Even if you feel called to public service, it can be a challenge to find meaning in the day-to-day work and sustain it as you advance. But a government career offers many opportunities to find work that matters. “This is really where I think the public sector shines,” said Dave Uejio, Acting Associate Director for Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “You can’t beat the mission orientation. Particularly in the regulatory space, your ability to interpret and enforce the law is a fundamental underpinning of government. That kind of impact is second to none.”
“We’re in a really interesting moment in time,” said Barbara Morton, Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “In customer experience, we have an opportunity to redefine the perception of what public service is. It’s creative and vibrant and transformative.” Passion by itself isn’t enough to sustain a career, observed Dr. Jamie Crews, Senior Manager of Organizational Development for Orange County, California.
“You need to find a purpose,” she said, “but in government, that’s the low-hanging fruit. It goes a long way, but it doesn’t take you to the finish line. Your career is really made up of the day-to-day experiences and the people that you’re working with.”
“For me, the key was that you had to be able to keep growing, add new responsibilities or pass off old responsibilities to somebody else who needed to grow,” said Marie De Fazio, Executive Director of the Presidential Management Alumni Association. “There is that tension in government because you’re not doing this job for you, you’re doing this job for other people. Well, yes, I am serving the public, but if I’m going to do that as a professional, and if I’m going to serve the public as a career, I need to treat it as a career. It’s important that we treat government careers like actual careers. That means development, solving new problems, finding opportunities, and that means moving to something else if you get stuck and there isn’t a way forward.”
As you advance in your career, be open to new opportunities. “Don’t confuse your current role with your professional identity,” Crews said. “When you start looking at not just your purpose, but at your individual skills, it gives you freedom to move.”
“You can find a path in government that is incredibly energizing because of the mission,” Morton said. “But you can also tap into other dynamic aspects of your interest and yourself. Understand that if you follow your passion, you will find your way through. Trust that opportunities will reveal themselves.”
“There’s a tremendous richness to the kinds of careers you can have,” Uejio said. “You can shape your career in a way that I think is harder to replicate on the outside. You have so much freedom to chart a career that is rewarding to you and rewarding to your career goals. “There are not only opportunities,” he said, “but the ability to support differing missions throughout your career, doing work that you love.”
Learn more about starting out in government in our New Hire Playbook.