Round #3: Make Strategic Plans For Success!

Eventually, decisions must be made. When considering your options, it’s a good idea to think ahead! Visualize your goals with an action plan that outlines the steps to achievement and can chart your next move. Unanticipated developments will happen, but if you are aware they exist, it is easier to prepare and avoid them as best as you can.

After I confirmed my entry-level position with the court, I was informed of a research assistantship in Indiana. I never applied. My new street-level local gig seemed more secure and practical for my stated goals, but the research position was an ideal avenue to keep myself in the insular world of academia. I was so torn.

I knew I was overqualified for my new position, and when I realized how long it would take to work my way through City hierarchies to get to ladder rung #19 – the point at which I would finally use my Masters degree – I thought about how much energy and how long it took to get me motivated to this point in my life. I was supposed to be on a fast-track to become a Change Agent! I wanted to be an arm of equality and throw my elbows at discrimination! I wanted to use my skills in mediation to ensure employees can constructively share ideas and perspectives! I wanted government to work for all of the people!

A Sad Day At The Office
Within the first month in public service, I was on a ticking clock to a midlife crisis. Everything was wrong. Time moved so quickly but I was in the thick of it like molasses. I saw personal ruin approaching and I did nothing to avoid it. When I could no longer keep myself together, I walked away to reassess my plan.

Public service was supposed to be my stable avenue out of capitalism and into a world of democracy! I did my time in the private sector – from the blasted trenches to the posh life of management. I proved I was an effective team-builder and well-suited for leadership. With the political turmoil and social conflicts overflowing at the surface of humanity’s melting pot, I sought a greater purpose in everyday living. Public service was the best way I knew how to help the marginalized masses find resources they needed to navigate their way through the structural inequities ingrained in our social fabric.

Instead, I was invoking the power of the State to collect unpaid debts and kick people out of their homes. I felt like a terrible person. “How is this helping others?” I asked.

The approaches to interpersonal conflict and personnel management we learned in the MPA program paralleled mine in the private sector. I was sure it was because I excelled in leadership! Still, I was under the impression that I was in school to learn a new skill set, not just update what I already knew. This notion left me feeling generally dissatisfied but it was a valuable experience, nonetheless.

I observed a tendency for us to focus on the failures of public service or incremental change and extoll the innovations of non-profit organizations. To me, it seemed more practical to encourage cohorts of graduate students to embrace their opportunity to fix a broken machine and bring fresh perspectives to an aging public sector labor force rather than let the volunteers of the world pave the way to equity.

During my brief preview of life in public service, however, I saw that the arm of justice I was a part of had significant organizational problems that perpetuated structural inequities and I was in no position to do anything about any of it. And so, everyday became a moral conflict.

So Then What?
Returning to the private sector was an arduous decision wrought with strife, agony and personal beratement. When considering my next move, I developed a series of questions and answered the following:

What do I want to do with my life?
I don’t know for sure, but I am fairly certain I am on the wrong side of empowerment!

Am I thinking about my options objectively?
I am disappointed that this is my experience in public service. I’ve been considering my options for months – sharing possible scenarios with confidants, making lists of pros and cons, forecasting budgets, keeping a daily record for hindsight, and am constantly applying for (and rejected from) jobs.

What set of consequences am I willing to tackle?
Let’s be honest: I need to pay back my student loans and save some money to move to an urban center, so I am willing to take on almost any consequence other than defaulting on government-issued funds. Plus, I am growing bored at work – what could be worse than this?

Am I ready to walk away from this job based on my principles?
This job has proven all the theories true: change is incremental, hierarchies easily choke advancement, and none hold themselves accountable – we make people accountable for their actions. It will take me years of this sad office job before I can do anything to change its organizational culture, and I am truly worried that by the time I am in a position where I can create change, I will no longer care about the inequities and injustices I observe in the office every day because I am so perplexed by this everyday.

… maybe I can get some HR experience in the private sector so when I apply for jobs in the future, I’ll have the base 3 years of experience public agencies require.

What if quitting my first job out of grad school derails me from my career path?
While it was great for my self-esteem, the 2 years spent in grad school were somewhat disappointing. The material was not as challenging as I thought it would be and I let myself slack which is an obvious sign of boredom. Many of my peers burned out from their marathon-finish of higher education and were more focused on non-profit organizations than on public sector governance. What’s more, I would rather find a glass house and write about the masses and injustice instead of applying any of my new skills to real life – so I’m starting to disappoint myself. I say, “Why not take a chance since I cannot seem to make a decision? Is it still risky when I’ve thought about a drastic change for months?”

What will everyone think of me if I make the wrong decision?
Why should I care what other people think? It’s my life. And I am so dejected. Why not ask, “What do I think?”
IDENTIFY! I think work should be mentally stimulating!
ADAPT! I think this entry-level job is more of a tangent than the fast-track I need to achieve my goals!
ENGAGE! I think fresh perspectives and youthful energy is beneficial for the soul! I think I can retire in an office, but right now I need a job that keeps me moving – literally and figuratively.
PRIORITIZE! I think returning to the private sector may be advantageous for the immediate HR experience I seek.

So, we make our decisions. We can prepare so they are constructive and well-informed actions. Yet, sometimes outcomes are less than ideal. Or circumstances are less than favorable and daily decisions compound into months of misery – whatever the case may be, at some point when we realize that the choices we make lead to the paths we walk, we make conscious decisions.

Again, we should remain flexible when considering how to reach our destination. Destinations are future-tense and paths are mutable. What is most important on our journey is our ability to adapt, engage, and grow to meet our potential.

And honestly, sometimes it all just comes down to timing.

Just remember, when life offers you obstacles, prepare yourself with an empowering plan of action and greet the challenge with confidence!

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