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Blogging about gardening in zone 4, marriage, our golden retriever and life in general.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Doin’ it, doin’ it, and doin’ it well

I’ve got to interrupt what has been a wholly “Housebuilding” blog to revert to a personal item.

When I was a kid I imagined working in a field that I loved, doing something productive that helped make people’s lives better. Not nursing, or teaching, or another profession where workers really do save lives so blatantly, but instead one that might be more subtle. I wanted to do something that people appreciated; that at the end of the day they said “Courtney’s done something good for this community.”

Naive much?

In college I ended up a history major instead of in architecture because I was intimidated by the math required for architecture. And I loved my history classes. I considered becoming a history professor (and still do); what could be more fun than waking some freshman from their stupor of classroom boredom than enlivening their academic career with the great stories of history? Because that’s all history really is for me; a collection of great stories.

Telling those stories requires books, but also places. I know I sound immensely dorky, but the best historical sites I’ve visited are unstaged. There were no period actors at Fort Laramie, or the Point of Rocks segment of the Mullan Road. These are places a person can visit and make their own impressions of, and I love that.

My history degree parleyed into a Master’s in Historic Preservation principally because I think places like this are so valuable. And I believe I have the breadth of vision to understand that both high brow mansions and low brow shotgun shacks are important. I ended up in my current position because in the American system of historic preservation the most “teeth” for historic preservation is at the local level; where local governments can pass resolutions and ordinances dictating how extensively (or sometimes not) they want their historic resources protected.

The local level is where the trenches are. It takes hard work and management of the political capital a program gains in order to further the cause. Especially in a state like Montana, whose gun totin’ property rights advocates come out of the woodwork, particularly in a local election year like this one.

I’m aware of the political repercussions of my job. Frankly, usually the “deciders” have decided if they are going to prohibit demolition of extensive alteration of a building before I’ve had a chance to weigh in (sometimes I wonder why “they” pay two historic preservation professionals if they’re not going to listen to our professional opinion). My best recourse is to try to get something FOR historic preservation out of an approval of say, a demolition. I butt my head against this rock sometimes on a daily basis. And sometimes it feels like there is no going forward or back; I can’t “win” either way.

I’m not afraid of objecting, strenuously if necessary for the right cause. I’m not afraid of the political fallout, and I’m not afraid of the stakes. But it ebbs away at my confidence when I believe I’m not doing a very good job managing that objection so as to prevent damage to the program I take pride in.

I would never term myself a perfectionist. I’m a good “Big Picture” thinking, but don’t always think through (or follow through on) the details. I know this about myself, and despite self awareness it’s extraordinarily frustrating when I catch a loose end later that I should have tied up months before. But I am a good “Big Picture” person. I see where things could go, either way, and have to fight off the pessimism and look for the positive outcome sometimes. I have worked to train myself to find the compromise in a situation, where all get some of what they want, but some don’t get all they wanted.

There are so many “causes” I want to help along. I want the sorority to grow and have a property they are proud of, and debt free of. I learned so much about myself from my time inside the brick walls of AOII that I want other girls to have that opportunity without having the burdens of a mortgage and declining membership that we sometimes had. And as a historic preservation professional, I believe I can help them manage a historic building. And as a good public speaker, I believe down the road I can help them raise the funds needed for an endowment and trust to maintain and upgrade the building.

Sometimes though, I’m afraid that the time I give the organization gets eaten away by the day-to-day management issues that I am not interested it. And that my involvement might not be very productive. That my failure to follow through on getting something checked for repairs before it breaks ends up in a more expensive replacement.

I also really want historic preservation in Bozeman to have a life and vitality that is valued by all members of the community. Regardless of if it is through local government or a local non-profit, I want the general cause to be successful. And I work 40-55 hours a week doing my best to make it successful (despite the fact that I’m not the decision maker). I have outlines and roadmaps for how the program could evolve. But I hate getting dragged down into discussions over whether my design review of a project was inadequate because I didn’t notice that the porch posts were more “rustic” than the house’s 1930’s “style”. Damn. I know things like this matter, but my attention to detail (and willingness to nitpick an application so toughly) just aren’t up to snuff, I guess.

I could go on and on in areas I don’t feel adequate in. I often sacrifice my relationship with friends in favor of my job. Frequently my relationship with DJ bears the brunt of my frustration with myself; I just have to put in more time, and as it did last Friday, that means DJ is home by himself while I work till 10pm on a Friday night. That sucks for me and it sucks for him.

The kicker though, is that I rarely come home at 10pm on a Friday night satisfied with what I’ve spent the last kajillion hours working on. I think it could be better. I think I’ve not done enough. Or I think I have done enough, but someone the next week tells me that I really haven’t.

I feel overstretched, inadequate and generally unimpressive. I want to do my job well. And more than that, I want to leave my job satisfied that what I’m doing is good for the community. I want to create and leave a lasting imprint. I want to feel satisfied with my work at the end of the day and that I've created soemthing I should be proud of.

Sometimes I think I just want to be a quilter.

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