When You Don’t Belong: Finding Your Place In The Government


Recently, GovLoop sent out a call: “Wanted: featured bloggers. Write about your experiences, knowledge and helpful insights” and I thought, why not? With over 250,000 readers, surely they won’t pick me. And then came the email: “Congratulations! …” **Gulp.** Um, are you sure you’ve made the right choice? Clearly, you didn’t read my bio correctly. I mean, have you see the people that are being featured this round? CEOs, Presidents, Founders, Experienced Governmentals, Doctors, Advisors, Lawyers, CFOs, CCOs, Executives, Big Wigs. And then there’s me: the person who talked about her kids and husband in her bio and who’s been in government for a grand total of six months. What can I possibly contribute that’s worth anyone’s time?

But, I thought back to why I am here. I have a forward-thinking boss who hired me because I was different. We’ve all heard the saying: “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting to get different results.” I was brought in as a change agent; we must think outside the norm to find what’s next, otherwise we stagnate.

Ever had a crisis of self? Ever thought “What am I doing here? If they look too closely, the will realize I am a fraud!” No? Just me? Well, it may not be you but it could be someone on your team. It could be a peer or, yes (gasp), even your boss. If it is you (or if you are in a position to help support someone like me), I hope you find these tips helpful to navigate those times of doubt.

  1. Write It Down: You are here for a reason. You highlighted your accomplishments well enough to get the job, right? You were the most qualified; you presented the best case; you were the best fit. It’s easier to think of those attributes on a good day, so take the time, write down three areas you excel in at work that distinguish your skills and save them. It’s ok to be uncomfortable and squeamish at first; some people don’t like to highlight themselves. But this is just for you. On those days that you can’t think of anything or you second guess everything you’re doing, pull it out, read it and remind yourself (in your own words) why you are here.
  2. Get Involved: Making the first move in a new organization does not come naturally. You want to sit back, observe, learn, not step on any toes and then slide into the fold. While it’s good to spend the necessary time learning your role and responsibilities, we know that information silos get built when we stay in our box. Find one committee, one group, one council or one team outside of your division to invest in. You will learn more about your organization, find others to connect with who share the same passions, progress professionally and have the opportunity to make a difference outside your daily routine. Highlighting your impact in more than one arena can help anyone who struggles to remember why they are here and what they can actually accomplish.
  3. Surround Yourself With Positivity: You know that co-worker that’s always complaining? (If you can’t think of one, you may need to look in the mirror…) Do you find yourself seeking them out? Or are you hoping you don’t sit next to them in the next staff meeting? They have doubts about everything from to your organization to your boss to the daily assignments to you. Think of it this way, when you open a can of soda, you pour out soda. Simple, I know, but it’s there because the can got filled with soda. You will have far fewer opportunities to doubt yourself when you are focused on the positive because you will be pouring out what you’ve filled yourself with. Find the people in the organization that are passionate about the vision statement; it won’t be hard because you’ll be attracted to them anyway–they have that infectious personality. Learn what makes them tick: it may be the same for you and you can find common ground and support for your journey; it may be a new idea that you can hold on to and make your own launching point; or it may not be something that doesn’t get your motor running but then you can support them.

A puzzle is not made up of the same piece over and over. I am here because I am NOT the Founder or President. I am here because I DON’T have tons of governmental experience. I AM here because I am excited about progress, creating a culture focused on our citizens and finding more efficient ways of processing. Don’t discount your contributions because they don’t look like everyone else’s: that’s why you are here and you should be proud. Believe in yourself and take the leap.

Kellen Sweny 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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murkamasine Joseph

I have a business idea and only wrote as executive summary.
I will give only to govloop or federal government, small business administration.
I need a kind heart to mentor me or bring me to start and finish,he or she will be a good friend of me.
My idea plan is unique and will interest to investors, funders,and government.
Please help me,..

Daria Sanchez

Wow! I had the exact same feeling when I was chosen as a featured blogger. Everyone is incredibly experienced and here I am, a 22 year old student finishing up her last semester in university and working part time for the government. But, clearly, we have some useful things to say 😉

April A.

As a new government employee, this really touched me. I often doubt myself and abilities because I am so different from the mainstream structural flow of the office. Being different though is why I was brought on board and that doesn’t minimize my value in the workforce. Thank you for sharing your experience and voice!

Kellen Sweny

Hi April, so glad you found value in these words (and that I’m not alone!). Congratulations on your new position! Stay true to your strengths and trust in the abilities that got you there!