My journey to conquer the Lowell Canals; with my trusty mentor Tess Shatzer

I have been at Lowell National Historical Park for about a year now and I had successfully navigated away from boar tours; because I am terrified of water. Boat tours are an important part of our summer offerings and so my boss Tess sat me down and said “ Rubby, although it is not in your job description to do boat tours and I know you don’t like water, as part of your professional development I would like you to face and conquer your fear of the water”.

 Now you have to know Tess to know how much what she said impacted me. Have you ever had a boss who is more than a boss, one that pays attention, cares for you beyond the job, and wants to see you at your very best, one who pushes you to your fullest potential? That is Tess Shatzer in a nutshell. In the year that I have worked at Lowell, she has come to be a friend, a mentor and my boss all wrapped up in one. She makes the workplace feel like a family. Every day I do my job and I do it well for myself, for the Park Service and for Tess for the guidance she has given me to get me to this point.

OK just went off on a tangent, this was not meant to flatter you Tess in case you read this but it’s the truth which is why I hyperventilate when you observe me ( inside joke) because I have learned so much from you and I want to show you just how much when you observe my programs.

 Anyway so as I was saying Tess said in her Tessy voice that she wanted me to do a boat tour and coming from her, I knew it was something that I had to do for myself. And so the preparation began and by preparation I mean PREPARATION. I read any and all tour material I could get my hands on about our boat tours. I observed several

“And if I had my wish all” tours led by different staff members. Every chance I got I grilled my coworkers about how they did their tours, how they tackled different foreseeable issues/problems that might arise “most of which came from my overactive imagination from a place of excitement, panic and overall fear of having the worse tour ever and denying visitors the amazing experience they deserved”. I deepened my knowledge base and prepared. Whenever I was at the desk or interacting with visitors I had mini practices for my tour. I counted down the days and literally set an alarm on my iPhone calendar reminding me that I had the 11:00 am “Working the Water” boat tour.

Fast forward to the day of the tour, I woke up reciting “Francis Gate was built by James Francis. It is 25ft tall, 27ft wide and 17inches thick”. As a point of clarification for the Non-Lowellians, Francis Gate is a crucial part of our story in Lowell as the famous gate that saved the city twice from floods. I came to work with my stomach in knots. I barely said anything to anyone all morning. I was busy cramming; I was determined to know the answer to any and every question regardless of how obscure, which tells you how impossible I was being. I accosted other staff members with questions and was reassured at every turn that it was going to be ok. “Yeah it was easy for them to say they have done this a thousand times, its second nature for them, more important they are not afraid of water”.

Half an hour before the tour per SOP guidelines, I got my tour bag, collected any and every picture, prop etc. anything that I could possibly need. I borrowed Emily Levine’s ball cap, used the bathroom, checked my uniform, got my keys and radio and I was ready to go.

Before we headed out Tess comes up to me and said she needs to talk to me. Let me preface this by saying I have an irrational fear of that phrase “I need to talk to you especially from an authority figure because I am always terrified that I might have done something wrong”.  She said “the water level is too high we can’t go to Francis Gate”.  Oh no not the one thing I have been obsessing about making sure I had all the facts right. Tess said  “I know this is a curve ball and I am giving you a pass, you can choose not to do this tour today because you have never done it before and detouring from the pre-planned route is stressful even for our seasoned boat tour guides. But I have no doubt that you can do it but it is up to you.” You see how she does that, she has such complete confidence in my abilities that I am emboldened and empowered by her faith. I decide to do the tour with the provision that she came along to show me the new route. By now I was completely in panic mode with my perfect ranger smile and outside exuberance of complete confidence and control plastered. While inside I was say “oh crap crap crap this is going to be the worst tour ever!”

 And you can guess what happened, Yes I DID NOT DIE! I DID NOT CHOKE. Imagine that! I could have done better and like everyone else I am my worse critic but it went well. I had a very interested group who were excited to be there, they asked great questions and made some great contributions to the tour. Remember how I was obsessing about Francis gate?  The best part was, one of the visitors on the boat tour knew the entire story and so when it came time to tell it, I stood back, gave him the floor and he told the story. Can you believe that? Of cause I gently corrected errors in what he said but it was the final thing that allowed me to release the breath I had been holding for about a week about this tour.

All in all, we had a blast. The moral of the story is fear is a prison we build for ourselves. If we are lucky we have someone to help us crash through those barriers as Tess did with me. You never know if you can conquer your fear till you face it head on. I faced mine and it turned out wonderful. That is not to say that it will always turn out great when you face your fears but at least you will know what you are dealing with. And as the saying goes “if you try once and fail, by all means try try try again”.

 I am now the self-proclaimed queen of boat tours and I hold that as a badge of honor! Thank you Tess and thank you to my fellow staff members. You all gave me the courage to face my fear and I hope that someday I can do the same for you.

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