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Wanna Quit? Don’t.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Patrick Malone
September 2, 2020

It’s never been easy to be in the public service, and lately it seems harder than ever. The most divisive political landscape in history? A pandemic? A disconnected and isolated public? All at the same time? Still, those who dedicate their lives to serving their communities toil on. They do so not for the money they earn, or the prestige they gain, but for the difference they make. The list is long: safe transportation, secure commerce, being able to tell what time it is, the comfort of sleeping in a safe place or knowing that our medications are tamper-free.

So yeah, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming and public service can be a challenge. Lately, many of those in the public service have had fleeting instances where they think, “Hmmmmm, that early retirement option looks pretty good.” They’re frustrated and exhausted. We all have these moments, from time to time. And it feels like recent times have been even tougher for public servants. They have. But, don’t quit. When it seems like there is no other path, take a breath and consider the following options:

Reach out for help. It is not one of the things we do well as servants. We serve others—we’re not used to being served. We tend to think that we must exude the strength and confidence to solve all the problems and handle all potential complications. But there are people out there who can help, if we just ask. Perhaps it’s someone whose professional accomplishments we admire, or a person with values we respect. The public service is full of people of wisdom, integrity and class. Many of them have seen challenging times before and can be very supportive to those of us who may be struggling. Don’t let the, “I can look after myself,” frame of mind keep you from the company of others who can help.

Change your thinking through mindfulness. Way back in1974, W. Timothy Gallwey’s book, “The Inner Game of Tennis,” challenged athletes to see themselves differently and open their minds. Gallwey argued that 90% of performance is driven by the mind, and while processes, rules and procedures matter, the way we think matters more; specifically, how we make meaning, perceive the world around us and make decisions. Centering ourselves through mindful practices releases us from our natural tendency to stay within the realm of thought in which we find the most comfort. It allows us to adopt an, “I’m not quitting,” mindset, even though everything around us is telling us that it would be the easiest thing to do.

Try something new. If things are becoming too predictable in your work, try something you’ve never done before. Perhaps sit in on a meeting with the budget office to get a real feel for the challenges it faces. Learn a new software tool that will make your presentation slides ones that everyone will remember. Write an article or a blog for a professional development association or magazine. Anything to exercise previously unused portions of the brain will bring satisfaction and fulfillment.

Call your mentor. We all have individuals in our lives to whom we reach out during tough times, and we depend on them greatly. These are people we can call in the car on the way home after a tough day when nothing seems to have gone right. They will be open and honest with us, recommend ways to improve, suggest different ideas, make us laugh and comfort us when we are feeling down. Humans have a remarkable desire to reach out and offer consolation to one another. That’s what mentors do best.

Remember, most of those judging you don’t know what they don’t know. Elected officials, media and citizens, while of good heart, often know very little about the work that you do. In fact, most Americans know more about Keeping Up With the Kardishans than they do about their own local and state governments. Remember that you are the expert here. You bring the value to the citizens and they depend on you, even if they don’t know it.

So, don’t quit. Please. Times may be difficult as they often can be, but there are several avenues of thought and action that can help you maintain your sanity and sense of well-being even during the most trying circumstances. As practicing professionals in the art of public administration, you attend to everyone. Let’s be honest—politicians are consumed with re-election, media is consumed with glitz, and citizens are consumed with their own lives. Those who serve the public are the lynchpin. You are the glue that keeps all the trains on the on track. Without you, nothing happens. You are needed.

Author: Patrick Malone is the Director, Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University. He is a frequent guest lecturer and author on leadership and organizational dynamics in the public service. His new co-authored book, “Leading with Love and Laughter – A Practical Guide to Letting Go and Getting Real” (Berrett-Koehler Publishing) will be released in Spring 2021.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @DrPatrickMalone

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