"I'm just tryin' to fight my way out of this dream."

Monday, June 27, 2011

And away we go...

Welcome to Five Tool Planner, my pre-professional (hopefully soon to become professional) and personal blog. I have plenty to say, but I'm going to start off at a measured pace.

One of my favorite parts of exploring new sites is attempting to find the Frequently Asked Questions section. In lieu of a traditional introductory entry, and to hopefully set the tone for what is to come, here are questions that you, dear reader, may be asking yourself.

Who are you, anyway?
My name is Matt. I'm 23 years old, and I'm from King of Prussia, PA (more on both of those in a future post). I have a master's degree in Community and Regional Planning from Temple University's Ambler Campus, which I earned in May 2011, along with a bachelor's degree in Geography from Penn State University and the Schreyer Honors College, which I earned in May 2009. I'm currently looking for full-time employment in the planning or geographic information systems fields. (See the sidebar for the current total of my active job applications.)

Anything else?
Well, that's kind of why I'm here blogging. There's plenty more to say, and I'll get to it.

Fine, fine. Have you done this before?
Yes, since February 2004, on a different site (where people "live" for "journal"-writing). Also, occasionally I've had long-form writing pieces make their way on to Facebook, such as this one from February of '09. Many of these items still apply today.

Why are you taking the next step into a professional blog?
I noticed recently that a rather large number of my friends have decided to move into this space. I thought I should join them.

Alright, so what's the deal with the title?
So glad you asked. (What follows is not exactly FAQ-material, but a taste of my writing style. Hope you enjoy this preview.)

I'm a big sports fan. Not exactly a strange statement for an American male to make, but it needs to be stated nonetheless. I don't remember too many things from my earliest years of life (unlike my sister, who seems to remember most of the details from her kindergarten experience); but the first sporting event I do remember attending was in August of 1993, part of the magical World Series run for the Philadelphia Phillies. Ever since, baseball has been my first sporting love, and the Phillies have been my team. I may have only been 5, but I remember seeing Veterans Stadium roar with excitement for the eventual Phillies win over the Mets.

I stuck with baseball and the Phillies even after Mitch Williams lost Game 6 of the World Series. (It took 15 years, but I finally did forgive Joe Carter.) I stuck with baseball through 1994, even though I remember listening to the last game before the strike on a small radio under my covers at our family's rented beach house in Ocean City, New Jersey - I remember little else about my time down the Shore that year, but I remember the announcers becoming very concerned that the game on August 11 would go past midnight as the game between the Phillies and Mets went into extra innings, and whether the impending strike would affect the game's outcome. (Ricky Jordan's single in the 15th scored Billy Hatcher, the game finished by midnight, and the players struck afterwards.) I stuck with baseball through the replacement players, and I stuck with the Phillies through what I like to call "The Matt Beech Years". Truth be told, you could fill in 100s of names for Mr. Beech to represent the futility of the Phils from 1995 through 2006, but I stayed a fan nonetheless. 2008 was a wonderful year for me, as I experienced three incredible events within the span of about 10 days in State College, PA: sandwiched by the postgame Beaver Canyon riot after Penn State upset Ohio State in football (now known as "The Devlin Game") and the presidential election (more on that in a future post), I enjoyed Game 5, Part 2 of the World Series at a friend's apartment and rejoiced as Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, breaking the Phillies' 28 year championship drought and Philadelphia's 25 year championship drought.

I've become a fan of many other sports since 1993: football (both college and pro) would probably be my close second, but I also enjoy basketball, hockey, soccer, golf, tennis, horse racing, and pretty much anything shown during either Olympics. But it's still baseball that remains my number one passion, and the Phillies my number one team.

That's great. What's the deal with the title?
Oh, right, the title. In baseball, non-pitchers usually take a long time to go from high school or college to the majors. After being drafted, players have to navigate the Gulf Coast League, short-season A ball, low A, high A, AA, and AAA levels. Then, and (usually) only then, can a player reach "The Show".

While I haven't spent enough time yet in the planning field to know for sure, I can already tell that there are definitely some parallels between planning and baseball. For one, there is a long road to the top, with many levels (Planner I, Planner II, Planner III, Senior Planner, etc.) before you can really reach "The Show". Not that the introductory levels are without importance...but the fact is that most of the attention from the public when it comes to planning issues goes to the top people in each planning department or firm.

There's nothing wrong with this system, normally. However, thanks to the giant ongoing economic slowdown/meltdown/crash/recession/double-dip/cluster%#$*, the hiring for new planners has pretty much been at a standstill for the last few years. It would be as if baseball teams suddenly decided that since their gate revenues went down dramatically, they would stop drafting new players and only slowly replace old players. Again, this typically wouldn't be a problem, though to make the analogy even more complete and applicable to today's situation, our pretend baseball world would have to have a sizable proportion (let's say 15%) of its franchises fold completely, flooding the employment...uh, I mean free-agent...market with experienced veterans. If a baseball team had to choose between a veteran and a rookie to fill a spot on their squad, they would typically choose the veteran.

I totally understand that this scenario is being replicated across many, many industries and sectors. That's why we're still in a massive economic slump; no matter what the "official" unemployment rate may say, there are tens of millions of people in the United States either completely without work, without enough work, or overqualified for what they are doing. (There have been a bevy of columns on this phenomenon recently; here's one from someone I normally don't agree with. Say it with me, now: more on that in a future entry.)

Here's the personal example. I applied for an entry-level Planner I position in Cedar Rapids, Iowa earlier this month. They were kind enough to write me back after the application deadline had passed to tell me that there were 181 applicants, including (and I'm quoting directly from their message): "
many [who] are currently or previously were upper level Planner IIIs, managers or directors". About a week later, I received a notice that I was not part of the top 15 for additional screenings. According to the letter, "this is not a reflection on your abilities, but a result of the tremendously talented and experienced applicant pool for this position." This would be akin to AA, AAA, and major leaguers accepting a new position as 10th man on a high A farm team in, well, Cedar Rapids. This simply doesn't happen during normal times, which is why I'm here now in the position I'm in.

YOUR BLOG NAME! Why "Five Tool Planner"???
OK, OK. Now I think I can explain the name. See, really good prospects in baseball are known as "five-tool players". These are the guys that can "do it all" in baseball; the generally recognized five tools are hit for contact, hit for power, run, throw, and field.

I've done everything I could so far in preparation for my professional life. I have stellar grades from respected institutions, I have multiple examples of relevant work experience, and
I have the right mix of extracurriculars. In short, I believe I would normally be a very high draft pick into the planning profession.

I've been thinking about whether there are "five tools" in planning, and what they might be. I've settled on this list for now:
  • Read
  • Write
  • Think
  • Speak
  • Act
I hope to write much more about each of these in the future, and how I feel I excel at each. (Yes, it may seem self-serving and bragging, but someone has to do it for me.) I can't say that I'm perfect at each of these, but I feel that I have the talent to succeed in the planning profession using these tools.

(The "five tools of planning" could also mean actual physical tools; look for these to become a site logo in the near future. And with that, I've satisfied the requirement that a blog title mean at least two things.)

Alright, you got me. So what about the subtitle?
Well, this introductory post is getting a little long, so I'll save the full explanation for a future post. Suffice it to say that A) yes, those are song lyrics and B) while I have my professional life in prime position to get started, I'm still searching for "myself". (Hey, I'm 23; isn't that expected?)

Great. Final question, then - what are your plans for this blog?
Glad you asked. This blog will be my site to put my long-form writings that go well beyond the 140 characters I have to play with on my typical "sharing thoughts with the world" location: Twitter. I have a list of possible entries to start with, as well as those places in this first post that I noted needed further explanation. I will try to be as open as I can, but I can't go completely crazy; I expect this to at least resemble a professional blog and will keep myself at least minimally censored. However, I'm an opinionated extrovert, so expect at least something interesting to read.

I don't plan on posting on any regular schedule right now; instead, I would ask you to either subscribe to my RSS feed (available in the sidebar) or check on Twitter for new posts. I set up an account to post whenever I post, so follow that, won't you? That may evolve over time into something else, but for now I'm keeping it simple.


I hope you found the introductory FAQ worthwhile, and I hope to see you around the blog. Thanks for reading, and your comments are welcomed. Here we go!

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