The Totem

There’s something weird that happens when a company embraces vulnerability.

As a work term student, I am always vulnerable. Where I don’t have the knowledge and experience that the people around me possess, I can get more things wrong, I am less trusted in some regard. I am inherently the “bottom of the totem pole”. This is a reality for any intern or work term student in any industry, no matter how much I, or anyone, tries to deny it.

So, being at the bottom of the totem pole, I see the everyday workspace from a difference perspective. Instead of being the eagle at the top who can see the world clearly far and wide, I am usually the exasperated looking totem face on the ground who has two options: either I can see the narrow path in front at ground level, or choose to look up to those I aspire to be.

Many totem poles are either so huge that it’s impossible to see all the way to the top, so that the top can’t see you either. Vigilant’s is gratifyingly small and the top is close enough that I can look up and see those above me, and they can peak down to see and acknowledge me as well.

But a totem pole is a tall, strong structure, hand crafted from hours upon hours of hard work and dedication. What does it have to do with vulnerability? Well, a structure as tall and thin as a totem pole would never survive… if it wasn’t for a strong base.

Vigilant knows construction, and thus, must believe that a strong base is crucial. A very important thing that Vigilant does that many others in the construction industry do not is give strength to their base. Their bottom of the totem pole, the most vulnerable of the tower, so that the whole team can become stronger.

That weird thing that happens when a company embraces the vulnerability of their “bottom” instead of trying to protect themselves from it? They become genuine. A genuine company? I know, weird, right?

They make sure that every member of their team, from top to bottom is respected, accepted and connected. This trust, the trust that all of us share that the team is doing the best work we can for one another creates unity, which in turn heightens the quality of the company’s work. But, more importantly to us, the sense of community improves the quality of life of the person doing the work.

Make no doubt that I have been embraced here. This being my second work term, there was barely any learning curve - I just got swung into the thick of things. Vigilant did not need to state that they thought I was important to them, I just knew I was. How could I not when they trusted me with so many important tasks and projects that made me gain incredibly valuable experience from the very first hour until the last every day; when they treated me and everyone else to free lunch almost weekly; when they listened to what I had to say. There’s a reason we do that here, because we genuinely care and look out for one another, and want to see ourselves thrive together.

They did not try to protect me from failing by giving me easy tasks, instead they pushed my boundaries and taught me how to fix my mistakes. And teach they did. The feedback I would receive was transparent, professional, respectful, and motivating. Anything I did wrong was turned into a positive situation. That is what I mean by embracing vulnerability. By acknowledging what went wrong and sharing how to fix it in a positive manner. I learned more, those who mentored me leaned valuable teaching skills, and as a team we reached a higher level of understanding and trust.

So Vigilant, as I leave with all of the valuable ideas and skills that you have given me I leave you with this: As your totem pole grows taller and taller, keep letting that eagle look far and wide, but no matter how high you reach, never, ever forget to look down. Not only will those at the bottom be forever grateful, but your base will continue to strengthen so that you never collapse, and can continue to be a beacon of what an organization should be so that others can follow your guiding light.

Thank you Vigilant, thank you so much.

-Adam