(Truth be told, it wasn’t until I was scrolling through to select my blog categories that I realized I could make this a thankful Thursday post. Now I’m just cheating and being sneaky.)
First, I’m thankful that Lindsay and I survived our national conference presentation last Thursday! Woot woot!!
But surprisingly, our presentation isn’t the thing I remember most or think of as the highlight of the conference (though I’m still incredibly proud, particularly since a few people want to attempt it in their own states — yay!).
Instead I came back from the conference feeling reinvigorated about the career path I’ve chosen. In some ways, that’s almost more rewarding. Almost.
During the lunch plenary on Friday, we (along with quite a few others) cried. Like a legit you don’t even try to pretend like something is in your eye kind of tears. It wasn’t even a concept I was gung ho about, but he reminded all of us that at the end of the day, we’re there to help people. Whether it’s through public health programs, homeless services, education, life skills training or otherwise, we all play a vital role in helping people get through life’s road bumps and hardships — and we often utilize the systems ourselves.
I’m certainly not trying to get on a soapbox. I don’t expect to change anyone else’s viewpoint about public programs anymore than someone else could change mine. To each his or her own. All politics aside, I couldn’t resist posting an article. The woman who wrote this piece was supposed to be a plenary speaker at our conference and I’m pretty sure she would have given me goosebumps.
To me, being a public servant means I pursue my mission with fierce determination, a strong work ethic and with the big picture in mind, even as I deal with the minutiae of the federal bureaucracy.
That’s what I love about the public sector. Six years ago when I interned at the Alzheimer’s Association, seeing that fierce mission and determination play out in spite of all the barriers is ultimately what made me certain I wanted to pursue the nonprofit path (and I still remind the director of that to this day). It’s why, when I fell in love with data and statistical analysis in grad school, I panicked and asked my research methods professor to help me figure out if/how I could potentially merge the two because I couldn’t give up my nonprofit love (and thank goodness she introduced to public program evaluation).
What I was reminded of this past week is that I get excited talking about data and evaluation performance measures because it helps make programs and systems better. I’ve nearly cried facilitating focus groups for an adolescent health needs assessment and hearing stories from participants in my chronic disease self management course. Heck, Lindsay got a few people choked up during our presentation on Thursday when she mentioned direct quotes from our focus groups.
It can be powerful stuff. And what’s fabulous is that because of that research and effort, I have a small role in creating change that will hopefully result in helping other people. I’m thankful I’ve discovered that passion and get to put my skills (it’s disturbing how much I love Excel…) to use.
What’s even funnier? Just a few weeks ago I was organizing/purging old documents. I came across a copy of a recommendation letter one of my English professors wrote for me for an award. This was at a point in my life when I was majoring in journalism and was hell-bent on being a feature writer/editor at some magazine someday. Even though he knew that and commented on my strength and love for writing, one of the final sentences this professor wrote in his recommendation for me was, “There is no doubt in my mind that Liz is headed toward a rewarding career in academia or public service.”
Looks like I got the best of both worlds. He just figured it out a few years before I did.