what is different about them. Others know it is important to make this person either an ally or an enemy, for there is no fence-riding allowed in a relationship with this person-the true professional.

Many times in life we read or hear advice that hits home and inspires us to take action. Yet based on what we've learned from the general public over the years, we allow ourselves to become discouraged and remain in our rut. Why is this? Why do we take the advice of people who generally have a reason for not acting and have no background to be advising us on the subject at hand? My peers told me a person needed a college degree to become a successful professional. My peers told me a person needed a college degree to become a successful author. My peers told me a person could not become wealthy surveying while maintaining significant quality time for family and interests. My peers told me achieving semi-retirement in my early thirties to do the things I wanted wasn't possible. They were just plain wrong. I write this to motivate you to act. We can make our profession and our lives something to be respected, but only when we leave our "Ordinary World" and accept the "Call to Adventure," overcome our "Threshold Guardians," find a "Mentor," face "The Crossing of the Threshold" and face the "Ordeal" on our own "Hero's Journey."

This is the sixth, and final part, of this series.

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