Our Authority Problem

If you ask me, that’s what we’re all doing here. For a profession that has everything to do with other people, tour guides and docents are the most independent people I know.

We learn our stories on our own, we practice them on our own. We decipher our own paperwork and answer our own phone calls. Then we write our own tours, decide the route and the timing. When we mess up it’s our mess and when we rule the school – we take all of that credit for ourselves.

Our continuing education is done on our own most of the time. We decide on the lectures and check out library books. We’re the connection before, during and after the tour and hot damn, don’t tell us there’s another way to do it.

We don’t like to be told how to do our job, where to do our job or really anything about our job at all. We got it. Trust us.

This freedom to do our own work is what attracted me to being a tour guide, I don’t like to be micro-managed. I’d rather be up on my feet and outside than at a desk any day. I love picking out the route that I think is best and deciding the order of my stories and where and how.

There is a downside to our autonomy.

We close ourselves off to the businesses and people who want to help us in our cities and our towns.

We close ourselves off to each other, afraid that another guide might steal our idea or siphon off guests. I myself am guilty of this – fear of other guides and their talents, forgetting that last year Chicago had 50 million tourists. I think there’s enough for everyone.

I respect our problem with authority, really, this is why I love my job.

But I’m also learning that I really dig getting to know other guides and docents. I’m learning from them and in some cases, doing tours with them.

It was a great bonus for me to join the CTPA – the Chicago Tour Guide Professionals Association. It was nice to find people who understood me, who I could bounce ideas off of, who I could ask questions to.

We need community and we need each other. We can’t work in a vacuum.

Even if it’s not your instinct, see if you can’t reach out to a community, an association, a meet-up, a social group.

You may think you’re good all on you’re own, but in the words of Eddie Wilson in Eddie and the Cruisers, greatest movie of all time – “We need each other, words and music.”