‘I Don’t Want Your Sacrifice, I Need Your Gift.’ Signed, A Grateful Nation

The author says that sacrifice is the one thing that is not needed, or even wanted, from federal employees. She explains what she means and what she thinks is a better approach in terms of motivating federal workers.

Those who come to government service are a special breed. We’re here because of a call to service, a desire to give back, and an intent to leave the world a better place than we found it.

As we come on board with our respective organizations we expect, and are even eager, to make certain sacrifices in the service of our agency and our country. In fact, MOST of our organizations have the word sacrifice somewhere in the either the Vision, Mission, or Values statements.

I hate to break it to you though…

I believe that sacrifice is the one thing that we do NOT need, or even want, from our federal employees.

Calm down! Before you label me a heretic, a traitor, or someone looking collect more for less, hear me out…

Sacrifice means giving of oneself from a place of scarcity or lack. Whether that giving is in terms of money, time, energy, or physical well-being, it assumes a giving, willingly or otherwise, from a source that has finite boundaries. Because of those finite boundaries, at some point there will be nothing left to give. The cup is empty. We simply cannot pour out any more. When that cup is empty, we are left tired, bored, frustrated, depressed, and wondering, “Why did I sacrifice so much in the first place? Did everything I gave up really even matter?”

So what if instead of asking government employees to sacrifice, we instead asked them to give?

What’s the difference, you ask, between sacrifice and giving?

The difference is that a gift comes from a place of abundance, even excess. We have different talents, skills, abilities, and loves that come together to create who we are as people and as employees. As we cultivate each of those things within ourselves beginning with the things that matter most to us, we continually fill our cup. Our service is no longer a “pouring out” of finite resources but rather a “spilling over” of unlimited abundance doing what we love in the service of those who love what we do.

While there are steps that organizations can take to facilitate the process (a different topic for a different day), the creation of an engaged, on purpose, abundant work force, is not up to the organization. It is up to us as individuals to create that reality for ourselves.

We are the individuals who protect our borders, who create the face of our nation abroad, who insure that our veterans, our elderly, and our under-privileged are cared for, who insure that our nation’s fiscal resources are managed responsibly, who preserve our natural lands, and who perform countless other roles creating a nation that, while not perfect, we believe is the best deal going.

When we recognize the enormity of our endeavor, we realize that it is impossible for us to sacrifice enough to face the challenges ahead of us. The only way that we can sustain our missions for the long haul is to give, of our time, energy, talent, and love, from our individual overflow.

So what does it mean to give from our individual overflow? The answer might sound counterintuitive… or worse, self-serving. It means being absolutely clear on what matters most to you, what makes your heart sing, and consistently choosing in favor of that. As you begin to focus on those things that you are good at, that bring you joy, and that make you smile, you’ll find yourself naturally led to the place where your specific gifts are of highest service.

Your gifts will spill over on to the work you do, the people you work with, and the people who mean the most to you both personally and professionally. There will be no limit to your time, your energy, your creativity, or your possibilities because you are giving from abundance.

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.