Public servants often have dreams of changing the world and improving the conditions of their community. It is an admirable and selfless goal, and with my MPA degree I anticipated a career of personal fulfillment and a sustainable amount of sacrifice for the greater good.
Unfortunately, my brief experience as a clerk of court was the antithesis of what public service meant to me.
Within my six months of public sector employment, a negative work environment compromised the enthusiasm and motivation I had generated to create positive change. I was mired in an organization of inequality and prejudicial norms, and it seemed as if every day presented a cultural stereotype perpetuated by a festering office culture. The impact I had on a diverse community as a deputy in an injustice system led me to a serious crisis of conscience. It was difficult to look at myself in the mirror – I stopped smiling and quickly realized I was succumbing to the throes of depression. An early morning commute followed by eight hours in a windowless basement was taking a heavy toll.
Months of applying to entry-level public service positions and continuous rejection letters further damaged my self-esteem. Prior to enrolling in the MPA program, I applied to similar administrative and secretarial job postings that also rejected my applications. It seemed as if I was still less qualified for employment than a high school graduate.
I was confused, tired, and incredibly sad.
The MPA program recognized my academic achievement and engraved my name on a plaque, I was told that the degree was so versatile I could perform nearly any administrative job, and my professors gave me such positive reinforcement I thought I would bypass entry-levels and soar to the top of Human Resources Management (HRM). Clearly, I was distracted by the insular world of academia and did not realize the practical world of public service rewards actual experience rather than the intangible potentials of higher education.
During this time, I had a vivid dream that inspired me to reach out to old friends of mine in the service industry. I accepted their offers to work weekend shifts and discovered how significant social interaction was to my well-being and sense of self. I felt more grounded standing upright and washing dishes for eight hours than I was sitting in a cubicle entering data.
And so, my crisis of conscience deepened.
In the end, I decided the quickest way to achieve the standard three years of experience necessary for HRM was by returning to the private sector. More importantly, I realized that all jobs are relatively the same; employees must establish positive relationships with coworkers and supervisors, we excel in environments that empower us and stimulate creativity, and most importantly it does not matter what kind of job we work. As long as we are contributing members of society, the perception of career hierarchies are inconsequential.
Not everyone wants an office job or to sit facing a corner, fully isolated from the rest of the world. Furthermore, customer service is just as important as public service. Someone has to make carry-out dinners, scan bulk-purchase items, and cash out lottery tickets. Someone has to listen to consumer complaints and offer an acceptable recourse to earn customer loyalty.
In conclusion, I would rather face the community I serve than assume I am making a difference by entering data and anonymously delivering hundreds of eviction and account collection summons every day.