No Man Is an Island

If the groundwater industry is going to survive, we must be willing to help others.

By Gary Shawver, MGWC

I had a young water well contractor seek my advice on a project he was undertaking he had little expertise in.

He needed to borrow a stabilizer from my former company and the general manager was kind enough to loan him the tool. He then sought my input. He was going to fluid drill a hole and didn’t quite have a large enough mud pump on his rig to easily get the project done. I suggested he seek expertise from a drilling fluids product company that could provide the right fluid to drill the well successfully.

Early in my career I had faced the same dilemma and sought such expertise. This young contractor did just that and the project was a complete success.

Over the years I’ve learned that solving problems, be it drilling or otherwise, is often best accomplished by getting advice from people who’ve had those experiences. I call them mentors.

I had many mentors in my time in business, and without them it would have been difficult to get to the next level of professionalism. Time and again, one mentor was able to lift me up through their experiences and expertise and help me solve problems I was facing at the time.

The ability to get started in a business today is difficult and finding young people wanting to get started in any given business is even more difficult. If the groundwater industry is going to survive, we must be willing to help others who are seeking help or having problems. This industry is loaded with people with experience and great ideas that will make this industry easier to navigate.

Finding Mentors

We take history in school not only to teach us about our past, but in theory, help us learn what didn’t work and what did work so we can get to the next level without having to navigate those pitfalls. Often though, we don’t learn the hard lessons of history without enduring those lessons ourselves. That’s part of human nature.

As I went through the years in the industry and began finding some new techniques that were either highly efficient or solved a difficult problem, I often hesitated to share a particular technique in fear of helping a competitor.

I’ve learned that solving problems, be it drilling or otherwise, is often best accomplished by getting advice from people who’ve had those experiences.

But as time went on, it was easier to share as I looked back and remembered the mentors who had shared with me and helped my career. And yes, there are those who will appreciate it and be a good competitor and there are those who won’t. But as time goes along, gaining this perception of people is also another experience one will learn.

So where does one find these mentors? By networking and going to conventions, taking in seminars—in essence, pulling yourself from the jobsite and putting yourself out there.

Early in my career, I listened to a lot of motivational speakers on cassette tapes in my vehicle on my way to see a customer. One of those speakers was Tony Robbins, a well-known motivational speaker still giving talks today.

On one of his early tapes, Robbins made the statement he wanted to become successful, so he decided he would start going to all kinds of seminars given by successful people. He stated some were not as good as others, but if he picked up just one thing that helped him, it was worth his time.

Being a Mentor

One of my mentors, who was successful, used to lead a lot of sessions at national water well conventions and state shows. It wasn’t long, though, that I began seeing him less and less. I asked him one day why he didn’t speak as often and he told me, “The people who need to hear what I have to say don’t come to the conventions. They think they know everything and don’t think they can learn anything, so why waste my time?”

Frankly, his words are pretty true. But we must keep going. Conventions, shows, and other professional development opportunities are where one finds mentors and tips to make their journey through the industry successful.

Early on, I was too busy and we had lots of work and little time to go to many conventions. Then the recession of the 1980s hit and I had all kinds of time. In fact, that is when I first heard that speaker, later one of my mentors. He impacted me the first time I heard him—saying something that really stuck and kept me focused my whole career.

He stated (and, remember this was in the early ’80s): “I did a study on the efficiency of the water well drilling aspect of our industry and found we spend 30% of our time drilling and 70% of our time doing everything else.”

He meant the other 70% was setting up, tripping, installing casing, etc. As we get paid by the foot, we were spending only 30% of our time generating income. He then asked, “Just think if we could just increase that percentage by 10%?” Wow! His statement made me always striving to figure out how our crews could be more efficient on the jobsite. That focus truly stayed with me my whole career.

To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart, PI refers to the pumps chart, and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOL-4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12; PIG-2; GOJ-4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12 More information on DACUM and the charts are available at and click on “Exam Information.”

I started making the time to go to as many conventions and seminars as I could. I met many people over time I connected with who I felt I could call when I needed a “hand.” Most were more than willing to help and I am eternally grateful to them.

As I got further along in my career, I realized no matter how long you’re in the water well industry, you don’t know everything about it, and you certainly don’t know what Mother Nature is going to dish up when you start “turning to the right.” I coined a phrase later in my career I still use: “When you think you know everything about Mother Nature, she will humble you in a hurry!” And that she will.

It is important one finds the time for professional development. Education is never free or cheap, but neither is losing a hole or a string of tools down the hole. The more experiences one has in life, the more whole a person is. Get those experiences from others if you can, and find a shortcut on that learning curve early on.

I often wonder if someday there will be a “national bulletin board” where people within the industry will post their areas of expertise where they are willing to share ideas with those in need. There are many areas people have gained expertise in that would be of benefit to those needing help.

Lessons learned need to be shared with the next generation of those who will carry on this great industry. Whether you are the person who has that experience to share or whether you are that person who needs to seek advice—be willing to step out and get off your island.

Gary Shawver, MGWC, is president of Shawver Well Co. Inc. in Fredericksburg, Iowa. He has been in the water well industry for 40 years and is a Master Groundwater Contractor. He has served as president of the Iowa Water Well Association, the Iowa Groundwater Association, and most recently served on the NGWA Board of Directors. Shawver is semi-retired, having sold his business to his employees. He contributes to NGWA’s member e-publication and can be reached at