Young Feds 101: Applying the Warrior’s Way to Work

As a young fed, I am constantly seeking balance. Like my work, I take my hobbies seriously, and through the course of enjoying them I often come across lessons that work to enhance my abilities across arenas. One of my favorite non management publications is Blue Ridge Outdoors, a free magazine about all kinds of outdoor activities. In the latest issue, there is a great article on the mental side of rock climbing.

The expert, Arno Igler promotes a 7 facet approach that he dubs “The Warrior’s Way”. The Warrior’s Way can be summed up in the simple philosophy: “When you rest, rest. When you climb, climb.” Igler states that, “There’s no cheating in climbing. Every inch is based on your effort. There are no free lunches.” I’ve assessed the Warrior’s Way for lessons that might benefit young feds in their climb to the top.

Become aware of the mind’s tendencies to project unnecessary doubt and fear.

There are a lot of monikers for this sort of self awareness: I prefer the term personal mastery. Regardless, this element is about knowing yourself, knowing your tendencies and addressing your weaknesses with lucid clarity. One of the goals of 360 feedback is to help us see ourselves not as we see ourselves but as others do. This is particularly critical for young feds trying to shed their reputation as narcissistic millennials.

Pay more attention to subtleties like the ego, posture, and breathing.

This element is about the fundamentals that underpin success, “the little things”. For the workplace this means cultivating and conveying your strengths: timeliness, thoughtfullness, hard work, courtesy, polish. If you are trying to establish a personal brand as an elite up and comer, you will want to avoid sending messages to the contrary. Don’t get sloppy in ways that will make you less effective.

Accept the situation like it is. Don’t wish the climb was easier or different. Accept it and collect accurate information.

This element translates very well to the professional arena. It is imperative you own your climb. You chose it, you picked it for yourself, and hopefully you’ve taken the time to read the route beforehand. Be accountable to others, but be accountable to yourself, and do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Instead of focusing on what you can get out of the climb, focus on what you can give to the climb to help you through the challenge. This enables you to create a plan of action.

Public service is predicated on this principle; your actions have derivative consequences for the people you serve. Having conducted numerous focus groups with our Agency’s brightest stars, I can say that the single most important value of our employees is humility. Not self deprication, not quiet confidence, but a deep commitment to our patients, our mission and our work.

You don’t want to commit to climbing if you’re going to get hurt or if it’s going to scare you so bad you won’t want to climb again. Weigh the consequences against past experiences. An appropriate learning situation is just outside your comfort zone. Push too far, and you’ll shut down the learning process.

In rock climbing, lucidity is at a premium because overreaching can be fatal; The Warrior’s Way places a huge premium on continual learning to hone and develop your skills. This incremental approach evokes Kaizen, and is a powerful control against unfettered hubris, which can leave you hanging without a rope. Don’t assume you’ve got all the answers, and always take advantage of opportunities to learn.

Trust the process and the climb and be open to modifying yourself to the situation. Instead of wanting to control the climb and change it to what you prefer, adapt to what the climb is requiring.

Flexibility and adaptability are extremely valuable to a young fed. Change is both constant and an imperative, and young federal employees are well suited to roll with new changes unfettered by loyalty to a particular concept, process or author. Young Feds should use that strength to gracefully pivot to change. One misstep that we are occasionally guilty of is in demanding the rock change to meet our mental models, academic training or favorite ideas. The bureaucracy is not going to just follow your change on your terms.

Value the process of the journey over the end result, which will enable you to focus your attention in the moment.

Of all the potential hazards for young feds, lazer focused ambition is perhaps the greatest risk. Myopic focus on the next grade robs you of the experience, removes you from the moment and can lead to a premature end to your climb. After all, what is the greater tragedy? Taking a few extra years to get that next grade or entering a position of greater responsibility without the skills to execute the climb? If you are focused on your obligation to service, the answer is self evident.

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Jerry Gidner

Dave – As a former rock climber and former young fed – now a middle aged fed, I like this advice. I have an internal blog at the BIA and we are starting to bring in a lot of millenial employees who I think are having a hard time figuring out how to navigate their careers and the bureacracy. Could I copy your blog entry into mine – with proper attribution, of course, and a plug for govloop? Jerry Gidner