Is Your Government Job Turning You Into A Charity Case?

Is your job leaving you feeling angry or burned out? The author explains how this can make you feel like a charity case and how you can reverse the trend.

I was introducing myself to someone yesterday and mentioned that I help burned out mid-career government employees get their happy back in their government work. She replied, “Well, good luck with that. The government employees I know are pretty entrenched. They just want to gripe and complain and draw a paycheck. They actually like it that way.”

It was a short conversation. I was furious! First, the average citizen has no concept of the complexity of the issues you deal with at work every day. In fact, most don’t even know what you do! Until the day that your part of the system breaks down, of course, and then they’re all up in your grill.

And second, I remember what it felt like. I remember being that burned out, pissed-off employee. I also remember desperately wanting NOT to feel that way. The mission of my organization mattered to me, and I felt like a failure at it.

I had allowed my job to turn me into a charity case: taking all the crumbs I could get but not investing OF myself IN myself.

Thankfully, in spite of my efforts to the contrary, I finally figured out that continuing to blame the system was not helping me feel better or making me more successful in that system…or anywhere else for that matter.

Are you doing the same thing? When you request trainings and don’t get them, do you just throw up your hands in frustration and go complain to your friends about how unfair the system is? Do you hold back on applying for stretch assignments or rotations because you assume that when you are ready for it, somebody will just give it to you? Or, maybe the opposite is true. You apply for something, aren’t selected, and then tell everyone how undeserving the successful candidate is.

Do you allow your boss, colleagues, or volume of work to determine how you are going to feel today?

When you do these things, you put limits on yourself. You leave your career success and overall happiness at the mercy of someone or something outside yourself. You become a charity case.

The advantage to this approach is that you don’t have to assume responsibility for anything. You can make your entire experience someone else’s fault, leaving you completely free to gripe, whine, complain, stew, mope, and blame.

What it does not leave you free to do is be happy, calm, confident, or make a positive difference in the world.

Where else in your life are you making someone else responsible for your outcome?

Here’s a litmus test for you:

  • How many times do you say so-and-so MADE ME so angry/upset/pissed off/feel disrespected/feel ignored?
  • How many times have you said the system is broken (or some other more colorful variation of the sentiment)?
  • How often do you hang around the Watercooler Cesspool and share How-Bad-This-Sucks stories?

If those things run through your head – or worse, out your mouth — more than once, you are putting limits on yourself. What’s worse is you are also modeling limitation and victimhood for everyone around you including your kids and grandkids.

Brutal truth is in the words of T. Harv Ecker who said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

The energy, creativity, resilience and innovation required to address the challenges our organizations face today does not originate from a place of limitation and victimhood. Neither does your happiness and success.

(And if you could care less about helping your organization. You just want to feel good. That works too. In this case, a rising tide lifts all boats.)

Investing OF Yourself IN Yourself

The good news is that the solution to both problems lies in the same place: YOU.

So what does investing OF yourself IN yourself actually look like?

Step 1: Decide to assume responsibility for your own happiness and success.

Step 2: Answer the following questions:

  • What do you want your career and your life to look like?
  • What needs to be different for you to love your job—or love your job EVEN MORE?

Here’s a hint: If you are looking outside yourself–at your boss, your colleagues, your direct reports, or the system–you skipped Step 1. 

Step 3: Once you have that list, then ask yourself, is this the kind of person that I want to become?

Please note, the answer to the question in Step 3 is NOT ALWAYS YES. But whatever the answer is, take steps toward that. If there are resources available in your organization to help you take steps toward that, fine. If not, do it anyway.

Whatever excuse pops up around why you can’t take those steps is where you are putting limits on yourself.

When you recognize that the level of joy and satisfaction you feel at work is a measure of the degree to which you are offering your highest and best gifts, you’ll realize that you not only DESERVE to have a job you love, you have a RESPONSIBILITY to.

Re-energizing mid-career government employees is our specialty here at Greatness In Government. For more strategies to get your happy back, check out 5 Unexpected Success Principles for Creating Greatness In Government.

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.