Lazy, stagnant, narrow-minded, indifferent, helpless pen pushers…these were the characteristics of government employees—or so I was led to believe. I was born and raised in a really small east coast town in Puerto Rico, where government agencies didn’t have the best reputation. I always heard negative things about public servants and government agencies; so naturally, public service was not my first choice when I graduated from college in 2009. I went to the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus and majored in Chemical Engineering. At the job fairs, I would always go to the private industry booths, and never even bothered to check out the government agencies that were there. I had a completely negative and erroneous view of government work, and I never even bothered to check the facts. I did however have the greatest examples of public service in my own household since my mother was—and still is—an elementary school teacher and my father is a US Navy veteran.
Two months before my college graduation, I received a job offer from a big oil company in Lafayette, Louisiana. Having nothing else lined up, I immediately accepted. That offer fell through the day before my graduation and I was devastated to say the least. After graduation and a few weeks of intense job searching, I went to a job fair that the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was hosting in San Juan, PR. As I was walking through the booths of mostly government agencies, I recognized one of the guys standing behind a booth. We had gone to college during the same time and had seen each other once or twice before. I went over to say hi and asked about job opportunities as I handed him my resume. He said to follow up on Monday, and I did—oh I did. I called, emailed, texted and left voice mails—I really wanted a job. Long story short, he forwarded my resume to a hiring manager and I got selected for a 2-month internship with a federal agency and within a week I was flying to DC. Little did I know, that internship would change my life forever—sounds dramatic, but it really did. Not only did I find a permanent job as a federal contractor through that internship, but also I ended up marrying that guy from the booth. Let’s just say he is a very skilled recruiter!
Fast-forward 5-6 years, and as I was working as a federal contractor, an opportunity for a federal job within that agency presented itself. I didn’t hesitate a bit and applied right away, because I already knew that I wanted to have a bigger impact on the mission of that agency as a government employee. I got the job and that’s when I became a govie gal. During the time that I worked as a federal contractor, my views of government work changed completely. I worked with passionate individuals who were committed to the mission of the agency and that was contagious. I saw value and purpose in the work that I was doing because I could see the impact of that work every day. It’s been two years since I became a public servant, and in that time I’ve met so many passionate and devoted government employees that I’ve had to challenge my own assumptions. Using those public servants that I’ve met as an example, I’ve concluded that:
- Public servants are passionate about what they do and they work hard to support the mission of their agencies—they are not indifferent
- Public servants care about development, professional growth and career mobility—they are not stagnant or lazy
- Public servants value innovation, creativity and new approaches—they are not narrow-minded
- The work that public servants do has a direct impact on our national security mission and they strive to add value in everything they do—they are not helpless pen pushers
I challenge you to challenge your own assumptions about public service and if you know any public servants, take sometime today to say “thank you for the work you do”.