17 Pieces of Advice That Will Rock Your Government Career

Susan Gordon, the Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, came to the Next Generation of Government Training Summit and gave a rousing speech on how she got to where she is in her government career (she studied zoology at Duke and now has over 25 years of public service leadership, including stints as a weapon analyst and spacecraft designer); what you can do to make your time in government count; and why inclusion matters so critically to all.

Instead of trying to recap her speech (which got a rousing standing ovation at the end), we just gleaned 17 different nuggets of wisdom that she doled out. Read below for quotes from Gordon that inspired this govie audience to continue their important paths forward in public service.

  1. You carry with you the nation’s hopes and dreams. Let that settle on you. You have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of greats but the responsibility to carry it forward. There is nothing casual about the path you’ve chosen.
  1. How did somebody who was a career spy end up deputy director of NGA — the people responsible for making geography cool? The way you do it is one step at a time.
  2. The reason I’ve made it so far is because my vision exceeded the resources I had present in my person
  1. Think about the course of your career and how you will proceed. You have to be good but you must have your head up to see opportunities when they present themselves.
  1. When somebody I respect asks me to do something I say yes.
  1. Be brave even if you don’t feel it because nobody can tell the difference.
  1. I have never had a job that I knew how to do ever in my whole life. This should not dissuade you.
  1. Courage as a supervisor means you have to let somebody else do something different than you would do it, and stand by it anyway.
  1. Courage isn’t enough, though. You are not stuck with the knowledge you came in with. You can learn more every day.
  1. I have never been typical. I have been true. If you are true and your motivation is not about what is good for you, but about what is good for the mission, people will trust you.
  1. Trust yourself more than you trust the system.
  1. The day will come when you have to draw a line in the sand – when you can’t live with the conditions presented to you. You better make that day count.
  1. The key to happiness is believing you have choice. The key to success is understanding there are consequences and you can’t control any of it. Make the choice based on what you need, and recognize that others will make theirs.
  1. Government service will eat you up because it’s so big. You must keep something for yourself. It can be books, music, whatever. For me, it’s my family. Give everything else – but keep something just for you, and hold on to it.
  1. You have incredible power to lift all boats if you will just be devoted to inclusiveness. You personally. It’s the right human thing to do and the right organizational thing to do. Differences are what makes groups great.
  1. We must understand we are not going through the motions. We don’t get to just shake our fists and say “too bad.” It’s on us to change the world and make it better.
  1. We are not casual observers of the world and what’s going on. That’s what happens when you sign up for government service. That’s what we’ve signed up for.

This blog post is a recap of a session that took place at the recent Next Generation of Government Summit. Want to see more great insights that came out of NextGen? Head here.

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These are excellent quotes. Thank you for sharing. I will definitely post some of these in my workspace to remind me of my why. Now I regret missing the summit…

David Childs

Excellent ! She covered pretty much everything ! It is always renewing to know that there are Ms. Gordon’s in public service.