As you might remember, we spoke with Karen Rainey and Michelle Crockett in previous GovFem articles (see this article and this article) about how and why they got involved in Federally Employed Women (FEW), an advocacy and training non-profit organization for women in federal government. They both explained the power of in-person training and the role it can play in shaping a woman’s career.
We’re now here in New Orleans for the 46th annual National Training Program (NTP) and I can already tell you that they were right. Being in a room with hundreds of strong, motivated female feds really is awesome.
But at the opening session, Crockett, who serves as President of FEW, pushed us to think of this training as more than just a chance to get to know each other. She said to take this opportunity to start our own journey to excellence.
“Your Journey to Excellence” is the theme of this week’s training. Before I got here, I wasn’t really sure what that meant or what I was supposed to do about it. “Journey to excellence? I’m not excellent! And I have no idea how to get there,” I thought.
Thankfully, Crockett started today’s session by letting me know that I wasn’t the only person thinking that, but there was something we could do about it. “You might be feeling tired or disheartened. You might not feel excellent,” she said. “It is not going to stay that way forever, unless you don't do something to change it. The best time of your life may still be ahead of you, but it won't just magically show up. You have to create it. Instead of letting circumstances control and defeat you, use them to push you into action.”
Later in the day, I had a chance to sit down with Crockett to discuss this idea in more depth. She put it in simpler terms. “Your journey to excellence is about choices,” she said. Whether you realize it or not, you’re already making the choices everyday that determine your journey.
“For example, a lot of that journey has to do with work-life balance,” she explained. “How often do we hear 'I had to make the choice between being with my family or getting the promotion’ or even deciding if they wanted to start a family at all? These are hard choices.”
FEW hopes to empower women to make those choices in their personal and professional lives with confidence. “Ultimately that’s what this is all about,” said Rainey, who is chairing this year’s NTP. “We provide real training to help you on that journey.”
“The NTP shows that you have options,” continued Crockett. “We let you know that when you have to make those choices, you really have options within the workplace. It’s not just work or life. You can ask questions like ‘am I going to accept that assignment’ or ‘can I be part of that tiger team making strategic decisions at my agency’ and know you have options other than yes or no.”
Knowing your options is paramount, because every person’s journey is unique. “It may not be the same path to excellence for everyone, but if you make your own personal choices, you’ll get there,” Rainey added. “Your choices will lead you to excellence.”
Beyond education, the leaders of FEW realize that women need a support network to help them make those decisions. That’s another reason Rainey and Crockett are so adamant that women take the time to come together at the national training.
“Part of why we get everyone together is to practice that finesse of networking,” explained Crockett. “We put you in a comfortable setting so that you can learn that art of entering a room, extending your hand, and saying hello. Being surrounded by other federally employed women gives you a space to learn to form relationships.” Becoming comfortable with navigating professional settings, especially in such a supportive environment, also sets you up for success later in your journey.
Crockett said the personal skills she nourished through these events have landed her in places she never thought possible. “A girl from a small southern town!” she laughed. “Who would have thought I would end up taking a meeting in the First Lady’s office at the White House? You just never know, but you have to be prepared.”
Rainey agreed. “I would never have believed I would be in this position, leading a national conference with nearly 1,000 attendees from government! FEW let me do that.”
Now that Rainey and Crockett have clearly progressed on their own journeys, they hope to propel others through Federally Employed Women’s training program. “When they leave, we want attendees to be rejuvenated with an understanding of how to apply the resources, information, and tools they receive here to support and enhance their career goals,” said Crockett.
Rainey wants to see that success extend beyond today’s attendees. She added, “I want to send qualified staff back to agencies, to make them better. I want them to take every opportunity they experienced here, and go share it with others.”
Personally, I know I’ll be doing just that. I’m going to start my journey to excellence, and then empower others to do so, too!
Photo Credit: Flickr/Erik Schepers