We had the good fortune of connecting with Gracelyn . and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gracelyn, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
What people do know about my industry is wrapped up in the John Oliver Infrastructure eipsode caption: “[Our] crumbling infrastructure: It’s not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one. ”
I am in the industry of municipal services, or more to the point the systems of infrastructure that delivers those services. People don’t think about it at all. Or they think about it but only when something goes wrong or taxes go up.
Flint Michigan water crisis, flooding in BC, fires in California, and a lot of the other disasters out there give us a hint our infrastructure is important, but unless it’s our own community affected we feel safe. Tap’s giving us clean water, our garbage got picked up this week, flush our toilet tampons at all and din’t need a plunger, our ditches seem to flow along, that playground grafitti got taken off, the bridge still stands, the road’s cracks get magically filled with black goo, and all the homes in the new development have been built, sold, and serviced.
Most people outside the industry are unaware of: how they get to use MILLIONS of dollars of infrstracture built by the generations before them for the services they get to use every day. Most people have never wondered whether or not their communities have a plan to take care of these over a long period of time. Most people don’t know when their communities are put at risk because of short sighted spending and development because it’s not imminent at the time. It’s burried in a mountain of minutes, agenda’s, and reports. Most outside-industry people aren’t educated on what their specific community plans to do with the challenges of climate change, or know how much that’s going to cost to plan for proactively vs reactively.
Inside the industry: it’s a lot of frustrated, tired, hard working, sometiems cynical, sometimes burnt out, sometimes confused, sometimes engaged, sometimes checked out humans who are trying to plan for, advocate for, protect, grow, keep up with, take care of our services. I work with these people and truly believe they are the backbone of our communities being able to have the best chance at health and happiness. There’s systematic issues, there’s under funding, over funding, confused communications, good intentions, superstars, leaders, obstacles, loud voices, and long reports. But we’re all trying, and that’s what I care about the most in my role as an independent consultant. How can I support these people, who so badly want to do what’s best for their community.
And so, outside the industry: I want people to ask ‘which services do I use every day that requires a community-built system’? Which of those services are most important to me? Which of those systems require inspections, operations, maitneance, replacement, strategy, or protection? As the climate changes, how will those systems be resilient? Which of those services are being protected by the people in charge of protecting them? Where do I want my money to go and how can I advocate for that?
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Does anyone reflect on their journey and call it easy?
The start was the hardest, while I did a small scale raging against the system and struggled with what the world expected of me. When I think of highschool I feel echos of awkward social connections, unused potential, missed classes, and some out right authority-pushing. I worked at a bank with frequent “performance improvement” sessions for low sales and careless mistakes. I went to university with a new dream of becoming an engineer and could barely bring myself to show up for classes, a 50% started to feel like an accomplishment. I “graduated with a diploma” which really means I didn’t make it into the degree program and had to move on.
My first engineering job interview I went with full honesty. I told the hiring manager I failed classes, my attention to detail is abysmal, and that I’m a good colleague but that “I don’t by nature work hard”. I also told them I’d make them cookies. I was hired for that company in a different position called an “asset management analyst.” I was in that position for 6 months before I worked up the courage to ask what that meant and what the job really was. I spent two and a half years there trying, wanting to try, growing up, making professional mistakes, owning up to professional mistakes, and chiselling away at what my identity was and what was missing.
I figured at this point that I’ve tried in the industry and failed and thought to myself that sucks but it happens. I started applying to schools all set to quit and return to year one undergrad to become a therapist. Someone within devine timing at this point suggested that it wasn’t the worst thing to be missing those skills the engineers have. They suggested that there MAY be a place in this industry I’m in now for a wanna-be therapist and for someone who really truly cares about the relationships, the end result, and the communities the engineers are meant to serve.
And. that is when the challenges became simpler to overcome. Not easier, just simpler. As I realized who I really wasy (not who people wanted me to be), as I learned how to communicate that, laugh at myself, and embrace the different skills and approaches I brought to the table it started to become less of a fight and more of a dance.
Today, professionally, I am an independent consultant and business owner. I work in professional partnerships and I have the freedom to care deeply about and invest my time in, the relationships that matter to me in my work. In an industry of engineers, accountants, and operators I sit with them all and try to listen with everything I have to help them help their communities. I have dealt with successes, rejections, failures, and accidents. I more quickly speak up when I don’t understand someone, and I’m much more up front (and proactive about solutions for) my flaws. With that comes the space to be! To sink into who I am! To care about what I actually care about!
I am so excited about the adventure of continuing to uncover who I am and how I can help my corner of the industry. What I want the world to know about me is that I am in a constant dance between wanting to make a positive difference and wanting to be my authentic self. And that it’s going to take me a lifetime to develop.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ohh, I am a terrible host for visitors. I love a good sit, great music, good food, and amazing drink but I’ll be damned to plan it all out for my best friend visiting.
No matter my best intentions. The itinerary would look like this: Friday night, get a text saying “I’m coming on the 5:00PM ferry, should I eat beforehand?”
I panic but text back “Let’s eat here!” I totally didn’t clean the place, do they need fresh sheets? She’s the kind of friend that has a folded towel and spare toothbrush ready for me, should I do that? She’ll be here soon. Should I set up a reservation? Did I invite her partner? Should I have? How long is she staying again? Oh crap I’ve double booked myself, hope my friend doesn’t mind hanging out with her. Also there’s my dinner plans because I’d already booked myself there.
End up having a great time on Friday night. Wake up on Saturday and ask my friend… what do you want to do? If she wants to do anything that invovles hiking, heavy breathing, or something that needed to be coorindated beforehand, I’d tell her to have fun and I’ll wait for her here.
Now if I was visiting a friend? My favourite things are a good wander and a good sit. I would walk around, get a craving for something really specific, find somewhere that sells it, meet someone at the bar, they tell me about another place playing live music later, I tell my friend I’ll meet them there, go have a nap, wake up late and paniced. Is there Uber here? How dressy is it? Ah shoot I forgot to text her back. “On my way!”
I have things I like but they seem to boil down to either one of: wandering, sitting, or connecting. Everythign else, the good food (a good sit), the good drink (connection), the motorcycle adventure (wandering), it’s all a means to those ends.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My entire life to now is built on a foundational network of connection with amazing humans. Words fall short to express the gratitude I have every day for people who have touched my life and lived beside me on my journey. I have sisters, colleagues, friends, kind strangers, managers, industry peers, and more that are the exact reason I am here. Literally.
Katie Bowen Photography