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What Drives You?

[Note: cross-posted from cpsrenewal.ca]

[Photo: my father Rick and my son Kohl, taken back in June 2008]

At the last #w2p mixer (an unofficial social event in Ottawa for Government of Canada Web 2.0 Practitioners) a colleague asked me “What drives you?”.

I replied that I cared in the movement in a general sense; that I believe in a more open and transparent government; and that I think it will produce better outcomes for citizens.

I also told her something much more personal. I told her that I did it for my old man.

What follows is partially what I said, and partially what I would have said if I had more time to answer the question.

My father worked almost his entire career in the automotive industry here in Ottawa, and he did it in a time before there were safety standards. I remember being a child and being told to wait in the sales office until my father was done work. From the office I could see him walk into the spray booth to spray paint some part of a car, lit cigarette in his mouth, no mask, no ventilation. He worked hard, like his two brothers and his father. In fact, all the Charney men worked in the automotive industry.

Naturally I wanted to take up the family trade and started to work summers in a couple of the local dealerships, detailing cars and doing some prep work. Upon learning that exposure to industry chemicals had not only caused my grandfathers terminal cancer, but was the reason I would never have a sibling, I was forbidden from entering the family trade.

Years later, my father left the automotive industry and now works for an engineering firm as a health and safety coordinator. His job is to make sure that people work in a safe environment, something that he didn’t have the benefit of when he was working. In short, he chose to work in a way that allows him to be difference maker. He constantly strives to improve working conditions and minimize needless exposure to harmful substances and dangerous situations.

I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from that fact. In hindsight, it would seem that I did get into the family business after all: difference making.

I want to help build a public service that treats people better than I was treated when I first started.

What drives me? That’s easy – my dad.

[Final note: my father lost his little brother last year to cancer related to his working conditions and he hasn’t really been the same since, this column is for you dad.]

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Amanda Blount

I cannot think of a better reason to do what you do then to make the working world a better place then how it was when you found it. I give you many kudos for what you are doing. And I had a Dad once too. It is hard to see your father work so hard, then realize the job is killing him. I am moved by your story.

Jane Spackman

I’m changing my job title!

Difference Maker is what I want to do. Unfortunately, I don’t always make a difference, but working inside government trying to make the differences seems so much more productive than criticizing it from outside. Inspiring post Nick.

Scott F. Nolan

Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story. I admire your father’s ability to take his knowledge, experience and wisdom to become a Health and Safety Coordinator by being the informed advocate for those that may not know the risks or the what action to take to stay safe. I’m sorry for your loss and the lesson I take from your story is that all of us have the ability to use our talents to help others.
I work in the area of licensing and evalaution of agencies that provide services to people with disabilities. I remember an instance once where an individual was in need of surgery that was beginning to compromise his health (he was repeatedly brought to the ER and would be sent home). I was able to take action on his behalf to move the system with a sense of “urgency” which resulted in a better outcome for this genntleman. I believe all of us just like your father can make a difference but it takes courage and persistence. When I entered public service 27 years ago I was told from the hiring official, “There is nothing you can do for these people and you should go do somehting else with your life.” Than you for reminding us we can make a difference.

Nicholas Charney

@Scott – thanks for taking the time to share your (equally inspiring) experience with us. Let’s try to use it as motivation when times get tough.