On Professional Maturation

Friday, August 25, 2017

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Apologies in advance for another long meander through my psyche. I've been struggling with these ideas for some time now and have yet to come to ground with precisely how to frame them. What follows is more personal philosophy and storytelling than lessons public service.

First, life's good.

I love my job. I've never felt more supported, appreciated, important, challenged, trusted, respected, and fulfilled in my public service career than I do now. It's equal parts roles and responsibilities, colleagues, and the ability to play to my strengths while leaving ample room to grow. I'm not sure I've ever been able to say that as earnestly as I can right now, and that's pretty awesome. I'm working with two cracker jack teams on two hot files and my days are full to the brim and just as rewarding.

The flip side of loving one's job of course is that one loses the sense of outrage at all of the parts of the bureaucracy that one would normally find offensive. As someone who primarily identifies with archetypal characters who buck the system (i.e. tricksters) this feels a lot like 'losing your edge' or -- as I've put it previously -- gentrifying (See: The Gentrification of #w2p). For a long time the idea of gentrifying to me felt like betrayal. As a self-stylized perpetual underdog, it's been a slow and difficult progression away from that mindset, but despite popular belief, maturing is never easy.

Relatedly, one of the most interesting pieces of advice I've ever received was from an executive who said "the one gift I really wish I could give you but can't is the gift of experience". The irony of course being that that advice would become increasingly salient over time and with experience. It means more to me now that it did then, and I appreciate it more now in hindsight. In all honestly, at the time I took it as validation of what I had already learned (i.e. I'm ready for more responsibility, bring it on!) rather than a confirmation of how much more I had to learn and how much better I could be at what I do.

What I think I'm learning about what I will call professional maturation is that -- for me at least -- it is about being less reflexive and more reflective. While one may think this understanding comes naturally, one's reflexes are their strengths honed over time through repetitious positive reinforcement. Reflexes are always at play and feature more prominently in stressful situations. If you're like me and on balance you feel as though your reflexes have served you well and are prone to throwing yourself into high stress files, its even harder to step away from them.

That said, if being reflexive and being reflective were on opposite sides of a continuum than what I've been doing is trying to increase the distance between them. This requires one to understand the nuance that reflexes are there to fall back on but that one should lead with reflection.

In practice this means digging in more, reading more closely, asking more poignant questions, being more methodical, writing notes and lists, verifying that everything has been covered off that you wanted to cover. Some people do this more naturally than others, others (like me) have to work at it more.

Second, my interests are shifting.

I'm still interested in the confluence of people, public policy, and technology but I'm investing my time differently than I used to. I used to spend a lot of my free time trying to learn about what new (shiny!) thing was coming around the corner and how it would eventually impact the business of the public service. This has generated a lot of interesting lines of thought that I've shared over the years on this blog. That said, I'm growing increasingly tired of the meta-narratives around engagement, openness, and innovation that underpin them, so I'm less inclined to feed them with greater reflection. It's not to say that meta-narratives don't have value, only that they no longer pique my intellectual curiosity in the way that they once did. Another aspect of professional maturation seems to be shifting away from simply holding strong views to a model of strong views weakly held.

There's a number of reasons why my interests have shifted, but one of the most predominant is that while these narratives all share the same roots, they've all branched out into their own unique paths. There are now simply too many players and viewpoints to put one's arms around in any meaningful way (See: The Many Challenges of Convening the Policy Innovation and Experimentation Ecosystem). When there were fewer networks, nodes, and information flows it meant that certain voices were amplified and one could reasonably expect to know who most of the key players were. Moreover, information networks have grown in number and been flooded with users, making keeping up simply impossible. Another likely reason is that my work has taken me to the coalface of the innovation discourse/implementation disconnect enough times to temper my enthusiasm for meta-narratives (See: The Innovation Discourse Disconnect). A couple of recent lessons here include the importance of not being a tax on the productivity of others and the perils and intellectual laziness of invoking specters of the powers that be, but I'll save those for another time.

Third, I'm (re)investing my time accordingly.

I'm pursuing a healthier lifestyle (exercising more, eating healthier, drinking less), investing more in interpersonal relationships (being more social IRL, putting my phone away when with others, retreating from social media), and reading more books (paper books, non-fiction books about things I'm interested that aren't work related). All of which takes time and energy away from engaging with and writing about the civil service.

I'm at fewer meetups, I'm writing less, but I'm still coming to work everyday and killing it for Queen and country.

 I'm just doing it a little differently.