Getting involved in a volunteer effort is more than just finding an awesome group you believe in. I’ve discovered that the talents that define some of my desirable traits as an employee happen to be the things people want from me as a volunteer. After being pursued for normal day tasks I’ve finally reached a couple of conclusions:
I’ve come to realize that I don’t want my volunteer hours to mimic my work hours. I don’t want to spend my time stuck doing data entry, creating standard operating procedures for some data set, or sitting by myself in front of a computer. When I volunteer I want to be participating in areas I enjoy but don’t get to explore in my current job. I want to be sitting talking things through with one or five people. I want to be active, engaged, and creating.
I am opting out of the physical labor efforts. I have picked up my fair share of trash and jumped in many a dumpster. I’ve helped move old rusty culverts from the river beds. I have removed the invasive species and gathered the native seeds. I now reserve my time with shovels and plants to my gardens at the house. It’s not a general aversion to physical labor it’s just I’m no longer 18 with tons of expendable energy and living in an apartment. I have land to invest my energy into that produces both beauty and sustenance.
In my world, my volunteer hours are different from my work hours… that’s the secret to engaging as a volunteer for me.
A new job, office culture, team (with 2 staff changes already), and an ever-evolving position had me a little apprehensive about my job review this time. It really didn’t help that I wrote up my accomplishments and had them immediately handed back for revision due to totally missing the mark (how many pages? wow.). I mean when you fail at writing your accomplishments for your review isn’t that a bad sign? Apparently, No.
The review went well, I’m on track, and she likes where we are going building the program. SCORE! I mean seriously, it’s 6 months in and there was a pretty huge culture shock (in a good way) so reading this group isn’t easy for me yet. The thing that got me though was the paragraph summaries of my work. The paragraph format of a “Gold Star” lasts a very long time for keeping me emotionally invested.
Words are my currency and when people customize something specific for me it makes all the difference in the world.
If you are brave enough… ask for recommendation letter. They are awesome as a snapshot in time. I still have some from high school even. My favorite though is from my last position, I asked the boss for a letter for a new project I was applying to. Her letter and her insights into my skills really opened my eyes to change my perspective. Skills I dismissed as “meh” she highlighted with respect. She had me pegged better than I could have described myself.
To me a personalized letter or evaluation with prose translates to more investment in my position than a coffee cup, lunch out, or a myriad of other things. But it’s not just words that matter, it’s a balance of what is most important to me- time off to spend with my loved ones and training.
Time off is self-explanatory but how is training a raise? Training allows me to expand my knowledge, to get to spend time with colleagues interested in similar skills, and honestly to get out of my cubicle. My varied interests are typically considered non-traditional for my position. Allowing me to explore new paths that intrigue me is something I truly appreciate. I understand the value of five work days. I know the opportunity cost. When a boss trusts me and allows that diversion from the software giant’s checklist of push button courses… that is a raise.
So today was a win- I received the bonus that means the most to me: thoughtfully written words and openness to my eclectic training plan for the year. It’s why I live the gov life.
Today I had the pleasure of listening to the director of our agency. He is a career government employee – so he gets being a GS-low# since he started as a seasonal (just about the time I was born). He recently dealt with being on the hot seat dealing with a lot of political focus. To many he represents not the elite of the management but the regular Joe/Jane reporting to work and serving the public.
Today he stood in front of a room of people looking to him for answers. One of the questions was simply stated as, “what is the future of civil service.” The stuffed room held people at different points of their careers. There are a large number deciding if and when to retire. There are the mid-career professionals deciding if they are going to hunker down or look around. There are the re-treads (like me) who have tried a few things and are on the inside but not yet in that steady “career” job. And there are those bright-eyed young graduate and undergraduate students hoping to turn their internship into something.
The first statement and last statement were predictable in that I’ve heard them a lot in the last 6 months…. “These are challenging times… we have been through worse and we will persevere while we take care of each other.” It’s the middle that got to me. It’s the moment that I thought- this, THIS is why there are hundreds of applications for civil service jobs. Here is the gist of it poorly paraphrased and entirely mangled by my very biased need for inspiration:
To be inspired and renewed we must go to the field. Locked in the offices and walking the hallways we do not always get to see the look on the public’s face as they experience the great wonder that is our public lands and heritage. We need to reconnect to our roots to keep inspired and moving forward. We need to remember the core of our mission for that is what will give us strength to get through these lean and divisive times.
Words such as these need to be uttered in every government building. We need to go back to the mission statements, the moment when you were a teenager and “knew” what you wanted to do, the wide-eyed college optimism where you could never fathom the actual career you’ve had. We need as a general civil service to forget the “do more with less” silliness and focus on our core reasons and essential tasks. Let’s keep our chins up.