Friday, December 4, 2015

Stranger in a Strange Land


I have self-esteem issues.  Confidence in me and my abilities is at best a thin veneer that is easily ripped.  There are myriad factors that have contributed to this condition, and my purpose in this post is not to go into those factors.
I often second guess myself.  That is a common side effect of low self-esteem.  When it comes to major life events like moving your family twelve hundred miles to escape a rotten work environment into know social and cultural decrepitude it would be easy for anyone to have doubts and to question their own sanity and judgment. 
Earlier this week I was in the Pit of Despair.  I don't hate my job—in fact I actually quite like my job—but the lack of bike culture, the social cul-de-sac of rural life, and the persistent fire resistance of our Money Pit had me down.  Down enough that I went to 303 Cycling's job posting page for bicycle industry jobs in Colorado.  Jackpot.
Bicycle Colorado—the statewide citizen advocacy group—has posted a great position.  And it would start around $50k/yr.  I semi-jokingly sent the link to my wife.  She replied:
 

That's kinda how we got into our current situation.  But I digress.
No sooner than she had replied to my text than my immediate supervisor came by my cube.
"Can you come down to my office?  David [our executive director] and I want to talk to you."
Busted.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little nervous.  But it was all good.
I had pitched to my boss a few months ago the idea of our organization creating a regional bike-ped coordinator position.  My current position as Regional Transportation Planner is mandated by the federal government and funded through a contract with state government.  I operate under an Annual Work Plan written by the state transportation cabinet.  Within that AWP I have little latitude to do actual transportation planning, much less bike-ped specific planning.
My pitch was that if the ADD were to create a standalone bike-ped or trails and greenways position outside the transportation contract that person (hopefully me) would have more flexibility and in essence more influence to advocate and plan for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and culture in our region.  The higher ups liked my idea.  But...
...How do we fund it? they asked.
We wracked our brains for a few weeks, but then the answer seemed to hit us square in the face.  Our land use planner is overwhelmed by the sudden tide of contract work that our organization has been able to attract.  There's so much current work and upcoming work that the organization was faced with the reality of hiring a second regional planner.
The purpose of calling me into the principal's office was actually to ask me if they should put out a job posting for a regional planner or for a transportation planner.
I'll let that sink in.
I filled in for a few months when our previous two planners left out of the blue.  My background is land use planning.  It would make sense for me to step into the position as much as it would make sense to hire someone.  But...this is also an opportunity to make an early move on the board toward having that dedicated bike-ped-trails position.
"We want to provide an opportunity for you to have professional growth and likely you won't have that where you are now.  And you have a passion for bike-ped stuff.  I firmly believe that if you give someone a job in their passion you'll never have to worry if they're working."
I paraphrased that poorly, but when the director said that I wanted to hug him.  In my life I've never had an employer that even seemed to care about my passions and my professional development.  I would be a damn fool to leave the organization. I had nary another thought about the Colorado job.  I'd love to live in Colorado again, but only if I could take my employer with me.  Alas, it is not to be.
Most of the rest of the week I've actually been in training to write pedestrian plans.  It's clear to me when I sit in those types of meetings that I'm where I need to be.  More needed reinforcement; more validation. 
We left a place where I had a ten mile bike commute.  We lived in a 1950s neighborhood which was within easy walking/biking distance of every civil institution a person could need access to.  I gave it up because my work environment was unbearable.  There’s a small part of me that thinks I should have stuck it out a little longer—that things would have eventually gotten better—but I waited four and a half years for things to get better and there was no end in sight. 
I traded biketopia for a forty-five minute (one way) car commute each day to fight with Man O War Boulevard traffic and cubicle lethargy.  I traded an ideal living arrangement for SOV hell.  But I did it because I saw an opportunity to make a difference and contribute my experience and knowledge in a positive manner in a place where a paradigm shift was long overdue.
It takes patience.  It takes endurance.  My patience seems to be paying off somewhat.  There’s still a long road ahead to get where I want to go.  Heck, maybe I don’t even want to stop the trip!  The journey is valuable unto itself.


Afterword

On Tuesday I received an email notification that Woodford County has been awarded a Transportation Alternatives grant for a sidewalk project that I helped develop and applied for on behalf of the County and City of Versailles.  It's a pretty big deal--nearly a half million dollar project--and I can take some credit for making it happen.  Truth be told it was a local magistrate that had the passion for the project, and she became the champion of it, but I provided some guidance and assistance which helped move it all along.

I say this not to thump my own chest, but to provide some contrast to the typical negatively charged self-talk you're used to here on this bathroom wall of the internet.

 

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