My Personal Journey Into Public Service

This week, in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, we asked some of our community to reflect on their public service stories. To read more of their stories click here.  If you know an excellent public servant send them an e-card or invite them to happy hour on GovLoop!

Writing this post about my personal journey into public service and how I got to where I am now has made me really reflect on my path. I was born in the UK and brought up in a town in the north of England. In retrospect, my parent’s decision to send me to an all-girls private school was probably one of the best things they could have done for me (I didn’t feel that way at the time!). During high school, it was drilled into me that a woman could do anything they wanted. As a result, I don’t find difference in gender to be relevant in my work life. That concept has given me a confidence in my own abilities and the communication skills I needed to succeed.

After leaving school, I went on to the University of Wales College Cardiff where I focused on service and public sector management but was still, at that time, convinced I would stay in the private sector. Government was not for me, too much bureaucracy!

I then went to work in a contact center for a high-street bank. This is where I took my first steps away from the typical private sector work. I realized that I loved the parts of my job where I could help people, but I absolutely hated to sell. I had a real objection to upselling financial products to someone who only had enough money in the bank to last the rest of the week. So although I stayed with the bank for several years, I moved into the customer care and complaint resolution side where I could really help people.

That all happened in the UK, but about 15 years ago my family and I made a decision to relocate across the pond to Florida. That’s where fate stepped in. I received my work authorization and on the same day thought I would check out the local job market. I was really looking for contact center work but nothing that involved sales. I noticed a posting for a business supervisor for the local building department. I had never done anything like that before, but I was brought up around construction (my dad was a contractor), and I had a strong fiscal and customer service background. Being used to dealing with complaints and difficult customers was also a big advantage. Apparently, that made me perfect for the role, and I got the job. I would be lying if I said that my English accent didn’t help!

I have worked for the county for 14 years and have worked my way up from the business supervisor and am now the Community Development Director in charge of nearly 100 people handling all aspects of land development in the county. There have been several defining periods and decisions in my time with the county that have lead me to this point.

In 2004, my community was devastated by a direct hit from a category 4 hurricane – Hurricane Charley. As the building department was key to the recovery, our roles were critical. Despite our homes being damaged and no power – we showed up, every day, and worked to help the community. That showed me what real dedication to public service was all about and made me realize that this is what I was meant to be a part of.

The next period I would refer to is the great recession. It was my job to balance a budget that was seeing a dramatic drop in revenue. This caused us to reduce staffing. Although we tried to do this without layoffs, it was impossible. My department alone laid off 93 people and I was part of every single meeting. Telling someone that they no longer had a job is horrible. I saw, however, great strength of character in the people who were being laid off. They were devastated and unsure of what to do but every one of them handled it with grace. I learned a lot from each of them in how to handle myself during the unthinkable.

The third period is when I was promoted to the department director. It was a bit nerve-racking as the lifetime of a community development director in my community has been relatively short. But I put that aside as this was something I really wanted to do and thought I had the right combination of skills and experience to make a difference. I’m not the typical community development director, being more of a generalist than a technical person, but I think that is what helps me be a success. I have surrounded myself with those technical experts and have a fantastic support team.

This is my personal journey to public service – so far! My career is still evolving and there have been some really tough times, but the good things we do makes it all worthwhile. I learn new things every day, seek out new opportunities and experiences and try to help others learn and grow. Public service is a passion and something not to be taken lightly. It’s not for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to try it at least once – you may just find what you were born to be.

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