A Personal Story

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A few years ago, a smart capable friend was job hunting. “Check USAJobs,” I encouraged her. “There are lots of government agencies that could really use your skills.” She gave a sheepish shrug and said, “Government work is not really for me. It’s too bureaucratic and hidebound.”

I wanted to try to persuade her that I work with bright, motivated, and extremely creative people. That our mission of serving society is a noble one. But it’s hard to budge a pervasive and firmly-held belief. The caricature of the risk-averse, inflexible, rule-mongering government worker has been around so long it seems universal.

As Kathleen Vaught wrote a few weeks ago in her post on stereotypes versus reality, one good tool for combatting negative perceptions of government employees is authentic communication.

Authentic communication includes showing that we are humans and connecting with others on a personal level. If we remain faceless bureaucrats, we allow ourselves to be scapegoats. But if we engage in a genuine way, put people over process and interactions over institutions, we reveal ourselves for the caring and dedicated real people we are.

So here’s my story . . .

I was born in rural Wyoming. My parents rented a house on a sheep ranch for $25 a month. When the pipes froze in the winter they had to heat water on the stove to wash my diapers. My parents were very young when they had me: 22 and 23. They are still together.

Roughing it on the sheep ranch didn’t last long and we moved to Montana, where I spent the rest of my childhood. I was a straight-A student all through school and have always been quiet and loved books. To dispel my fears that I might be a goody-goody, I got my first tattoo when I was 21 in a trailer park in East Helena. I went with my best friend from high school. The tattoo “artist” offered us beers as we looked over the design options. I chose a tarantula. I have never once regretted doing this. I am not (always) risk-averse.

I have two younger sisters; both are hilarious and smart. I have a son who is 19. He graduated high school and fledged the nest this past year. I am proud of him and miss him in equal measure.

I am good at worrying, and loyal to a fault. I like bitter flavors: coffee, dark chocolate, hops, and grapefruit. I actually like kale. My husband makes fun of me for this and for all my other “hippie” tendencies, which always makes us laugh.

I have run four 50-mile ultramarathons. I loved running too much actually, and wrecked my knee. I once carried Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, which weighs in at over 1,000 pages, on a backpacking trip because I was too engrossed in it to leave it behind for a few days.

Most days I work normal hours, but sometimes when I am really focused on a writing project I have obsessive days where I barely move from my seat from dawn to dusk. Focus feels good. Accomplishment feels good. I am not lazy, complacent, or apathetic.

I love podcasts, science, plain language, making new friends, Instagram, Twitter, going to comedy shows, trying new flavors, watching Planet Earth, and navigating new cities with my smart phone. I am a sucker for super foods, but I don’t believe in dieting. I still like sending snail mail, but I also love texting. I embrace new ideas.

Things I don’t like: shopping, public speaking, the smell in Subway sandwich shops, being overheard by strangers, conflict, insomnia, losing things, going to the gym, horror movies.

I started my career as a field biologist. For a long time I wanted to live in the rural West where I grew up, but jobs were scarce. I switched to writing when my son was born so I could spend more time at home. I have freelanced, operated the scoreboard at a local minor league baseball club, and waitressed. I worked for a state university and two different federal agencies: the DOI Fish and Wildlife Service, and (my current employer) the USDA Forest Service.

I love the mission of my agency: caring for the land and serving people. Public lands are our birthright, a national treasure, and rightfully the envy of many other countries.

I don’t know if this challenges the perceptions of the “typical” government worker, because I am just a real person. Completely ordinary, just like you. I work for the federal government and I care a lot about what I do. I am not a bureaucrat.

Rachel White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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18 Comments

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Profile Photo Kathleen Vaught

What a great post! Thanks for sharing who you are – true authentic communication. 🙂 I love how you paired experiences with how they influence your work. Makes me want to do a self-evaluation to see where I cross-over. 🙂

Sherri Shadrick

I had a great conversation with the lab tech drawing my blood work yesterday. His grandfather is still involved in agriculture and I got to share with him what the state agriculture agency does on a daily basis to assist producers and monitor the condition of the state’s soil and water.

Chynice Chapman

Thank you for your blog, it is inspiring and just what I needed to read this morning! Authentic communication is very important in both our professional and personal relationships. I’m inspired to share a personal story of my own after reading your blog! Many thanks for sharing your story! I am not a bureaucrat, either!

Profile Photo John L. Waid

Interesting story. Unfortunately, stereotypes become stereotypes because they contain at least a grain of truth, sometimes more, a lot more. Rachel may not be lazy, complacent, or apathetic, but I will bet her next year’s salary she know a lot of people who are. In working projects at my agency, if I had a nickel for every time I have heard “can we be criticized for this?” I would have a lot more nickels than I do now. At the end of the day, the only people we can control is ourselves. Let’s do that at least.