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Tomorrow I embark on what will hopefully be a two year journey that will lay the foundation for a new destination for myself and tangentially my family.  I don’t like posting too much personal stuff here because well, whatever, but I’ll blurb a little now.

Editing a cartography layer with the gvSIG 1.0

Editing a cartography layer with the gvSIG 1.0 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For six years I was – and to some degree still am – a stay-at-home father.  This was by choice.  My wife and I agreed before our first child was born that one of us would stay home, and it made sense at the time for that person to be me.  This past year though I really began to re-evaluate things.  I felt compelled and drawn to re-enter the world of the employed, but two things held me back.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do and worse, my resume wasn’t great – six years out of work (besides occasional part-time work) and a lot of moving around.  After a lot of prayer, reflection and job searching, I still felt led to go back to work.  My desire and goal was to become the primary income provider.  As it happened, my wife had begun to feel similar opposite goals, especially as she warmed to the idea of me working – that she wanted to become a stay-at-home mom (or at least work very little).  Massaging my resume into something respectable (all while not lying one whit) we came to the conclusion that management of some sort was doable as it offered something I could get into at a ground level and work forward and upwards.  Pizza Hut was willing to give me a chance, and while I stuck it out, giving it my best, I quickly came to the realization that this just wasn’t it.  I was frustrated, stressed, tired and dejected.  Worse, my wife’s stress was growing too, and the strains were showing in our family with the children in various ways.

Now, to be sure, there are many people who no doubt find themselves in exactly the same situation or one very similar and find that this is it, there is no other option; they make it work, no matter how much it strains their family.  My only thought and prayer is that people in those situations don’t give up hope or trying to find better options and opportunities.

I began reflecting and praying again, all the while finding my personal query changing.  No longer was I asking God and myself what I should be doing; but, what did I want to do?  I began asking “what if”, and willing myself not only to think unrestrained, but to look back while looking forward.

When I was a kid I was a dork… I still am.  When I was a kid, a young teen in fact, I wanted to be a map maker, a cartographer.  Now, most kids dreams of what they want to be when they grow up seem to change as often as they change their undies, but the idea of working on/with maps always stuck with me.  For various reasons, I dropped cartography as a career goal, mostly out of fear and laziness to be honest.  I moved on.  I settled… it’s what I’ve been good at.  But, the interest in maps never waned.  For nearly three decades, maps have always adorned the walls of my bedrooms and homes.  In high school my bedroom was plastered with maps that came as inserts in National Geographic magazines.  Right now in my basement there are over a dozen maps hanging on the walls.  I like art and even have a modicum of natural ability at it – which I don’t use (another story I’m not telling) – and I find beauty and art in maps, even when mundane.

Over the last six years or so I’ve given consideration to going back to school for cartography a couple of times but it felt like a flight of fancy and besides, there were more cons than pros in the tally sheet for doing it.  That all changed this past fall however.  Somewhere over the summer or fall I learned about Geographical / Geospatial Information Systems or GIS.  Sometimes Intelligence is used instead of Information and sometimes Science is used instead of Systems (though a c is usually tacked onto the S and the science usually revolves around the theory and academic aspects of the field, but I digress into minutia…)

It was as if the Lord was laying it all out in front of me as many of the cons turned to pros and what once looked like an impossible and unreasonable dream now felt within reach.

And now, in another day I begin my first day of class online towards getting a Masters in GIS.

Things have not gotten easier.  In fact they’ve gotten harder and may get harder yet, but though the financial strains have increased, the stresses on our family as a unit have decreased and we continue to lean on the Lord as we walk forward in trust while acting.  As I told a friend, it has been as if I’ve been sitting beside a stream for a very long time and am finally jumping in.  I’m wading in, perhaps across…  I know the stream.  Now is the opportunity.  I’ve regretted passing by too many things out of fear.  I don’t want to grow old regretting this opportunity as something that I could have done but didn’t.

I start this new direction with excitement but trepidation.  How many of us haven’t done similarly in many things in our lives?  How many of us have just decided to sit beside the stream our whole lives; beside lots of streams?  Education.  Career.  Love.  Faith.

I have found continually that the Lord always provides.  I’m a schmuck.  I’m no great person, certainly not of any means nor any great ability or stature, but I’ve realized time and again that I have been continually blessed.  My needs have always been met, and sometimes I’ve even gotten more than I need.  So, I don’t know how exactly, but I believe that everything will work out, to God’s glory.  Doesn’t always feel that way when we look at the bank statement, but we’ve seen enough in hindsight to remind ourselves to continue to step out in faith.

And what about that GI thing again?  Gastro-intestinal something was it?  It’s in everything.  It’s a tool used by many as part of a multitude of jobs, it’s a field of specific career, study and theory.  In nut-shell layman’s terms, it’s modern map-making.  Your Garmin, Google Maps, whatever map app you have on your phone, your municipality, county, state, federal government, utility companies, defense contractors, the petroleum industry, biologists, botanists, the health industry, and on and on.  If people need to turn data into a spatial representation, a map, then GIS is being used.  And it’s only going to get used even more so over the next few years.  The field continues to grow and there is a belief that it will grow to an extent that most people will learn to and have to use GIS to some degree in their daily lives.

A saying that gets floated around a lot in GIS is, “everything is somewhere”.  GIS maps it.

Want to learn more about GIS?

- ESRI is one of the foremost developers and leaders in GIS.  Most people turn to them for their GIS software needs.

- The USGS‘s “poster” on the topic.

- There’s a yearly GIS Day.  Find an event near you next year.

Most colleges and universities are now offering at least one course in GIS and a growing number are offering some level of degree or certification. Even better, many are now offering fully online master’s programs, allowing one to get a degree in GIS even easier.

GIS has been around for 50 years – or more depending upon how you look at it – though it’s only really begun to develop in the last thirty years and even then, only in the last decade has it really begun to take off. Only a few years ago did the US Dept. of Labor officially recognize GIS as a career field.

Want more information?  It’s out there.  Do a web search on GIS, geography, cartography and more.

Being a dork rocks.