Private Eyes are Watching Me

Taking a Closer Look at my Fears and Dreams as a Surveillance Investigator

Yep, that’s me, pretending like I am good with a video camera. It’s actually quite challenging to hold a small camera steady and zoom in and out quickly and effectively. I am still getting used to it! That little camera holder is a must though! So are my binoculars. I am wearing a hat because I have not showered yet. Why bother? I am sitting in a hot car all day. I’m also dressed like an athletic soccer mom because soccer moms look more normal and less suspicious. Want to learn more about my job and what it’s teaching me about myself? Read on!

It’s 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I drive into a sleepy suburban neighborhood.  The sun is shining and the birds are chirping.  It’s going to be a beautiful and sunny day!  

Too bad I will be sitting in my car all day.

The first thing I notice about the neighborhood is that there are no mature trees.  Shady spots are great to have for less glare, less heat, and more blending.  I slowly drive my elderly, nondescript SUV past the subject’s residence and quickly check to see if his vehicle is present.  

Unfortunately, there are no vehicles parked in his driveway.  Could they possibly be in his garage or did he leave already?  

I don’t know.  

A pit of doubt begins for form in my stomach.  Does the subject even live here? He has another recent address on a utility report.

As I turn from looking at his house, I see a man walking his dog who is already eyeing me suspiciously.  I can almost see him whipping out his phone and taking a picture of my license plate later, so I make a mental note to call the local police and let them know I will be working in the area today, but not be too specific with an exact location. 

I drive around a little more and try to find the best spot to park my vehicle to conduct surveillance, but then notice a “no parking this side of the street” sign and inwardly groan.  I pull a u-turn and try to find a less obvious spot to park my vehicle on the same side of the road as my subject’s residence, but not too far away, because I need good quality video.  I will have to pull a fast and stealthy u-turn in the event he becomes active and I need to “conduct mobile surveillance” (fancy phrase for following him in his vehicle).

I check my video camera and make sure I have the date and time stamp working properly. 

Finally, I ease the front passenger seat back, so that if a nosey neighbor walks past me, they will be able to look through to the other side window and not be able to easily see me sitting super upright in the driver’s seat.  I am thankful that at least I found one mature tree and that I have decent tinting on my windows.  

A new walker lady is heading straight towards my vehicle.  I shrink back into my seat, turn off my car, and hope she walks right on past me without looking in.  

I breathe a sigh of relief as she briskly walks past, engrossed in whatever she is listening to on her Air pods.

I settle back and take a long, cold stare at my subject’s garage, front door, and windows.  I watch and wait for even the slightest hint of activity.  I might wait for eight hours, or I might wait for 8 minutes.  The moment I take my eyes off that garage and front door is the moment I miss something interesting that I should be getting on video tape.  Good quality video tape is very important in the world of surveillance investigation.

I am finding that this part/full-time job is hard, interesting, boring, complicated, exciting, satisfying, and nerve-wracking at times.

This new career field is two years in the making and very different from my former career of working on public policy/politics in the public and private sectors. Blame in on Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, or the TV show Hunter back in the 80s, but for whatever reason I have always been interested in figuring sh*&%$^t out in general, and PI work specifically.

I’m finally giving PI a try!

But here is where things take an interesting twist: 

What I thought might be a means to an end (gaining my PI license) has turned into something more than that: God is using this job to show me that I have many unhealthy fears that are subtly ruling over me.  I believe He wants to change me into a person who is not ruled by fear, able to let things go more easily, and is comfortable with less control, more change, more imperfection, and the unknown.  

But before I get into all of the introspection, below are a few things I am enjoying about my job as a surveillance investigator:

  • I am paid to spy on people and determine the truth about a subject.  My job is to record (and hopefully videotape) the activities of people who are alleging that they are unable to work.  Do they claim to have an elbow injury that renders them incapable of work, yet they have a job lifting boxes out of the back of a van?  Do they have a landscaping truck parked in their driveway yet claim to have a back injury and are getting paid worker’s compensation by another landscaping company?  I try to figure out if people committing insurance fraud, among other things.
  • I am learning a ton about the PI world and investigation in general. From finding information about the subject on public sites, to figuring out what a recent utility report means, to learning how to successfully perform mobile surveillance, etc.
  • I have learned the importance of living an honest life.  My job is to prove the truth. Sadly, so far, most of my claimants have not been truthful.  One man was walking with a visible limp due to a knee injury. Good for you bro!  Seems like working would be hard for you.  But most people I surveil seem to healed of their injury yet are still enjoying free money (and some are working other jobs).  This position makes me so grateful for the simple and honest life that I live.
  • Speaking of reports, I have learned how to write them!  More than that, how to serve a subpoena, how to read a comprehensive report, how to use my MacBook Pro and iPhone to my advantage, how to use Wondershare, how to use a covert camera disguised as a key fob, and the list goes on.  Do I love this tedious technology work?  Nope, not at all.  In fact, I hate it!  But it’s been good for me.  Using my brain in this way has made time go slower for me and it’s good exercise for my mind.  
  • There are great and helpful men out there!  Although my manager is a woman, I work with all men.  All of them have been so wonderful and helpful.  I have one co-worker who will literally read through all of my cases and help me figure things out.  Another one taught me a lot of little nuances that have been very beneficial to me when conducting mobile surveillance.  One sat with me on the phone for probably two hours trying to help me to figure out Wondershare.

So while I am thankful for the good things about this job, there are many more difficult aspects of this job as well.  I will not be writing about the difficulties of the job in this post, but rather, how this job exposes my many areas of weakness, most specifically my discomfort in the area of uncertainty and loss of control. Here are just a few areas of fear that I am currently becoming aware of:

Fear of a loss of control

I asked a very seasoned Surveillance Investigator what he loved about his job and he said “it’s different everyday.” You know what?  I am learning that I like things to be the same, so I can feel more in control of the situation, and so that I can navigate my job better and be more successful. 

This feeling of a loss of control is the hardest part about this job for me.  For example, I have no way to control what my subject does, his level of activity, or whether or not I will be able to obtain him performing various activities on video.  I can’t control if my subject drives his BMW 110 mph on the highway and quickly loses me struggling to keep up in my somewhat elderly SUV, or if he loses me in traffic due to a slow driver in-between us.  I can’t control if my subject’s version of “being active” means he goes to three different drive-through windows and then zooms right back into his garage, never to step one foot outside and I obtain zero video footage.

I am finding that the less control I have, the more anxiety it produces within me.  I kept noticing how my “stomach felt off” for several months before making the connection that I was just very anxious due to the lack of control I had over my job.  

Fear of the unknown  

This fear is the twin sister of the fear of loss of control.  If you don’t know what your subject is going to do that day, or if he is even actually living at the address you are surveilling, how can you feel confident and comfortable in your job?  Once your subject enters his vehicle and takes off, you have no idea where he is going and how far he will be driving.  He might even drive out of the state!  In our field, you need to “stay on your subject” even it means driving to a soccer tournament in Missouri. Yikes!

Fear of my own incompetence

This job has exposed that I have perfectionistic tendencies and that I don’t like learning a new job because it makes me “feel stupid.”  I have made many (usually) minor mistakes which I find embarrassing.  Although I have worked many part-time jobs over the years, this is my first almost full-time professional job in many years.  I am finding that I am behind the technology of our modern era, and in need of a major upgrade on all of my professional skills. 🙂

Fear of bosses

I like my boss and she’s great at what she does, but I sometimes find her style of communication to be difficult to read.  The way she communicates sometimes makes me “feel dumb” as she can lack grace or a sense of kindness as she communicates with me (or at least that is how I am perceiving her to be).  As a person who uses the smiley face emoji when I communicate via text in order to keep a positive vibe, this is hard for me.

Fear of wasting my time with this job  

I am also learning that it will be very hard for me to eventually get my PI license in the state of Illinois were I live. Why? Because I have to work full-time for one to two years (depending on how much time they knock off for my eduction) with a licensed PI firm or individual before I am even eligible to sit for the difficult PI exam. I am learning that surveillance investigation is one of the only ways to gain that investigative experience that I need before the exam. The other way to gain investigative experience is to latch onto an individual local PI (or local PI firm) who will train me on different forms of investigation and give me cases under their direct supervision.  I already tried that route and found it not feasible, though I am still open to going this route should the opportunity present itself. The bottom line is that if it turns out that surveillance investigation is the only way for me to gain the experience I would need, I don’t think I will be able to do it because I have been struggling with scoliosis my entire adult life, and sitting in my vehicle for long periods has been terrible for my back, legs, and overall health.

I sure hope that this job will not be a huge waste of time. But honestly, I have learned so much about both PI and myself that it will be worth it no matter what.

Fear of letting things slip with my kids

I am finding that the more hours I spend working, the less time I have for my husband and kids, and the management of my home (i.e. housework, which never dies). I find this to be stressful and the running to-do list in my head is always sending me mental text reminders.  I am always thinking about things I need to catch up on when I get home and how to connect with my kids.  I know every working mom knows how I feel and my troubles are small potatoes compared to some.

Which leads me to a conversation I had with my husband the other night.  

The other night Erik asked me if becoming a PI was my dream.  He said “if this is your dream, I will support you all the way.  If this is not your dream, it’s taking up a lot of time and it’s a strain on the family.  Time is flying and we are not getting any younger.  Figure out your dream and do it!”

Maybe his words were not that direct, but his words pierced directly into my heart.  He is correct.  If becoming a licensed PI is not ‘in the cards’ for me, or it’s too difficult for me to obtain in this season of life, then what am I doing?

His question led to other questions.  Here are four more:

If this job will not lead to my dream, why continue?

But what if I don’t know what my dream is?

Is PI work simply a part of a broader dream?

God, can you please show me what the heck my dream even is? And quickly please, because my back hurts.

One “potential dream” I have had in the back in my mind for many years is in the form of an idea to run for a political position one day.  I am currently doing nothing to advance that goal. Recently, the Alderman who lives in my neighborhood, whom I am friends with and have supported and worked for in the past, recently won her seat to our city’s Mayor position.  Good for her!  She encouraged me to apply for the Alderman position as she had to appoint one to take her place.  To make a long story short, I was not selected. Not getting selected threw me off and made me question what I am doing right now and whether or not this job is where I am supposed to be.  

So while I am waiting for further clarity, here is what I do know:

I am making progress on my many issues of fear, control, people-pleasing my boss, and more.

I am mainly doing this by asking myself deep and probing questions such as:

Heather, what are you really fearing?  What is the root?

Why are you trying so hard to stay in control?

What is the absolute worst that can happen if you cannot maintain control or you mess up in some way?

These questions have helped me to realize that my root fear of loss of control deals with my discomfort with not being good at something. That root boils down to a fear of rejection and my desire for acceptance from other people. I then apply what God would say about that fear.

God’s truth is that He loves me, He accepts me without any condition, He will help me, He is with me, and that He will work all things together for my good (even a job loss).  The worst that can happen in my job is that I will get fired and someone will completely reject me. I am trying to be comfortable internally with that possibility, even if it never happens.  

I can already tell a huge difference in my life since starting surveillance work over a year ago. I am no longer stressing out about things I cannot control. I just do the best I can and then pray about all the other areas that either don’t get done, don’t get done well, or that are above my pay grade. I can only be in control of myself. Everything else is not really my problem.

I can give everything else over to God and trust that He loves me and is working all things together for my good and His glory. Even when I think I have some level of control, it’s only a veneer anyway.

I will experience more peace if I do my best, and trust Him with the rest.

The bottom line of this post is this: I really don’t know where this job is going long-term, but I do know that it is being used in my life right now to change me into a more chill and relaxed but still a marginally Type-A person with goals and dreams, who is still trying to figure it all out. 🙂

In the meantime, if you see a nondescript car just sitting in your neighborhood with tinted windows, and it seems suspicious, it could be me just sitting there while I try to evaluate my life, my fears and my dreams. 

So come on over and knock on my window (everyone else does!) and say hello!

I probably need to use your restroom and stretch my back anyway!