Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Journey of 1,000 Miles Beings with One Step


A month ago, I started my new journey as a federal employee. I took my oath, was handed countless papers, flyers, and binders to look through in my spare time, and received my own personal laptop (which is such a nice change from the ridiculously old desktop I had at my last position).
Beyond the typical feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed, I’ve been rather content in my transition. Most notably, my Fitbit is showing that my resting heart rate has dropped significantly since I left state service, which suggests to me that my stress level, particularly at my last position, was taking a toll on my health. This job has its own stress; however, the deadlines are more self-imposed by my unit than by an outside entity like a court. The workload is much more professional than work I’ve performed before, and it’s almost all completed electronically. This bodes well for my desk, which in so many past positions has been a cluttered mess of paper.

I was assigned to train with one particular coworker, though my supervisor and other colleagues have been very friendly and helpful in answering questions and showing me where things are. I have a better understanding of what is expected of me, though I am still a bit overwhelmed by the steep learning curve. There is a lot to remember about the process and each step along the way; however, my supervisor has assured me that it can take a year or so to learn everything.

The one con I have noticed is the lack of effort for the PMF program. I sit next to a fellow PMF from the 2017 class and he has told me that a lot of the program requirements are things you have to do on your own. Finding a mentor, a rotation, and completing an IDP are all things he mostly has done on his own without much guidance or assistance from his supervisor, unit, or even the PMF coordinator for the agency. That’s disheartening as one of the things that attracted me to this program was the amount of training and mentoring that it purported to provide. That said, I had read previously that often agencies use the PMF program to fill a need, and I can’t really blame them since I am using the program as a foot in the door with the feds.

I consider myself a fairly resourceful person though, so I don’t think I will find it difficult to figure things out of my own. My supervisor has tried to be helpful, but has a very busy schedule and not much time to go over things. That said, there are many things I really like about the agency in general. There’s a gym that I’ve joined (though I’m struggling to find time to actually go), they offer flexible work schedules (including a 9 day schedule, for which I signed up), and the campus is large, so on nice days I can go for a walk.

I do have a love/hate relationship with that 9 day work schedule though. I’m an early bird, so I try to get in as early as possible so I can get home earlier in the evening. I’ve been pushing myself to get here by 6:30 and I’m finding myself exhausted by the end of the day. I had great plans for the summer with kiddo, taking her places on my Fridays off, but instead I mostly just do laundry and try to recuperate from the grueling weeks. The one plus is that when I have to take her for visitation with her father, I don’t have to sit in traffic for an hour on the way home from work and then sit in it again for 2 hours to take her to and from. That’s the main reason I picked this schedule, so I could be off on the Fridays kiddo goes to her dad’s.

All in all, I’m happy with the decision I made to join the federal work force and I’m excited to see what the next two years bring!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Legacy


My time at my current position is quickly coming to an end, and with it, my state employment. In the past 2.5 years, I have worked to turn my little unit from a thorn in the side of our fiscal unit into a compliant, well-functioning model. I've worked hard to correct the less than stellar legacy my predecessor bestowed upon me, and I'm proud of all that I have accomplished. I have created a balanced budget to pass on to my successor and am content in the knowledge that I have worked hard to train her to the best of my ability.

I think it is safe to say that most people try to leave something better than they found it, notwithstanding our current presidential administration. However, what I have found difficult in these past few months of training my successor is how difficult it is to leave, knowing that your legacy is about to be completely destroyed. I can only imagine how President Obama felt when he saw the election results and realized that all he had built was about to be unraveled. My situation is nowhere near as nationally (or even locally) important; however, it’s still a tough pill to swallow. That’s not to say my successor is incapable or incompetent; however, I have felt the strength of her resistance to learn and comprehend all that I have trained her on because she simply has no desire to perform the work. She has stated, many times, that she was hired for a specific position and, truth be told, it is a position she is well-qualified for given her expansive experience in that particular area, and no other.

In addition to the headache that has been this unproductive training, I also find myself at the wrong end of what borders between obtuseness/tone deafness and outright condescension/rude behavior. A newer attorney we have recently hired has made it no secret that she thinks I am making a mistake, which likely serves her benefit more than mine as my area of expertise here more coincides with her position than that of my successor. I received an email from her recently that surmised that I would “miss the hustle” of my current position. This woman has known me all of 2 months and seems to falsely equate being good at one’s job with enjoying one’s job. I’m very good at what I do, but I’ve hated it for the last 2.5 years (which, coincidentally, falls within the timeframe I’ve been with this particular agency)! That said, her use of the word “hustle” to describe the grossly simplistic task she had asked me to perform was hilarious.

Suffice it to say, I am very much ready to move on from the so-called “hustle” and further my career. Even were I to find my new position boring, which I do not anticipate, the benefits of the federal government far outweigh anything the state could provide. Still, I do find myself a little sad to leave the administrative aspect of my position. I am truly proud of all that I accomplished in the short time I was in this position and I only wish that I could trust the legacy I leave behind would sustain my successor’s apathetic attitude.

On the bright side, I will be taking some time off between positions to relax and fully recuperate from the grueling schedule I followed during grad school. I have told my successor that I am available should she need me during that time, but honestly, I don’t know how available I will be. I need some time off to decompress and release some of the negativity that has been building in me since I first started working at this position and I think taking the time off to fully “cleanse my palate” so to speak before embarking on the next chapter in my career makes a lot of sense. I’m looking forward to spending some time with my daughter, cleaning the house, and resting!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"There is no real ending..."

It's just the place where you stop the story."
-Frank Herbert

I have many stories that are ending. I finished my final project for graduate school and am just waiting on a grade. Currently, I have a 100% in my last class though, so I am not worried. I also have received an offer for a PMF position in Baltimore, which I hope to start in June. With this ends my time, not just at my current position, but at the State level of government as well.

However, in addition to endings, there are new beginnings. The program I just completed has opened up a world of possibilities for me, and I appreciate the opportunity I had in being accepted into the program as well as the success I found in completing it. While I have a tentative offer that I hope will become final once I can prove I completed the master's program, I have kept my options open and have found interest throughout many different arenas. I was actually offered two PMF positions; however, by the time the second offer came through, I was already pretty set on the first and I turned down the second. I also have interviewed for state positions, one of which is making the choice to move on to the federal government more difficult than I expected. Short term, the state position would give me many benefits, but long term, I know the PMF program is more beneficial for my future.

Regardless of my future path, it is wonderful to know that I have these options, that I have a bright future ahead of me, no matter what I choose. In the past, when I've had to choose between career paths, they haven't always been the happiest of choices, and sometimes I feel like I've chosen based on the devil I know, rather than the devil I don't. I don't feel that way now. Instead, I feel like no matter what path I choose, I'll be happy, successful, and fulfilled.

Recently, I've attended a few events at my university to celebrate the end of the program and my accomplishments. First, there was a PMF reception, where I met the president of my college who used to be the secretary of the agency that oversees the program I will be joining as a PMF. Then, there was an event inducting new honorees into an honor society; a society which I had actually made a personal goal to join when I first found out about it. I noticed students last year at graduation were wearing medallions or stoles and I was curious as to why. When I discovered the honor society and the criteria for being inducted, I made it my mission to earn a spot!

Through all of this, my husband and my daughter have been so amazingly supportive and I know I could not have gotten so far without them. They both attended the honor society induction ceremony with me, and it meant so much to share that with them. We were also able to meet with the director of my program, and I found it amusing that my husband spent more time talking to her than I did, though he later confided that he knew my introverted self would be totally overwhelmed by the conversation!

I am excited for one ending in particular, our graduation, where I will finally meet many of my fellow graduates face-to-face for the first time. I was able to meet a couple of them at the honor society event, but I'm looking forward to meeting many more graduation weekend! Hopefully the friendships we have formed through this program will continue as I would hate to see those end with the end of our program.

Finally, I feel like I'm closing a chapter on a part of myself. I've been working in the legal field for my entire adult life in some capacity and none of the positions I've been offered are really related to that field. It's weird to know that I'm not going to be a paralegal anymore; however, I think I'm happy to move beyond that title. Growing and gaining new skills are important for career development and I think remaining tied to that skill set in my current position through a hybrid of skills is in many ways holding me back from growing and developing the way I want to. I will take what I learned with me, and I am sure I will never fully move away from the field as legislation and regulation dictate the work of government. However, I am looking forward to seeing what other public service I can provide throughout the rest of my career!

 "A sunset is nothing more and nothing less than the backside of a sunrise."
-Craig D. Lounsbrough

Monday, January 29, 2018

"I'd Rather Choke on Greatness

…than nibble on mediocrity." This was a meme I found over the weekend and it fits with my situation quite well. I’ve recently started having more issues at work than I have in the past. Let’s just say that not everyone is happy for me to have become a PMF finalist and I’m trying not to let their negativity rain on my parade. It’s been a struggle though and I’m trying to keep positive.

While I understand their point of view in that they are losing an employee they have come to rely on, it still hurts to feel like some of the people I work with are actively hoping I fail to find a position in this program. It’s been no secret that I would be looking to move on when I completed my degree. I’ve been up front and honest with them about that since I started, and yet somehow, it seems to be a shock to some that I’m openly seeking other employment.

To me, becoming a PMF finalist is an honor. It’s a reward for a lot of hard work and dedication that I’ve put into both my degree program and my career. To find a position as a fellow would be the epitome of all I’ve been working towards. It’s a federal position and everyone I’ve spoken to has told me if I can get a federal position, to go for it. They actually attempt to compete with the private sector, a feat the state cannot afford to do.

So often, I feel like I leave positions when I’ve had enough instead of just moving on to bigger and better things. I move onto those better things too, but it’s with a bitter aftertaste and a tainted view of former coworkers I used hold in utmost respect. Not every job has ended this way, but it seems more common among professionals I would describe as almost codependent. Individuals who are so needy and controlling that they’d rather sabotage someone’s happiness and future than be left behind. My entire office is filled with codependents on various points on the spectrum between dominant and submissive. An article I recently read sums up almost every person in my office, from the indecisive leadership at the top level, to the needy and insecure attorneys at a middle level, to the support staff who lack the support from above to make a real change in the dynamics.

Recently, I’ve had a few interviews for PMF positions I’ve applied to and I’m hopeful that a job offer will be coming in the near future. While I cannot start until almost summer due to the program requirements that I finish my degree, at least having an offer would give me the peace of mind of knowing that I’m almost out. The old saying or prayer to change the things I can’t accept and accept the things I can’t change needs a third option: if I cannot change or accept something, perhaps I need to remove that thing from my life.

Due to the reactions of a few individuals at work, I’ve refrained from sharing my excitement for the PMF hiring process and have decided to just wait until I have an offer in hand and can let them know my tentative start date (as any offer will be tentative following a background investigation). I’ve even stopped discussing school to preserve my own emotional and mental health, which saddens me because I want to share my journey and, up until recently, many of my coworkers wanted to share in it with me.


Regardless of what they think, I’m proud of myself and I’m looking towards my future with hope and faith that the best is yet to come.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fortune Favors the Bold

This year has held a lot of firsts. My first time running an office, my first time supervising someone, and my first time winning a fierce competition. It's been a busy year and now that it's winding down, I find myself exhilarated and exhausted. I've learned so much and faced so many challenges head on that I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by all that I've accomplished.

Nothing prepared me for the emotional roller coaster of this past week; however. The last few months have brought a few tragedies in the form of loved ones who have passed on. This past week, two people I knew and loved passed away. Between their deaths, I received some shocking news that brought so much joy and excitement.

First, a favorite performer at the local Renaissance Faire passed away following a battle, or "dance" as he called it, with cancer. He was inspirational and someone I greatly admired. The following day, I found out a competition I had entered back in October announced the results and I had won a spot! I will write more on that in a moment. A day or so later (the timeline is a bit of a blur), my husband found out his grandmother had passed. As I said, it's been quite the emotional roller coaster.

However, I am glad that the good news has helped me to balance out the bad. The competition I entered was a program called the Presidential Management Fellowship. It's a program that essentially helps graduate students get their foot in the door at the federal government. Grad students can apply within the year they are supposed to graduate and for two years following. Since I'm graduating in May, I figured I'd go ahead and give it a shot this year as after this year, I will have hit 10 years with the state and I will be less inclined to leave. The application period occurred around my birthday and the largest part of the application is an assessment that takes roughly 3 hours to complete. I had taken my birthday off, and I decided, somewhat begrudgingly, to take the test on my birthday.

After they had extended the test to allow individuals affected by the multiple natural disasters that had occurred this fall, the announcement date was pushed back a couple of times. I honestly didn't think I would be chosen because it is a very competitive program and when they finally made the announcement, they noted that they had received over 6,000 applications and had only chosen 425 people. I was astounded to discover I was one of the 425.

The battle isn't over yet; however, as finalists are not guaranteed an appointment. Now I have to apply for positions and attend interviews, just like a normal job application process. The program is for 2 years and after the 2 years, if you do well, most PMFs are converted to permanent positions in the federal government.

I have a year to find an appointment before my status as a finalist ends. I'm not 100% sure I want to leave the state because I am so close to my 10th year which will include an extra week of leave (I'm already vested with the state). The downside of switching to the federal govt. is that I cannot transfer my years of service. Apparently you can only transfer your years if you are moving down in government, such as from a state position to a county position. This is something to consider as I go through the process because right now I am set to hit 30 years around my 55th birthday, and I had planned to retire soon after. If I go to the federal government, I can take early retirement at 20 years with a penalty, or I can work for 30 years until I'm 65. Unfortunately, this won't really work for the plans my husband and I have as he is 7 years older than me and plans to retire at 65 himself. We want to retire to Mexico and I'd rather retire when I still feel young enough to really enjoy it.

Regardless of whether I accept a PMF position or not, I am honored to have been chosen as a finalist. I was looking at my last entry from this summer and I think this news is a nice complement to the Mediocre entry I wrote. I definitely do not feel mediocre now!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mediocre

Growing up, I lived in the shadow of my brother, literally and figuratively as I am a foot shorter than he is. He always got straight A’s, was involved in so many clubs and worked essentially a full time job in high school. My mother had a strong tendency to compare us, since we were only a year and a half apart in age. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” was a constant refrain in my life. I resented him for a long time, though really, I should have put the blame on my mother. My brother rarely acknowledged her comparisons except for the time he told me he chose to take Theatre as an elective because he figured if I could get an A in that class, anyone could.

My sister was also a better student than I was. Being the youngest, I had a lot to live up to, both in the eyes of my teachers and my mom. My father was never really involved in our education or our daily lives as he worked long hours and was rarely home. In a lot of ways, I resented the comparisons both at home and at school and I wanted to make my own mark on the world. However, it was difficult to make my own mark when I was at the same school as my brother up until he graduated.
Both of my siblings went straight from high school to college. They finished in the predetermined 4 years and my brother went directly onto his masters and then his PhD. My sister worked as a school teacher while acquiring her masters. They have both completed their respective advanced degrees. My sister still works as a school teacher and my brother runs a large annual research project that involves interviewing the entering class of college freshmen. He also teaches a few classes at the college he received his PhD.

I, on the other hand, dropped out of college after my first year. Part of that was because I hated my college, which was located in a beautiful city and seemed like it would be an amazing experience. Instead it was like a boarding high school, with more rules than one would expect at a liberal arts school. The other part of my decision not to return was due to my mother being diagnosed with cancer. I was young, na├»ve, and I couldn’t deal with the reality, so I ran from it. I lived for a brief period of time in Georgia with a boy I met at college, but once my mother’s illness was declared terminal, I started making plans to move back. She pulled a lot of death bed guilt trips about going back to school in the short time between her cancer diagnosis and her death, but in the end, I knew I needed to follow my own path.

For a few years, I went to school at night at the local community college while working for a large law firm in the city. I stopped going to school when I met my first husband and I eventually quit the job in the city. My life really hit rock bottom with my ex husband as we were already broke and then I got pregnant. Our marriage quickly deteriorated after the arrival of our daughter and I moved back home with my dad.

After everything that had happened, I finally felt ready to really pursue my education, and not just take a few classes at night with no real direction. I finished my Associate’s at the community college while working part time for the state and I did well. I got mostly A’s and my GPA started to climb. I finished my Bachelor’s degree online through the state university system and managed to graduate cum laude. I was so proud of myself! I had aspirations to go to law school and I was sure I’d do well!
But then I took the LSATs, and my score would have limited my law school choices. And then I got married again and the idea of spending 10+ hours a day away from my family between work and school just didn’t sit right with me. So, I went searching for a degree program that would work with my schedule and would allow me to continue working in government and law without requiring a JD. That’s when I found my masters program.

I have a 3.83 right now and if I continue at the rate I’m going, I expect to graduate with at least a 3.8 or a 3.9 GPA. I’m excelling in my current class and I’m really enjoying the experience. As long as I continue at the pace I’m going, I will graduate with a masters degree in May of 2018. I have ambitions to be invited to join the honors society for my degree program in the coming months.
I was a late bloomer, but I think more than the college experience, I needed the life experience. I needed something to push me, to drive me to want to better myself, my life, my future. My daughter gave me the initial motivation because I wanted to do right by her and to give her a better life than I could offer her when she was born, but now, I’m driven because I want a better life for me. I want to give myself a new life experience, a successful life experience, and I’ve found that.


I am no longer mediocre.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Career Moves

My predecessor was retiring and I wasn’t sure what my future at this agency would be. I am going to school for a masters degree which will take me on a different path than my bachelor’s degree did, and that meant that at some point in the future, I would definitely leave this office. So the question was not if, but when. With that in mind, I applied for a position with another agency in October. It was listed as the same grade and classification as my predecessor’s position, and I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket.

They finally called me in March. I had honestly forgotten the position by that point. At the interview, I was told that they were looking to reclass the position by combining two positions of the same classification and grade. I was told that a part of this process would involve reclassifying the position to a higher grade as well. The CEO seemed to like me, and I left feeling like this was a position I really wanted and a place I could really grow.

Less than a week later, I got a verbal job offer; however, it wasn’t what I was used to. The HR director was vague on the details. Some of that had to do with it being a state position and needing to confirm my current grade and step level, but in my experience, agencies do not typically offer you the job until they have all those nitty gritty details. This was where the red flags started.

 It took over 2 weeks to finally get the offer in writing, and my concerns had been growing in that time. The CEO had told me it would take about two weeks to get a reclassification, so why had the agency already called me to offer me the position if they weren’t even sure the reclass was going through? The offer confirmed that while it was clear they were combining the two positions, it was not clear that a reclass had gone through. The offer listed the same grade and step for two positions that they had offered for one position. So, essentially, they were paying one person to do two people’s jobs. I was already doing that in my current position, but I had received a raise in the form of acting pay for my efforts.

I tried contacting the HR Director, but received no response. I scheduled a meeting with my two bosses to go over general office updates and to let them know about the job offer. At this point, I was torn in what I was going to do. On the one hand, I really wanted to take the job because it seemed like it would be a great transition from my current line of work into the  work I’m looking to get into with my masters degree. On the other hand, I didn’t want to leave my current office in a bind with no support staff and I definitely did not want to go to a job where I was not going to be paid adequately.

After talking to my bosses, I felt better about my future with my current office. There were discussions on how to increase me workload that would allow me to apply for a reclassification of my position to a higher grade. And they confirmed that their intent was to move me into the position I had been doing for the last 6 months permanently. I was still torn, but at least now I had had a frank conversation about my current position and I was more confident in what I would be giving up, even if I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting at the new job.

I went home that night to think things over. At some point during the evening, I had a bit of a letdown and I realized that I had made the decision. As excited as the new position sounded, I had to admit that in the interview it had sounded almost too good to be true, and with the lack of communication on the reclassification and frankly, the lack of trust on my part that it was even going forward, I decided to turn down the new offer.

I admit, I was sad, as I was so ready to leave. However, all the anxiety and stress I had been feeling over this decision disappeared as soon as I realized what my choice had to be. I couldn’t gamble with my future in the hopes that maybe the reclass would go through after all, after I had started. I felt acceptance and I know that the people I work with were relieved to know I was staying.

There will be other jobs, especially once I complete my degree program next year. It just wasn’t worth it to take a job I wasn’t confident in taking. The more time that has passed since I turned down the job offer, the more confident I am that I made the right decision. My office is moving towards having me permanently in the position and we’re looking into beginning the hiring process for a second support staff person, so hopefully I won’t be on my own for much longer.


The day after I turned the new offer down, I received an email from the HR Director asking me to contact her to discuss my decision. In the end, I never contacted her. I can see how that was probably a mistake; however, after all the anxiety I felt over that decision, I wasn’t looking to rehash it. And as one of my co-workers pointed out: it felt like they were doing some game playing, and I wasn’t really looking to participate.