|by Nick Charney|
The last three-ish years have been busy both personally and professionally for me. In that time, I played a critical role in helping design a new challenge-based government program, took on management responsibilities within that program, and had the opportunity to assemble a crackerjack team that is absolutely crushing on its delivery. We're a weird hybrid of policy advice on innovation and impact, and experimentation with program delivery. Our team works well not because of a particular governance structure, but rather because of the culture we've been able to cultivate, the quality of the our team members, and our trusted relationship with our executive cadre.
Over the same period of time, I stopped writing. It was a slow but continuous denouement that culminated in me hanging up skates and declaring that I used to write things on the internet. I was a new manager, we were a new team, we were working on a new program. It was all very exciting and I wanted to dig into the substance of the task at hand. Doing that took significant amounts of time, mental energy, and was (at times) all consuming.
It was a tremendous learning opportunity, but entailed certain sacrifices. For example, I had always told myself that writing about my experience in the public service was something that I wanted to do throughout the course of my career. That being able to look back on this blog as a sort of journal of public service things would be valuable to myself and, if I struck the right tone or raised the right issues, to others. I thought it was an all or nothing proposition. I've always been an all or nothing kind of person, to quote the late (great, and highly influential to me personally) Gord Downie: "Either it'll move me or it'll move right through me. Fully, completely".
But careers are funny things, they ebb and flow, and while everyone's opinion may differ, mine has evolved to a place where I feel like there's neither a right nor a wrong way to go about making decisions about them. I was speaking to a friend of mine recently about relationships but his advice applies equally to careers and other human endeavors (paraphrasing): "You've only got some much energy to give, if you make a withdrawal in one place, someone else has to come in and pick up the slack. That or the relationship suffers." Or put another way by another friend (again, paraphrasing): "Time is your most valuable resource, and you once you've spent it you can't get it back".
I was so busy doing the work -- designing a program, delivering it, managing the day to day operations of the team -- that I simply didn't have the time to share what I was learning with others the way I had previously. Sure, I was still having conversations, exploring issues and positing solutions, but I was hyper focused on the immediate issues and people in front of me. Reporting back on what I was dealing with and learning along the way didn't seem as important, or if I'm being honest, interesting, or even fair to those who were living through it with me.
Often I was just trying to keep my head above water, but along the way I learned that solving real problems in front of you, and seeing the impact of their resolution first hand, is an incredibly meaningful experience; that helping the five people immediately in front of you can feel (and be!) more meaningful then writing some esoteric think piece that gets loaded into 5,000 anonymous web browsers (the impact of which is hard to quantify and more importantly, qualify).
Last year I also had the good fortune of being able to spend ~3 months in Denver, Colorado on a temporary duty assignment as a Trade Commissioner. The experience was unlike any other in my career and forced some introspection -- I'm in the middle of what I'm jokingly referring to my 'early' mid-life crisis.
When I got back I started to reflect on how much I've learned by doing, how many different people, ideas, and issues I've collided with over the past few years and what I find the most rewarding about my work.
Embracing interesting ideas and even more interesting people is what made me who I am today, it's what put me on the path, gave me the skills, and created the worldview that I continue to bring to bear on difficult but important tasks such as creating new programs, building new teams, and learning how to continue to be a positive influence on the our systems of governance.
I feel as though I'm emerging somewhat from the personal and professional ether, and if I'm being completely honest with myself, I'm not sure what this all means.
Maybe it means taking time to pause, reflect, and share more. If that's the case then sharing a new updated version of Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants.
The new version includes new content under both the Scheming and Virtue headings as well as hints for both employees and managers. You can also watch me deliver the handbook as a talk should you be interested. Thanks to the Canada School of Public Service for making the video available online.