Set Your Compass On “Service”

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.

Many years ago, my good friend Phyllis Preston (currently at the Federal Aviation Administration) introduced me to her father, Ed Preston. I knew Ed had worked for the federal government for many years; so as I shook his hand, I asked, “Ed…where did you work?” He replied, “I served at the IRS.” Did you catch that? He used the word, “served.” Not “worked.” Ed served.

Honestly, I had to catch my breath. It was one of those life-altering moments when things just snap into place, and your vision becomes clear. An epiphany. That one word – served – defined Ed Preston…what he did and how he did it. It said, “I chose a proud profession – public service.” It said, “service is a mindset, as well as a mission.” It said, “I never forget who I am and why I’m here.” Ed Preston set his compass on service, and throughout his long and honorable career – at IRS, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House – he stayed the course.

I wanted to be just like him. I want all public servants to be just like him.

One of the hardest parts of being a government web manager – heck, being a government employee – is remembering why you’re draining the swamp, when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Too much to do. Too many demands. Not enough time or resources. New ideas. New technologies. New administrations. Changing priorities. Pretty soon, you find yourself so caught up in what you’re doing, you forget why you’re doing it.

So here’s my message – what I learned from Ed Preston. Set your compass on “service,” and use it every single day – not just in what you do, but how you think and how you act. When you find yourself lost in the swamp of “to do” lists, stop and consider why you’re doing it. When you go to the annual Government Web and New Media Conference on March 17-18 (follow on Twitter – #govwebcon) and get all excited about those great “how-to’s” on plain language, social media, searches, and usability, step back and make sure you know “what-for.” And next time someone asks you what you do for a living, I hope you’ll say – because it’s true – “I serve.”

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Sid Burgess

I love it. It has been the belief system I was raised up in and I hold my service close to my heart. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

Terri Jones

I love this post! It is service and it is a noble and honorable profession! I always remembered who paid my salary and I found that if I showed my commitment, it was a pleasant surprise for the constituents I was working with, and then they would be more respectful, and then it became easier to serve them better.

Thanks for the post!

Allen Sheaprd

The term “served” caught me off guard as well. I think “served” in the military anytime I hear the word.