The accidental transportation planner

Posted by on May 1, 2012

It seems to me that my tenure as a Southern District Institute of Transportation Engineers (SDITE) President is proof that God has a sense of humor. I might best be described as the ‘accidental transportation planner’, because transportation was not in my plan as a young person.

My scholastic training was in the arts, and I drifted into this field by way of a drafting table. It was through the mentorship of several distinguished traffic engineers, now former ITE and SDITE Presidents that I was persuaded to take up transportation planning as a permanent career.

My story might be a cautionary tale to young people about the risks of fixating on where your career will be in 20 or 30 years.  The people and events that come into your life on a yearly basis may change your trajectory.

Like me, you may find yourself with a different end result that is far more challenging and rewarding than what you had in mind. To live that way requires us to adopt an attitude of trust and faith that living according to a set of core values today will naturally lead us in the correct path for tomorrow.  That’s a scary proposition for folks who like to plan everything!

So what has this art major turned transportation planner learned while climbing the career ladder?

  • There is always something new to learn, and I’m best prepared by knowing where to find the most reliable sources for help.  ITE is my number one, go-to resource.
  • I continue to learn to listen more attentively to others. Sometimes the most significant thing I can do is give my full attention to another person.
  • I’ve learned there is no substitute for good communication skills.
  • Some bad experiences have taught me that there is no substitute for character.
  • Many folks in ITE have taught me that to be mentored by another is a gift that lasts a lifetime and yields multiple dividends.
  • Some recent personal crises with coworkers at my office have re-focused my understanding that workplaces are critical areas of support in people’s lives.  The office is not just about work. It’s about community and strengthening each other to live better lives and have courage through adversity.
  • I’ve learned that I need lots of friends that I can call on when I need help.  There is no shame in asking for help.  The shame is in failing because you would not ask.
  • After age 40, I learned to trust my intuition.  For those of you under the middle age mark, tuck that away as a bright spot to look toward.

This is a pretty generic list of life lessons, but they are common denominators we all share.  At many points in my work life I have felt unprepared or insufficient to deal with a challenge.  It has helped me to remember a verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  It is a reminder that a power beyond my own is at work, providing strength, guidance and encouragement.

No matter what our daily tasks, we all are called to live lives that respect others, dignify our professions and personal lives and build community in our work places, organizations and public settings.

If we did all those things, couldn’t we all say life had been successful?

Delivered by Becky White, SDITE President, at the SDITE/GLDITE Annual Meeting in Lexington, KY, April 17, 2012.

Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Cullman, Alabama, Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.

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