Grace in the Working World


Going through a job hunt, whether you are looking to graduate college, find a new challenge, you are unexpectedly moving to a new city, perhaps re-entering the workforce after a long break, is daunting. No matter what the reason for your search it is a period of self-discovery and realization. And if you are lucky, you come out of it all a better person than when you started.

For me, the over a decade of work has started to come full circle as I get back into an industry that has always held my heart: higher education. For me, having the opportunity to explore, expand minds and help others recognize their own potential for new ideas that shape the world has always drawn me. It has taken a while to get back here. But wow! The lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here are a little bit of the grace that I’ve been lucky to experience:

A good boss goes a long way

I have had my fair share of bosses. Smart, stupid (no, really – don’t know how they got there, but still), funny, serious, misogynistic, empowering, disorganized, so type-A that it makes you want to scream, and everything else in between. I have realized that how you get along with your boss and whether your personalities work together (even if they are different) makes a huge difference. I have had bosses put their own reputation on the line for me, and for that, they have my eternal gratitude. I have had bosses who have helped me through life-altering situations (welcoming a new child) and who have put their own reputations on the line for me (when some unexpected health setbacks made me completing my job a near impossibility). Those are the first people I called when looking for new jobs – and I would work for them given another chance.  I’ve also been thrown under a bus – and those bosses are on my “I’m never working for you/never hiring you in a million years” list. For me, having a good boss is almost more important than what it is I am doing. A good boss will help you recognize your potential – no matter what you are doing day-to-day.

You see your co-workers almost more than your family – so make sure you like them

At my last place of work, my team was really like a family. We all got along really well – and it was that way on purpose. While we were looking for people to join the team who had certain technical chops, we also looked for someone who just fit in our culture. There were plenty of wonderful applicants who we denied because they just didn’t seem right in some way. Those we accepted fit like a glove and filled a spot in our work family. When you are interviewing, or being interviewed, it is important to like the people you would be working with – not just tolerate them. It is one of the few choices we have in life: who to call our coworkers. I mean you spend at least 8 working hours being with these folks – why would you work with people you don’t like? So pay attention in your interviews and if someone just seems to not rub you the right way, trust that.

A smile goes a long way

Ok – I am definitely an optimist, but I tell you nothing gets me and teams down more than someone who is always gloomy. And, no, I don’t mean a pessimist, per se. In my working world, showing people a smile and assuming good intent goes a long way to defusing tense situations. While there are a few bad apples out there who may take advantage of nice people, I have found that being a co-worker who listens (without getting pulled into drama) offers a smile, a kind word, or even a cheerful hello makes all the difference. I once worked at an organization where the receptionist was just a gem. Every morning she greeted everyone with a smile and a cheerful greeting. It always just set the tone of my day off to a good start. So chose to be that person, as opposed to the teammate that is always grumpy or unhappy. And even in the toughest of situations remember that you, and your coworkers, want the same thing: the success of your organization (and if you are lucky, your  success, too). If you can presume good intent (St. Ignatius of Loyola has a whole principle of Presupposition that is really helpful in life) that can help save a lot of distrust from festering.

Always leave with grace

Whether leaving a job, or just leaving from a tense meeting.. . always do it with grace. You don’t always have to agree with everyone, and sometimes you aren’t lucky and don’t like your boss or your coworkers and you want to get them what for… but pause a moment, smile, and always be respectful. Grace is something a lot of people remember, but very few people can pull it off. It requires patience, a steady hand, and a whole lot of self control. I have not always managed it well – but when done again and again it slowly becomes part of your composure.

I had one woman who was senior to me, who anytime I had an idea just shot me down. It didn’t matter if it was a good idea or not – she just did. And the thing is that it didn’t go unnoticed. My boss told me she saw what was going on, and to just hang in there. Turns out that person didn’t last for much longer. I’ve also been in cut-throat environments where people will be nice to you to get what they want, and then drop you like a hot potato once they are finished. And I have been double crossed and passed over by those people too. And it sucks to see mean people getting promoted ahead of you.

That is the thing about grace in the working world. It ain’t always pretty, you can get beat up and bruised. But I would rather walk out of a situation holding my head up high. Such an attitude is not being naive – in fact I think it takes more courage to do that which requires integrity. In the long run, it pays off. Perhaps not in money or riches, but in the quality of who you are and what you bring to other people.

And that, really, for me, is what a job is all about. It isn’t really about me and what I get out of the job. It’s rather what I put into it, and how I help others. Whether clients, bosses, co-workers, or someone unknown who my work will touch, I try to make it a point to always do my best and do it with honor and integrity.

Beth Schill 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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richard regan

The Paradoxical Commandments of the Federal Government

Kent M. Keith was a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard College when he wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. He wrote this guide during the turbulent 60’s when student activists were turning to violence with sit-ins, direct confrontation and conflict with police. He saw a need for this document since many of these young people became disillusioned about the lack of social change they were able to create through these unproductive tactics.

The basic premise to Keith’s manual is no matter the challenge, it is important to do what is right, good and true even if you feel unappreciated or come up short on the progress you seek.
As I read the commandments, I was struck with how applicable they are to creating engaged workplaces where everyone feels value and able to meet their full potential in the federal sector.

Commandment 1
People in the federal government are sometime illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.
Appreciate them anyway.

Commandment 2
If you do good things in the federal government, people will accuse you of selfish motives.
Do good anyway.

Commandment 3
If you are successful in the federal government, you will acquire phony friends and permanent enemies.
Be successful anyway.

Commandment 4
The good you do today in the federal government will often be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Commandment 5
If you say exactly what is on your mind in the federal government, you will be vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

Commandment 6
Great ideas are often shot down in the federal government.
Think big anyway.

Commandment 7
While the federal government may appreciate underdogs they follow the big dogs.
Fight for the underdogs anyway.

Commandment 8
Projects you have been working on for years can be torn down in one day in the federal government.
Build it anyway.

Commandment 9
People who need help in the federal government may attack you in the process.
Help them anyway.

Commandment 10
On some days in the federal government, your best efforts may get you a kick in the teeth.
Give your best anyway.

The simple lesson of these 10 commandments is satisfaction in these disengaging days as feds has to come from within particularly when the good you contribute is not recognized. While we may not be as successful as we would like in our efforts to make the federal government the best place to work in the world, we can take solace in the fact we are in this fight for the right reasons; to do good anyway for the sake of engagement.

Beth Schill

I love these 10 Commandments of the working world – and they really are that. They could be applied almost everywhere. Thanks for sharing.