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Learn What You Love – I Love Trees

Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A

My journey to become an Arborist was not straight. I had plans to go to Art School but reality sunk in and I went to business college and studied to become a legal secretary. My first job was at the U of A as a clerk at the Law Faculty typing exams and correspondence for my pool of Law Professors. I was the only operator of the latest invention (now I am dating myself a bit) a Micom memory typewriter with floppy disks the size of dish plates. Seems to me you could only store a few pages of data on one.

From there I moved to a mining town where there were no law offices – just bunk houses and a fledgling office in an ATCO trailer. Yet again another first – the first ever IBM PC. In every instance and with every new department I served I was challenged to learn new tasks or skills and was responsible for the development of new systems. I was selected to tackle new ground repeatedly and often the new projects allowed me to demonstrate some of my project driven, creative side and my willingness and desire to learn new things. I think the other quality that awarded me many opportunities is my willingness to share and teach what I have learned to others. Technology has advanced well past the memory typewriter stage and I am quite happy to leave this to someone else.

Going from secretary, to managing a Chamber of Commerce and being an Ec Development Officer, to event planner and finally to tree ‘gal’ probably seems crazy to many. But there is something very satisfying about caring for and preserving trees in a world where oxygen is probably the single most valuable and essential commodity. The role trees play in keeping our planet healthy are well documented. I respect and cherish a tree that has survived for a hundred years and see the enormous potential of a sapling that will hopefully be there for my great grandchildren to gaze upon it. There is no question the work is physically demanding but it is really intellectually challenging too. Why is a tree sick? How can we make it safer in winds of 100 km per hour? What grows here? How do you control pests? Clients are counting on us to solve problems. Learning the language of trees requires takes commitment and effort. Learning new things is a foundation for my everyday life and essential to my business. Since I started working full time with trees in 1996, the science of Arboriculture has grown in leaps and bounds. Safety standards are evolving to protect workers in a extremely dangerous industry. There have been new tree species introduced into our region and many new threats that put our urban forest at risk. I have seen tree killing pests move into our region and many more on their way. I invest a great deal of time into expanding my knowledge to better understand trees. Knowledge allows me to be pro-active rather than reactionary.

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So as the daylight lessens I commit once again to my professional development. I will be attending two professional development events this winter to increase my understanding of my trade and to learn from experts in their discipline. Some of the best learning comes from talking to like minded professionals outside of my own market area – they are not threatened by sharing their knowledge. I can learn about trends in other communities which helps gauge when and if they will be issues here. Being self employed requires having a good understanding of all aspects of running a business not just the ability to perform the service. I am also going to be working with Greg at ActionCOACH to improve my skills as a business owner. With one year under my belt as the Ladybug Arborist, there are good lessons to be learned with someone who makes a living helping businesses improve and grow. This is one of the great benefits of winning the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge and I am really looking forward to it to serve my clients and their trees better.

They say, if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life. I love what I do and I love learning all I can to be able to do it.

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