Like many of you have experienced, the current pandemic has created down time in my schedule that I have not had in years, which has given me an opportunity to reflect on an almost 25-year career in public service and think about the next 15.
Reflections: I have a wide and varied career that I am proud of, even if much of it was not as envisioned or planned in the beginning. I had the opportunity to work in three different states for six different municipalities and one non-profit, of all types, sizes and organizational cultures. Each one of those experiences taught me new skills, enriched me with new friendships, personal and professional, and gave me insights into different regions of the country and different ways of thinking.
More important, sometimes, than a grand overarching career plan is to be open to opportunities that come and to embrace these. One good example is when I left a job in Kansas to start over again in Pennsylvania. It takes courage to move across the country to an unfamiliar place and build a network of friends and colleagues. It takes even more courage to leave all of that behind after 10 years to do it again. Those moves and those opportunities grew my career, but more importantly, grew my friendships. I have a phenomenal and diverse group of friends that I keep in touch with and who keep me grounded and have been my champions.
Resiliency: Not every career move went the way I envisioned. I have been a manager in transition. It is a humbling experience to lose a job for any reason – politics or a pandemic-induced reductions in force.
The experience taught me tremendous empathy for others who might find themselves in transition. It also taught me resilience. I had a family to support, so staying in bed with the covers pulled over my head was not a viable option…at least not for very long. Nor was it how I wanted my story to end. I have three children who might one day have a morning when they do not want to get out from under the covers, either, and I want them to think: “Mom got up, so I better get going.” I also take pride in being an empathetic ear and being an example to colleagues that one can rise again.
You will have setbacks and obstacles. Maybe you are experiencing them now as we navigate this challenging time. How you handle the challenges redefines moments. Do you act gracefully? Do you get up, get going and figure it out? As I said to my children when they did not want to move from a community they had grown to love,“We go forward from here.” Building personal resiliency is important, you are quite likely stronger than you think, and better things await you.
Reinvention: Reinvent yourself and your career as many times at it takes until you get where you want to be. We can get caught looking at our friends’ and colleagues’ careers with envy or trying to measure our success against preconceived plans. Don’t. Your career is yours. Choose what brings you joy and fulfillment, regardless of what others are doing. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the passion is not there anymore. Don’t be afraid to fail.
I have been able to reinvent myself and my career a few times. I started in a nonprofit working to help immigrants settle in to new communities. I then evolved into neighborhood service delivery and community engagement before getting on a more traditional path towards city management. I recently made another change into executive recruiting and management consulting. I followed a passion for public service, said “yes” to opportunities that challenged me, and ultimately let go of what was not working.
A quote by John Gardner has been taped by my computer for decades that serves as a reminder and touchstone for me:
"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something."
I believe in resiliency and reinvention. I encourage you to take some time to pause and reflect on your career. If you are not quite where you want to be or are no longer finding joy in it, consider reinventing yourself, and do it as many times as necessary.