Every now and then, I have to stop to remind myself why I do what I do. Is it important? Do I like it? Is it worth it? Should I even care about the question?
In this world of existential angst, there is so much written about work, self-perception and relationships.
Maybe I’m too old to be struggling with these definitions, yet I find myself constantly battling them. For me, a large part of "success" is dependent upon my identity as a professional and a daughter, partner, wife and mother. All these identities feel necessary to me.
Yet, I work in a field that I believe is often dismissed by younger people. It’s definitely not sexy; it is largely unremunerated monetarily and often represents everything that is wrong about state and society.
I work as a policy analyst/ researcher/ consultant for the government, and to be honest, except for the rare day when I have to interact with absolutely obnoxious human beings, I love what I do. It’s taken me a while to find my feet, but I’m enjoying the ride as I slip and slide.
I’ve had people ask me why I do what I do; why I work for so little pay and so thankless a job and the answer really is quite simple: It’s because what I do can change a person's life. This might seem grandiose, but it is true for me in some measure.
The analysis and research I do is translated into memos and white papers for the government, discussed internally and externally, and then finally, has to be converted into policy to actually affect populations in need.
I am actually part of a very large and lengthy process, and there are a number of people who are part of it. The process of actually seeing policy implemented is slow and often doesn’t even materialize. But, to actually see a policy develop and then translate into reality gives me a high.
I love the hustle and bustle required to convert an obscure piece of work that is based on need and research into a policy that can change peoples' lives.
I don’t see too many young people interested in government or government-related jobs and I can understand why. The recent budget cuts, poor pay, bad retention and generally bad press associated with government are pretty good reasons not to want to join.
However, I feel that the most exciting place to be nowadays is in public service. Imagine working for a city and being able to make long-range structural changes to its development policy at young ages.
Look at Rachel Hoat, the Chief Digital Officer of New York City who is 29 years old and oversees an online municipal presence that includes the city’s official website (nyc.gov) and 280 distinct social media channels. Her combined reach is more than six million visitors every month and the website is a critical part of the city’s communication plan during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy.
Look at Yohannes Abraham, the 26-year-old director for Obama in 2012. He was previously the former national political director at Organizing for America. Both of these Millennials hold positions of significant importance in the public sector and are capable of affecting millions of people across the country.
Some other names you might want to Google include Jon Cetel, founding executive director of PennCAN, Marisa Urrutia Gedney, director of operations and programming of Echo Park and David Strauss, medical officer of the Food and Drug Administration.
These young people are only a drop in the ocean. I am constantly bumping into young, dynamic and highly-focused people in the public sector. They bring energy to the space that thankfully blunts some of the jadedness that I encounter when I have to listen to briefings from Congress or Senate meetings.
The reality is that the only way policy gets implemented is through these archaic and stodgy bodies. This will not change, as the process exists for a reason, as a form of checks and balances in a democracy.
Yes, the process is tedious, but it is also a platform for change. Work with a senator or congressman and you may get the opportunity to change how he or she thinks; work with a lobbyist and you’ll experience the drama and politics of how policy is made at the national level.
A lot of policies are defined and implemented at the state and local levels, and often, this is where the real energy exists. This is where you actually get to see what people have to say, how real people think and how differences can be bridged.
For many young people, this is probably where you will want to cut your teeth; this is where you want to be able to make a difference. There will be disappointments, probably more than in a more structured and normal job, but I have learned over the years that change in the public sector is slow and steady.
If you manage to align yourself with enough people like yourself, the change will come around at some point in time. You just have to have enough heart and the strength to believe in the process. Yes, you will encounter many not-so-nice people, but the key is to carry on, regardless.
Photo Courtesy: Netflix/House of Cards