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What I Learned About Working in Government from Long Distance Running

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When I’m not saving the world as a federal government employee, I enjoy long distance running. My relatively short legs do not quite paint the picture of an elegant, gazelle-like runner, but I have laser-like determination, a “never quit” attitude, and perseverance for days.  When I run, I am able to tune out many everyday stressors and just focus on me, at my own pace (literally). Mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health.  And to work in government (and almost all work places), you sometimes have to have a very strong mental stamina. So what I am getting at is that running is not very different from working in government, and here’s why:

  • There will be good days and bad days:  There are some mornings that I literally feel like I am running with lead legs.  No matter what I do, they just don’t want to move.  And you will probably feel like that sometimes at work. It may seem like you have so much on your plate that you won’t accomplish it all, or maybe you are waiting for a final clearance signature and have been waiting for a while. Here’s the thing: eventually, you will get that work done, and you will get that final signature, and you will make a difference in people’s lives with that signature. And I bet the next day or next week will be even better.
  • It’s a good idea to explore a new path: On occasion, I get into a rut with my running trails. For example, if I am planning to run for an hour, I will go for a run on a trail where I know I can go out and back in an hour, even if I ran it the same day before. Eventually, I decide I need to mix it up and maybe try a path I haven’t run on in a while, or ever before.  That’s the thing about government. You may get your first job in government and think, well, this isn’t quite what I expected. But at my agency, there are so many options, such as applying for the Foreign Service where you travel every few years and work in incredibly different environments. You can also do a detail in another office or bureau to experience the work environment there without the permanent commitment. There are so many different opportunities and paths for you to take in the federal government, but you have to take the initiative to explore them.
  • Sometimes you just need that running buddy: Lots of running magazines encourage you to join a running group, or find a running buddy to meet up with every week. This doesn’t just help you get out of bed in the morning (e.g. I would stay in my comfy fleece long johns, but I’m meeting Hannah and I can’t let her down), but it also helps you improve. During my first half marathon training, I met my friend Molly, who was definitely faster than me. Running with her helped me to push myself to achieve my very best on race day. Government also has “running buddies.” Many agencies offer formal mentoring programs where you can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee.  It’s also a good idea to informally meet others with whom you work, or maybe people who work in the office/agency you eventually want to work in (see previous bullet point).  As a mentee, when you work with someone who you can learn from, you improve your performance. As a mentor, when you share your knowledge with a colleague, you are building the capacity of not just an individual, but of the agency you work for as well.  And they may end up being a friend too, which is a big bonus.
  • Live in and enjoy the moment: One of my favorite aspects about running outside is that I get to see the first frost of the season on the grass, and I’ll occasionally pass a runner that says something encouraging. When I run, I try to just enjoy that moment. It’s so easy in the bureaucracy that comes with government to get weighed down in paperwork and processes, so sometimes, you just have to stop and breathe. You can go back to your to-do list and your meetings, but for five or 10 minutes, just think about everything you are accomplishing, or take a walk and enjoy the weather and the changing of the leaves. We get one life, so you have to live it to the fullest.
  • Dress for success:  With winter coming (cue Game of Thrones reference), I have to always check on what the weather is going to be before my run. Living in the D.C. area, we can have an unusually hot day, or a very cold day in November. So it’s always good to plan ahead so that I can enjoy my run. At work, this translates to dressing for the job you want. This may not be the job you currently have, so you are always aiming to impress. Plus, if you dress professionally, people are more likely to take you seriously. When I put on my fleece lined running tights in 20 degree weather, the world knows I mean business on my run. Or at least, I know that, and really, that’s the most important thing — believing that you can achieve your goal.

I’m not saying you need to go out and run a half marathon to achieve success at work. Although, if you have recommendations of good half marathons in the D.C. area, please let me know! But, there is something to be said for taking time to think about who you are, what you want, and how to get there. When I finish a nice, long run, I feel like I have accomplished something. What do you do that makes you feel accomplished?

The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.  USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.

Samantha L Corey 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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Brittany

Hi Samantha, great post! As a long distance runner myself, your insight certainly hits home, and they’re great tips to keep in mind in the professional realm as well.

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Awesome article, Samantha! As a new-ish runner and new-ish government worker, I feel that I can relate to your post on both accounts! Thanks for sharing…and for giving me the inspiration to do my run today and to do awesome work today!