The Steep Slope of a Graduate

I’ve been in my post as an Assistant Forest Manager for just over a year now, and as I write, our District Manager is taking the new Assistant Forest Manager (welcome Heather!) through the company’s systems: IT, H&S policy, payroll data, clothing issue, purchase orders, invoicing, budgeting, timesheets, journaling, and many, many more. I’m hugging myself that I’m not going through the process and I remember at the time being jealous of my colleague Jamie, who was a year into his career and looked like he knew what was going on.

However, you can’t fast forward. You have to go through the process of learning your trade, slowly but surely (or quickly and surely); there is no substitute for simply putting in the hours. So if you’ll forgive the slightly stream-of-consciousness tone of this blog, I thought I would reflect on how I’ve gone from ‘the new guy’ to ‘Mike’.

My first day was a bit of a trial. I had an awful head cold and was trying desperately to look like I understood what was being said to me, but my brain was so backed-up with phlegm that I only had capacity to nod and say ‘yes, I see’, or to actually listen to what was being said. I nodded and didn’t listen. I had several days out with colleagues from the office who patiently explained what Ground Prep, VP, Diffuse Pollution, FGS, BS, Beat-up, Call-ups and TreeBoost were. I also had to get to grips with GIS software and learn the geography of the district. One of my first jobs on my own was undertaking beat-up surveys to establish how many young trees had died and needed to be replaced.

One of the advantages about being older (34) was that I didn’t have quite the ego I had at 20, and if I didn’t understand something I was happy to ask. My colleagues have been excellent in fielding these endless questions and eventually I got to a point where I remembered I had already asked about X or Y and half knew the answer. Progress of sorts.

My Line Manager was very insistent that I used this period to get up to speed and not to worry about my financial input. As a result it took a while for me to contribute but by the beginning of 2018 I had a good idea of what was going on and could be usefully put to work.

From January to March this year there was plenty of work to get on with (see previous blog) but I was still relatively insulated from the financial side of forestry. In late March I took on responsibility for a couple of properties and had to learn (quickly) how client invoicing and budget construction worked. This was a pretty stressful period, not least because the planting season was in full swing. People talk about stretching yourself and trying new things only in terms of the benefits, and that being out of our comfort zone is desirable, but the truth is that comfort zones are comfortable and that learning isn’t always a straightforward linear process.

One year in and I know what I’m doing. That’s a bold statement but I stand by it. I still don’t have enough hours in the week to get to the bottom of my to-do list, but I’ve grown to accept that it will be ever thus; the list will expand faster than my capacity. I’m still learning though: better ways to do things, what worked last time, what didn’t work so well. However, the curve has levelled off to a manageable gradient and I’m very much enjoying the climb.

by – Mike Page