Smarts

It’s a wonder that my most recent job interview was not a failure. I managed to arrive at least fifteen minutes late, even after leaving my office extremely early with the excuse of a doctor appointment, and it was for a most embarrassing cause that I could not have predicted.

Traffic wasn’t the problem; it was a quarter to five, but I was traveling against the predominant flow of traffic, from Portland to the suburbs. My driving directions weren’t exactly the problem either, as they involved a pretty simple set of turns. It came down to my anxiety and unfamiliarity with the suburbs I was driving through. I ended up on Millikan Way—a street of car dealerships and bland office parks—looking for a five-digit address. I knew the name of the cross street I was headed toward, but didn’t know how much farther down Millikan I had to go. I had no idea what the building looked like, or whether there would be a sign with the company name visible from the street. For some reason, I was terrified of bypassing it and having to turn around, or getting stuck on some major road that I didn’t know how to navigate.

When I saw a fenced-in complex with a gate, it seemed promising, since I’d at least been told that I would have to pass through a security checkpoint. So I pulled up to the gate, and it swung open a moment later. Not a person was in sight, but I figured that somebody had spotted me on a security camera and pressed the magic button. (more…)

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The tenacity of employment

This weekend I was talking to a friend whose company recently laid off about half of her co-workers.  As somebody who occasionally pays attention to the news, I’m aware that this kind of scenario is becoming pretty commonplace. Economic forces are in play that I don’t understand and are clearly unprecedented in my lifetime. Even under normal circumstances, I realize that layoffs are occasionally a part of doing business. I started working at my company back in July and I’ve seen several people be let go. Each time I was initially shocked and upset, having previously been sheltered from the experience of watching nice people lose their jobs for reasons of necessity. (more…)

Career development

I’m swimming in the wake of very recent staffing changes at my company, involving in the loss of one person’s job and a major shift in mine. The firm is small enough that any hiring or firing has a pretty significant impact, at least in the short term. People have been anxious. I’ve been anxious because I don’t like it when the people around me are unhappy, but mainly because I’m being given responsibility for an area that I know very little about.

My brief history with the company is this: I was hired for an administrative position, which left me with a lot of spare time and took minimal advantage of my capabilities. I started asking co-workers if I could help them out with minor technical tasks or proposal-writing assignments. Eventually it came to the executives’ attention that I was willing and able to handle more challenging work. As of last Friday, I’ve been transferred to a position that has me much more closely involved with our software products. Let me remind you that I have no background in software or computer science. Clearly that’s not a prerequisite for my particular job (otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten it), but I suspect it factors into the worried atmosphere that has pervaded the office this week. (more…)

Insecurity strikes again

I know everyone makes mistakes, it’s okay, etc. but I’ve got to beat myself up for these ones just to get it out of my system. I feel utterly useless in some aspects of my job. The Blue Lake Planning Commission met tonight to consider a project that requires a public hearing. I prepare the notices for public hearing, which are sent out to property owners who live within 300 feet of the project site. Well, for tonight’s particular project I was kind of surprised that no neighbors showed up to comment. Halfway through the meeting a woman walked in the door and said that the reason for the lack of public attendance may have been a typo on the notice which gave the wrong address for the project site, so people didn’t know where it was located. At the beginning of the meeting the applicant had noticed the same error on the agenda, but I hadn’t realized it was on the public notice as well. D’oh. As a result, the Commission was legally unable to make a decision tonight and had to continue the discussion to next month so the public can receive proper noticing. Bleh.

I feel like I’m not very good at handling these meetings. My boss has given me free rein because I’ve expressed confidence that I can handle them on my own, so I’m getting good practice. Maybe things will get better. But I am always so nervous speaking in front of everybody that my primary goal becomes, subconsciously, to spit out as few words as possible in the quickest way I can manage. I become so narrowly focused on this that I can’t think of all the issues I should be raising and the points I should be making to help the Commissioners make their decisions. Thank goodness the City Attorney and City Manager are also there to speak on behalf of City staff. My goal for these meetings has been, for the past couple months, to enumerate the important points of each project and give the Commission a clear direction to follow in deciding on projects. If they don’t get direction from staff, they’ll make bad decisions. So far I haven’t been terribly successful.

It didn’t help that they claimed a Tentative Parcel Map for a subdivision approved last month was not drawn to scale. One of them told me bluntly, “Don’t even bother bringing us a map if it’s not to scale.” I’m not so bothered about the Tentative Parcel Map, though, because we’d been dealing with that subdivision for months upon months and even the City Engineer had not mentioned the scale being wrong. Also the Commissioners should have visited the site before they made a decision on the project.

As long as I’m venting (it feels good), I have plenty of other problems with being a planner. I can’t tell people what to do. If they submit an application with crappily drawn maps or insufficient information, I try to make it work. Basically I don’t ask them for anything more because I try to bother them as little as possible, even though the burden really lies with them to get their projects accomplished and I have the power of the law behind me. My knee-jerk reaction is always to try to please the person in front of me at any cost. Only later will I realize that that could be detrimental to the City’s or the public’s interest. So I’m kind of screwed unless I learn to deal with that.

I contend that planning is fun until other people’s interests become involved. I’d probably be better off in England. My British co-worker said that over there, planners act as the main decision-makers (whereas in the U.S. we have Planning Commissions, Design Review boards and City Councils). Over there, planners have the authority because they have the expertise. Of course they may be even more disliked in England than they are here.

It’ll be all right

I haven’t been feeling psyched about my job lately. I took it because it was offered to me and I didn’t have any other plans, not because it was necessarily what I wanted to do. It frustrates me to be the bad guy and enforce laws that I can’t necessarily explain or defend. I’m talking about zoning laws governing building heights and setbacks and such. I know they all exist for a reason, but that’s not the stuff I care about. Maybe I’m just suffering from a bout of low confidence, but the more I do this job the more I realize how much I don’t know yet and how much I’m lacking in people skills. Planning is complex and requires navigating an irritating maze of regulations and permitting requirements and politics and other considerations. I do better when my tasks are narrowly focused. I feel like I belong in a lab or doing something more behind-the-scenes. I’m not sure.

The point, though, is that it’s okay. I’m not stuck. Mentally I committed myself to this job for a year at minimum, and already I’ve been there six months. It’s only a stepping stone. Planning, as a whole, really isn’t so bad. I did choose to major in it for a reason. During my next job search I’ll just have to focus on the aspects of it that I do like. Even at my current job I don’t have to focus on city planning, given that I work for a private consulting firm. But I don’t want to leave Blue Lake after I’ve just started. I don’t know who would take it over if I quit it, not that it’s my responsibility to worry about that. My boss checks in once in a while to see if I’m still having fun and liking the Blue Lake stuff. I wonder when he’ll ask me next.

I feel better after reminding myself that I’m truly not stuck with anything. When I reach the point of being truly unhappy, then my only obligation is to myself, to find something that’s satisfying and suited to my abilities. It’s kind of exciting, too, to be thinking about my next step even though I haven’t a clue yet what that will be (or where it will take me).

My new job

You may be wondering what I do for a living now. A few weeks ago I started working for a small planning/permitting/environmental consulting firm. My primary title (I guess) is Assistant Planner for the City of Blue Lake. Basically, I receive development applications from property owners and review them for consistency with the general plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision ordinance (if applicable). The City building official also refers building permit applications to me for review. My applications are referred to other members of City staff for comments, and we meet once a week to discuss current projects and talk to citizens who have questions or proposals for development projects. For a given project I incorporate everybody’s comments into a staff report, which is presented to the Planning Commission at one of its monthly meetings. The commission decides whether or not to approve the project based on my (and other staff’s) recommendations. . . . This is a basic description of the job as I understand it now, but it’s all new, so I’m sure more twists will be thrown in later. It’s just cool to say that I’m a member of City staff.

My company has other clients besides the City of Blue Lake, and I work on projects for them too. We do things like permit processing and environmental impact analysis. I may actually get to do some fieldwork as part of a water quality monitoring effort for the City of Trinidad. There’s plenty of stuff to keep me busy. I get a little restless sitting at a computer all day, but so far I like the job and I love my co-workers.

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