Side Bar: One Year
I haven’t done a side bar in a while. Things are just so routine, working from home, and also tumultuous, that it’s hard to keep track! But I did want to take a moment to acknowledge this milestone. I survived one year in city hall! And holy wow–what a year. I can’t even get into the nitty gritty of it, but just the growth (along with the growing pains) has been tremendous.
Early on, a colleague who has been there for a really long time told me the work would flow between the ridiculous and the sublime and I think that captures exactly what it is like to be in this type of government work. And starting a new job after being comfortable in my old one; a job where I was seen as a leader with expert knowledge, required a lot of flexibility and acknowledging a huge learning curve. The first few months didn’t flow as easy as I would have liked. I quickly realized that there had to be major re-aligning in how I approached my work in order to find a real routine and make progress. This is what I found helpful:
One. Eat. I was told that there was no such thing as 9-5 here and that’s true. It was also a jolt to my normal experience because the one thing my old firm had was a fantastic work life balance. The placed cleared out by 5:30, no one batted an eye! Now my hours are packed and it was a doozy the first few weeks trying to work a 12-14 hours the same way I used to work a 8 hour day. After a few bumps (and migraines), I realized I needed to create more structure–a morning routine that would allow me to nourish myself for the long day ahead. I’m not a breakfast eater but having days where I don’t have a lunch break until 3pm, means I needed to get my ish together and eat a good breakfast. That made such a difference! Seriously, I was more alert (b/c I wasn’t starving!) and had more energy.
Two. Have Patience but Be Proactive. Imagine being the go-to for most things for years and years and suddenly you don’t know anything. That’s exactly what it felt like. Having never worked in government and not having a strong policy background, made my gap of knowledge seem so vast. I had to be patient with myself that there were things I just didn’t know, but also had to figure out what I didn’t know and identify ways to learn, quickly. I also had to acknowledge that there are many moving pieces, different voices, processes, history, all things that directly and indirectly impact my work. And that this was really different from what I was used to; as a practicing attorney, you generally have some autonomy and ability to make executive decisions. Here, many voices (so many voices!) have to be considered and the public at large are always at the forefront of consideration. It is completely different then what I was used to and had to learn patience in both this new process and in the fact that I was gaining a new skill.
Three. Value your voice. If anything, this time has taught me the importance of knowing what you contribute and the talents you have to offer. Of course not everything is for you to offer an opinion or up for negotiation, but you do need to recognize when your input is necessary and what you offer from your perspective/experience. In this type of work, there is no space to be docile. It is easy to get overwhelmed by opinions being thrown at you and it is always, always easier to stay quiet. But I have had plenty of moments when I give myself a little “animo, animo” pep talk to remind myself that my expertise and analysis is important. There is no point in sitting at the table if you are going to be silent. Understanding when, where, and how to speak up is an on-going process but it is something you must continuously work on.
I don’t even want to imagine what year two could bring, but I’m excited for it and if anything I know it will be another year of growth.