Round #1: No Regrets
We make decisions every day. Very important, less important, innocuous. Some of these decisions have far-reaching or lasting effects – intentional, anticipated, or otherwise – and we must deal with the outcomes.

When navigating professional realms, I observed consistencies across the multiple sectors of employment. I noticed that an ability to adapt to new environments, engage with an unfamiliar group of peers, and to keep your personal objectives as a top priority are significant factors to consider when measuring success. Further understanding or identifying what is most important to you and what you want to achieve will surely help you to make your future decisions with confidence!

Life is not a one-size-fits-all experience. We can understand this when determining the skills we want for our life path. For me, studying the social sciences made sense because I lacked the aptitude to pursue the fine arts and I loved interacting with people! I’ve studied nations and states, philosophies and economics, I’ve analyzed patterns of individual and group behavior, and applied theoretical knowledge to provide a greater understanding of complex global and social issues.

At every stage, school has improved my ability to communicate ideas of all sizes to audiences made up of all sorts of people. Realizing how effective studying interpersonal communication was for my everyday problem-solving, I understood its power in global arenas. I wanted to analyze public policy and create the change that makes the world a better place for all of us!

Today, I can apply my communication skills in different environments – they are part of the transferable skills we all love to include on our resumes! Remember, when an opportunity presents itself, it’s up to us to figure out how to incorporate it into our career path! Team-Builder! Problem Solver! Ok, let’s go!

The Realpolitk of Dancing
Being of service and helping others is an overriding goal in my life. Graduating in 2008 during the Great Recession with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and no relevant work history meant my application to federal government positions were rejected due to a lack of experience. My dreams of immediate job placement upon graduation were dashed – I just wanted to travel the world helping the disenfranchised and wear power suits!

With insurmountable debt, my search for gainful employment in Small Town USA was redirected to the private sector. I decided that I could spend time honing my interpersonal skills and found a server position at a local hotspot where I had innumerable conversations with all kinds of people!

While I wanted to pack and move to Big City USA, I was unwilling to take on additional financial risk with a global economic crisis disrupting a general sense of stability. So, I adapted to my surroundings and found a way to use sidetracks to my advantage. Diversifying my toolbox reinforced my adaptability and marketability in the long-run. Focusing on my weaknesses was beneficial to my self-esteem, and it took me out of the insular comfort zone created by higher education.

My perspective was that customer service is demading work, and those who are skilled in it probably know how to diffuse conflict. We can talk about confrontation and negotiation all day long, but at some point we just have to jump in, assess the situation, communicate ideas, negotiate terms, and solve some problems! Dealing with hungry people face-to-face was the perfect place to observe social interactions and put my skills into action! Most importantly, I was able to identify areas for personal growth and seized a less-than-perfect opportunity to gain useful experience.

We can learn a lot about ourselves when talking to strangers …

Round #2: Together, We Can Make It Better!

Another pattern I observed is that living in competition with others is not a sustainable practice. Competition results in a victor while others are defeated, and as participants in a competitive world at some point I assume we will all be defeated. It seems so enervating when instead, we can engage with others to find ways to work together so we effectively identify and achieve our shared goals!

It matters not where you are and what you do, at some point you will need the help of others to advance – a peer group on the professional ladder, a circle of friends who provide emotional growth, or a classroom of students who inspire structural change. However we exist, at the core of humanity are social beings who like to be liked and love to have purpose. Above all, we need positive people in our lives us to keep our brains active and our bodies alive!

Keeping Up Appearances
I felt the sting of jealousy the other day when I compared the professional success of former classmates to my own. During my reflective morning routines, I was reminded of a mentor’s observation; based on their experience, students who do not find employment after graduation are generally the ones who do not try very hard or are not driven to succeed. Fortunately, I found a job but it was not what I expected it to be so I felt like I missed the mark.

On a day when I was particularly dissatisfied by my position on the career path, I embraced a wave of self-righteousness. My dark, self-absorbed heart scoffed at the idea that I needed to try harder because I was awesome and tried hard enough, thank you. It had to be something else! I had just graduated with a Masters degree but my only job offer was an entry-level position. While it was a good foot in the door, it was clearly going to take many years to get the work experience I needed to qualify for the Human Resources positions I really wanted to pursue.

Fueled by an acute sensitivity to the old adage, it’s not what you know but who you know that determines your success, I was remiss thinking that I was somehow let down by academia because I thought it would be easier to navigate professional realms with capital letters after my name. In fact, I knew about the job because of my network of contacts, and since I was overqualified for the position my supervisors admitted to me that they didn’t think I would stay for very long. I was beginning to think my degree was not as useful I anticipated.

As someone who lauds herself as generally not competitive, it was interesting that this good news resulted in me drafting the world’s least engaging blog post. It was actually cathartic and I ended a poorly-written self-endorsement filled with broken thoughts and a short-sighted perspective by laughing in embarrassment. Honestly, my first job as an MPA was a disappointing experience but it reinforced the significance of vast social networks when actively seeking employment. Plus, it’s a good idea to refresh your contact lists every now and again in case someone you know changes trajectory on their career path.

In the process of rationalizing my behavior, I realized how I failed to communicate that my goals had changed over the course of my graduate studies. Initially, I just wanted a stable public service position. However, as a brainiac social scientist, I saw great potential for a career in academia. Thinking all day long, researching new ideas, trying different approaches, then sharing these observations and predictions with others became very appealing to me! But I never communicated this change of heart to anyone who would encourage me to stop and recalibrate.

In drafting my daytime rage-blog, I realized that I sought to blame others for my indecisiveness, which makes little sense. The situation reflected a failure to adjust and speak up on my part, but we make our decisions and I have no regrets. In hindsight, developing a practical strategic plan of action before I graduated – perhaps with some specificity – would’ve been a good idea. Now I know, right? It’s a good learning experience, anyway!

Back To The Point …
By changing our perspective, what seem like failures or obstacles can become opportunities for growth.

For instance, instead of thinking how I lost an opportunity to pursue a doctorate degree I focus on how well I adapted to the world of higher education: I received an academic achievement award from the Department of Political Science! When I conclude that no one recognized what a deft leader I was, I remember all the exchanges and new ideas shared by diverse peer groups: interacting with new people gave me fresh perspectives! Thinking of how I failed my personal goals of career advancement, I remind myself how I met my goals because I received my MPA and got a job in public service: #Success!

Speak Up!
The most important observation here is that no one – not even a mentor – is a mind reader. If you want advice, you have to ask direct questions because people are incredibly preoccupied and may not notice that you now want to do something completely different than before. Do not take it personally that no one knows what you’re thinking – just use your words!

Furthermore, if you consider rage-blogging in your spare time, make sure you take a step away from the digital landscape before you put it all out there for the world to see. Take a moment to think about the situation objectively and your contribution to the global conversation. How do you communicate with others?

Let us empower one another and build each other up!

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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