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“I don’t want your sacrifice, I need your gift.” Signed, A Grateful Nation

Those who come to federal service are a special breed. We come out of a call to service, a desire to give back, an intent to leave the world a better place than we found it. As we come on board with our respective organizations we expect, and are even eager, to make certain sacrifices in the service of our agency and our country. Most of our organizations have the word sacrifice somewhere in the either our Vision, Mission or Values statements.

I believe that sacrifice is the one thing that we do NOT need, or even want, from our federal employees. Before you label me a heretic, a traitor, or someone looking collect more for less, hear me out. Sacrifice means giving of oneself from a place of scarcity or lack. Whether that giving is in terms of money, time, energy, or physical well-being, it assumes a giving, willingly or otherwise, from a source that has finite boundaries. Because of those finite boundaries, at some point there will be nothing left to give. The cup is empty. We simply cannot pour out any more. When that cup is empty, we are left tired, bored, frustrated, depressed, and wondering, “why did I sacrifice so much in the first place? Did everything I gave up really even matter?”

So what if instead of asking federal employees to sacrifice, we instead asked them to give? What’s the difference? The difference is that a gift comes from a place of abundance, even excess. Thankfully, each of us is truly unique. We have different talents, skills, abilities, and loves that come together to create who we are as people and as employees. As we cultivate each of those things within ourselves beginning with the things that matter most to us, we continually fill our cup. Our service is no longer a “pouring out” of finite resources but rather a “spilling over” of unlimited abundance doing what we love in the service of those who love what we do.

While there are steps that organizations can take to facilitate the process (a different topic for a different day), the creation of an engaged, on purpose, abundant work force, is not up to the organization. It is up to us as individuals to create that reality for ourselves. We are the individuals who protect our borders, who create the face of our nation abroad, who insure that our veterans, our elderly, and our under-privileged are cared for, who insure that our nation’s fiscal resources are managed responsibly, who preserve our natural lands, and who perform countless other roles creating a nation that, while not perfect, we believe is the best deal going. When we recognize the enormity of our endeavor, we realize that it is impossible for us to sacrifice enough to face the challenges ahead of us. The only way that we can sustain our missions for the long haul is to give, of our time, energy, talent, and love, from our individual overflow.

So what does it mean to give from our individual overflow? The answer might sound counterintuitive…or worse self-serving. It means being absolutely clear on what matters most to you, what makes your heart sing, and consistently choosing in favor of that. As you begin to focus on those things that you are good at, that bring you joy, that make you smile, you will find yourself naturally led to the place where your specific gifts are of highest service. Your gifts will spill over on to the work you do, the people you work with, and the people who mean the most to you both personally and professionally. There will be no limit to your time, your energy, your creativity, or your possibilities because you are giving from abundance. Contrary to popular belief, you not only deserve to love your work, you have a responsibility to.

So as you drive to work this morning, check in with yourself. Are you excited and looking forward to getting to work? If not, imagine just for a minute what it might feel like if you were. What would be different for you? What would be different for those around you? Then make a choice.

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Earl Rice

I found this very thought provoking. I was in the Army for 26 years. And, always put the mission first, doing everything I could to ensure my people had the skills to keep alive (and keep me alive also), and sacrifice after sacrifice. I can look back and say I did make a difference. There were a lot of very rough knocks all the time, but I took them with stride and got the mission accomplished.

After I retired, I said I would never do that again, and went into the Federal Civil Service. Less than a year later, I found myself right back to where I was while on Active Duty with the Army. The Command I was with was providing all the emergency logistics for GWOT. And, once again the sacrifices started all over again. And, it was because we knew what we were doing was saving lives every day. Was the sacrifice worth it, you bet, nothing it more gratifying than knowing that you are saving lives in a combat zone. Then I switched agencies. I found that people were all wrapped up in their own egos’. And, bluntly, there just wasn’t the satisfaction from working there. It was at that time I realized; they wanted bureaucrats, not improvisers. Well, it didn’t take long to also realize that you gave them what they wanted. And, 8 years later, in another Agency, every day when I drive to work, I hate every minute of it knowing that at the end of the drive, I will be right back to the same bureaucratic mess, plagued by idiots in key positions, uncaring leadership that has lost grasp with reality. I will not sacrifice anymore. It just isn’t appreciated and after 28 years of sacrifice, I think I have given my fair share, maybe way more than my fair share. I will work hard while I am ar work, I will do what is expected of me and more, and I will take care of the people (customers) that cross my path. But, when the day is over (ergo quitting time) I will leave and go home, knowing I have given what I could for the day, and will the next day and the day after. There is also a fallacy in this, if you continuously sacrifice all the time, then you are expected to sacrifice all the time, and if you keep it up, sooner or later you will crash and burn. And, when you hit that point, and realize that your sacrifices have been for naught, that your sacrifices were not appreciated, it make the crash even harder and the burning flames even higher.

You are so right on all the points.

Andrew Krzmarzick

It’s all really a mind shift….but how do you get your head in a space where you feel like you’re operating from abundance vs. scarcity? Reminding yourself of the gifts you have received and feeling / expressing gratitude?

Martha Austin

Thanks for you comment Andrew. Reminding yourself of gifts received and feeling/expressing gratitude is one small step, and for most people it isn’t sufficient…especially if they’re already burned out, stressed out, frustrated, and tired. In order to operate from a place of abundance, one has to get absolutely crystal clear on the things that mean the most to him, that bring him joy, in the whole life not just the work life. Then consistently choose in favor of those things whenever faced with a choice, a decision or an opportunity. It’s about keeping one’s fully integrated life in alignment with the things that matter most. Sounds simple to say and can be simple to do once the intention is clear. It’s getting that clear intention that trips most people up.