The topic of longevity continues to arise as a major discussion point among my peers. This has invoked a desire for me to ponder my history in this amazing industry and the events that helped me not only stay focused but allowed me to progress regularly over time. While I do not believe my path is the right one for all, I do see some commonalities and themes that could help others looking for a similar result.
If longevity is what you seek, the number-one thing to stay vigilant about is working safely! You cannot achieve longevity in arboriculture, or anything else, if you fail to stay alive. That is a very extreme example of the risk associated with what we do. The truth is, even simple injuries can stack up over time and push you into a decision to move away from field work. A loss of mobility or agility can be a huge detriment to a practicing arborist. The tasks we are given are hard enough without feeling we are less able to perform that which we have been doing for years.
Working safely is more than just avoiding major injuries or losing the ability to perform. One ingredient you cannot overlook is following protocols that have been created over time. For example, always wearing our personal protective equipment (PPE) and double-checking our gear and anchor points is crucial. These steps should be engrained in our daily work habits and followed by all. One lapse of focus or decision to not do so could be the one event that ends our quest for longevity.
Be a student for life
When I think back to the first time I realized how much I enjoyed working as an arborist, I reminisce about someone sharing some technique or trick that would solve a problem I had or that made a difficult task easier. That is huge. When this happens, it sparks a motivation to look for more. This thirst for information and learning is one of the most powerful forces to drive self-development. Once you open your mind to look for these opportunities, you will be inundated with a flood of information you cannot avoid, which is a good thing.
Where do we start? Everywhere, really. The internet is the easiest place to start, outside of the circle of people we work with daily. I should, of course, mention that you need to qualify the information, as some is not always accurate or reliable. Trade magazines are very good as well, since experts in our fields will share knowledge and experiences freely through the art of writing. Events such as trade shows and workshops sit very high on my list of “must-do’s” each year, and I have never walked away from one feeling it was not worthy of my time and effort to be there.
Train like an athlete
You may not see the importance of exercising or eating well, but I see no downside to it. In my area of being a climbing arborist, it is huge. Not only does training and diet put my body in the best possible condition to do more physically while on the job, it also protects me from injury more than if I was less fit or nourished. If you don’t believe tree climbing is an athletic activity, then you haven’t tried it. And like any athletic event, the more fit you are and the better rested, with the highest available energy stores to utilize, the more you can do and in less time.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of mental preparedness in our training and rest regimen. Part of the recipe for feeling prepared and ready for the task at hand is our mental focus and confidence. If you fail to understand what makes you feel your best and to then dedicate time and energy to achieve that, you will not only be less prepared for work, but you also will potentially burn out. It is not enough to just “love what you do,” you need to give weight to doing things that allow you to rejuvenate your spirit and put yourself in the right frame of mind. Though I do not agree that work/life balance is achievable for any length of time, if you set lofty goals for yourself, taking time to do whatever it is that allows you to be the best version of yourself will allow you to enjoy the process for the long haul.
Stop punching the clock
Earning an hourly wage, which is what most of us do, may encourage a tendency to see tree care as a job rather than a career. This can be detrimental to sustainability toward a path of involvement and growth over time. When you come to work with a mindset that you only work or add value while on the clock, you sabotage your own ability to gain momentum in your career. If you look at your time at work as a chance to gain skills that can never be taken away from you – while being paid to do so – then you are ahead of the game. Nothing learned is ever a waste of your time. Stacking skills is the best way to magnify your value, which will pay dividends later.
Surround yourself with the right team
It is often said that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with and keep closest to you. Considering how much time we all spend together at work, this makes the point that we should strive to hire qualified candidates who match our values and goals or work for a company that does this for us. I am also a true believer in the power of mentorship, which is why I never hesitate to ask questions and seek advice from people who have been where I want to go or have already achieved that which I hope to achieve. This is a sure-fire way to speed up your development and reach goals faster, with less wasted time and fewer failures along the way.
To achieve longevity in anything, we have to want to do so, and we need to acquire and develop the right skills constantly. We must look at our career as a marathon with an ever-changing objective. As they say, the goal post should move every time we get close enough to it, or we will lose sight of the need to drive forward. Life is a progression, and our careers should be, too!
Mark Chisholm, CTSP, is director of operations with Aspen Tree Expert Co., Inc., a dual-
accredited, 35-year TCIA member company based in Jackson, New Jersey. He is also a spokesperson for Stihl Inc., and an ambassador for Teufelberger and Kask.