By Charles Carpenter
Published in the January 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Sometimes I like to tell people I have multiple personalities—one part facility manager (fm), one part grad student, and one part parent. Honestly, each persona could be a full time job in itself. It isn’t necessary to go to graduate school to figure out that almost every fm balances these demands and more. Each person brings his or her own set of circumstances to work every day, whether or not co-workers, managers, and other business associates are aware of it.
In my particular case, the art of juggling has not only illustrated what is important in life, but it has also made me much more efficient. It has taught me how to do more with less time. As a result, I have come to appreciate the term professional development even more—especially since starting graduate school.
In the traditional sense, the term professional is defined by the technical skills associated with the way someone performs his or her job. But I feel it applies more to personal conduct than to specific technical skills. In other words, how does someone develop overall in the world at large?
Graduate school has offered me an outstanding professional development opportunity. One nice aspect of graduate school has been the freedom to decide which areas I can professionally develop through my electives. But best of all, graduate school has taught me the fine art of time management.
Learning how to combine three separate activities has not been easy. I have a “to do” list that has grown as grad school has drawn on. I am constantly reminded of the priorities that I have set.
For starters, my two children have autism. They require more care and attention than other children their age. My hope is that grad school will improve my future employment prospects, as I will probably be supporting my children for the rest of their lives.
To give you an example of my prioritizing, I have a kite that I bought for my son in 2005, but I have yet to fly it with him. Some other activity seems to take precedence or there is inevitably a more productive use of my time that demands my attention.
Overall, I have mastered going with the flow and looking at my longer term priorities. It also does not hurt to have the world’s greatest stay-at-home wife.
I will be honest: traveling for work and grad school is also a break from autism. Classes provide a change of my life routine—one that sometimes repeats like the movie, Groundhog Day. It is a chance to discuss mature issues versus hearing “Sesame Street” playing repeatedly.
Grad school has also allowed me to take workplace issues and explore them further, often blending my job with my homework. This benefits my employer and myself.
Despite breaks provided by travel, no parent with an autistic child can escape it for long. I have learned to print extra copies of articles on scrap paper, since one of my children enjoys highlighting the articles like I do (but can’t seem to pinpoint the good stuff). Staying up past 2:00 a.m. doing homework allows me to change a diaper or get a child back to sleep when necessary; an unpredictable event, because an autistic child can be awake at all hours of the night. One of the blessings of working in facility management (FM) may be that there are the sleep deprived days where I can catch up on e-mail, document work orders, or walk around and review the efforts of my cleaning company instead of changing light bulbs, climbing on roofs, or moving data cables. It also does not hurt to have vacation time that could go unused as well as living minutes from work.
Going to graduate school has provided me with opportunities that I may have never taken advantage of otherwise. As a result of my grad work, I have spoken at conferences across the U.S. In 2007, I even presented at a European Facility Management Conference (which gave me the chance to visit my ancestral homeland in what is now the Czech Republic, umpire a baseball game in Germany, and visit a 1,200 year old monastery that supplied the monks who founded my high school alma mater, Subiaco Academy). Heck, I have even taken to writing articles and journal submissions. I doubt I would have done any of this without graduate school.
Graduate school may be a confluence of factors (rather than the factors that, in my case, “confluenced” in my life). It has not been easy, but it has not been hard either. Many professors understand that continuing students have jobs that will make them late to class or hand in homework after the deadline; they will work with students who are upfront about it.
Also, working fms are not required to concentrate solely on a degree in FM if they attend grad school. There are other programs, such as an MBA, that could prove valuable to any fm. It isn’t even essential to work on a degree in order to go back to school; many colleges allow students to enroll in individual classes.
I challenge anyone reading this article to take a class at a college. If you have not earned a degree, then community college might be the place to start. If you earned your undergraduate degree 10 months (or as many years) ago, then grad school would be the place to look.
If you have all that under your belt, then try teaching what you know to others. Who knows what seeds will be planted? As your life experiences have changed you, you will find that a single class may change your future.
As for me, I have decided to stretch my graduate work over four years; after all, fms have a lot on their plates. Taking one or two classes seems to be the pace for me. (As proof of the time management benefits of my graduate work, I took the summer semester off and quickly learned that when you do not have to prioritize, you lose track of your priorities.)
Entering the second of three concurrent classes I need in order to graduate, I will begin my thesis entitled, “The Effects of the Built Environment on Occupational Stress.” After that, who knows what I will do? Maybe I will work on a Ph.D., enroll in law school, or just go fly a kite.
Carpenter has worked in FM since 1995. He is currently working on his Masters Degree at Texas State University, but he will eagerly make time to answer questions from readers, despite his hectic schedule.