Monday, March 19, 2012

Chicken Soup

For the Environmental Consultant's Soul

By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.
Robert Frost

It was a clear spring day in 2012, full of the kind of hope and promise only a spring day can hold. But even though spring was Pam's* favourite season, she hardly noticed what a beautiful morning it was. All Pam could think about was work.

Pam had been involved in an all-engrossing project for months. She had harboured hope for it when it was only a twinkling in a client's eye; nursed it through the tricky cost estimate stage; celebrated with pink cigars when she was awarded the proposal. That was when the the first warning signs had cropped up: "But they told me specifically not to put that in the scope, how is the budget going to cope with that change?"

Things had gone steadily downhill from there. The client seemed to be withholding several crucial pieces of information, while rapidly and randomly changing others. The timelines were practically tripping over one another. Pam wasn't allowed to make half the calls she needed to make, and the ones she was weren't being answered.

In short, Pam was overworked, overwhelmed and over budget, and that wasn't even the worst of it. What bothered Pam the most was the direction this whole project was taking. What she had initially believed was an exciting and important project appeared on further scrutiny to be a boondoggle at best, and a deleterious debacle at worst.

"What is the point of all this?" thought Pam. "Am I really going to spend the rest of my career facilitating more holes in the ground? Where is the positive impact I once dreamed of making in the world?"

It wasn't long before Pam was having a full-blown crisis of conscience. She began spending her lunch breaks perusing job ads, but she had a mortgage to pay and it seemed as if all those soul-satisfying positions just didn't feature paycheques that could support her lifestyle. How would the children ever be able to go to private kindergarten if she left her job now? Pam's golden handcuffs grew a little tighter each day.

Dissatisfied and disillusioned, but with no discernible way out of the pickle she was in, Pam continued her work on the project. When final deadlines began rapidly approaching, she started working weekends as well. This is where we first encountered Pam, unhappily braving crappy weekend transit schedules to make her way to an office she resented, to work on a project she no longer believed in, on a beautiful spring day that she barely noticed.

Pam was cranking through the final details of the project when she discovered something that stopped her dead in her work. "No," thought Pam, "it can't be..."

She ran through the evaluation process again, and then, with growing excitement, once more just to be certain. "It is true! It is!" cried Pam. "And all this time I've been so worried, for nothing!"

In that single, simple moment it was as if Pam had found a new lease on life. All her doubts about the purpose and meaning of her work, all her questions about the moral and ethical value of her projects were laid to rest. What Pam had discovered was this:

The project would have no significant cumulative effects.

Pam was so very surprised. It looked as if the kids could go to private kindergarten after all! Pam treated herself a new designer dress to celebrate.

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.


  1. Yeah Pam!DDR

  2. OH PAM, you are my hero!!

  3. Oh what a surprise! Pam's project will not have a significant cumulative effect on a landscape with no thresholds. Thank goodness she worked so hard to develop an accurate baseline for her assessment.

  4. Best post yet!! LOVED IT!!!