Saturday, February 01, 2014

These are a few of my most energizing things

Immediately after writing and posting that last post, I felt an intense urge to respond to myself with all the things that excite me about where I am and what I am doing, and, mostly, who I am working with.

Because, the reality is, I have a hard time imagining a position that is a better fit for my my intellectual, professional, managerial, and leadership skills, as well as my personal preferences and values in mission and workplace culture. There is so much I love about my job and the interactions it gives me with other professionals (which reminds me even more just how glad I am to work where I do).

So, these are just a few of my most energizing, work-related things:

- Independence: the freedom to set my own agenda based on an assessment of community needs balanced with my own interests and skills and ability to respond to them. Also, the freedom to set my own schedule.

Also, while I appreciate my direct supervisors and managers, I also sort of do appreciate the fact that the nearest one is two hours away. Sometimes distance does make a relationship smoother.

- Really damn smart and committed and striving colleagues. In our office, and really, organization-wide, some of the smartest people are the people who answer the phones, respond to the public inquiries, and generally keep the ship afloat and on a right heading. Really, when both of them are gone from our office at the same time for whatever reason, I feel as though I've had a lobotomy. Not only do they know the ins-and-outs of daily tasks, but when they get the question of, "Did an falling star just land in my vegetable garden?" on the phone, they don't (just) laugh out loud, but the actually figure out who to call to get an answer.

And then, there are my fellow educational colleagues, who have the same charge of independent action as I do (see above), and love nothing more than challenging themselves to save the world. As a department head, I hardly have to manage in this office. Instead, I get to practice being a leader in the true sense of the word, while challenging each of them to one-up me in that leadership game. And they oftentimes do it. There is nothing better than working in a collegial, challenging atmosphere made up of a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and skills, and a willingness to collaborate out of a sheer love of problem solving. Then step one county over, and one county beyond that, and beyond that, and there is a whole new nest of the same sort of collegial and intellectual skill and ambition.

Does it get any better than that?

Then there's the actual work I do. It's a lot like the weather in Colorado: if you don't like it, wait 10 minutes, it will change. Granted this is a personality thing, but I thrive on changes and new challenges. This job is perfect for the life-long learner. Since we're changed with keeping up with and responding to emerging community needs, and my focus area is "families," that mostly means the sky is the limit for creative programming. In my first four years, my programming has included (but not been limited to):
  • Developing a local exhibit to complement a traveling Smithsonian exhibit on the history of food in America, to which I suggested and partnered with our nutrition educators and local food pantry to add an additional theme of "food insecurity" and what happens when people don't have enough food to eat in our community.
  • Teaching "Raising a Thinking Child" parent education classes and joining a state team and developing ways to improve the delivery of the program around the state, including now beginning to develop an online version of the curriculum.
  • Collaborating on presenting the Leadership Oneida County program for professionals in our county to learn about programs and services offered in the community, to become better connected to professionals outside of their own professionals circles, and to develop leadership skills that could be transformed into greater commitment and contributions to the local community. Through this I developed an improved Community Services Day program which includes a hands-on mini-poverty simulation, lobbied for and got a both a Medical Day program presented in a major community center outside of the county seat, and a Business/Tourism/Culture Day in another community center, thus improving the participants' exposure to smaller communities in the county.
  • Developing a curriculum for and teaching life skills classes to inmates in both medium and minimum security at our local county jail. This ranks among the most personally rewarding projects I've ever undertaken, though it was unfortunately short-lived as it was also the first program to go after I assumed the additional administrative duties. Hopefully I will return to it someday.
  • Presenting Poverty Awareness for Community Engagement (PACE) workshops to various audiences, including (so far) one half-day full-fledged poverty simulation in which participants are assigned a role within various households living on a limited income. Over the course of four, 15-minute "weeks" (and 5 minute weekends in between), their households must negotiate and problem solve completing essential household tasks (paying the rent, buying food, going to work or school or applying for jobs, and getting transportation between all of them). This and the mini-simulation I do with smaller groups are among the most powerful and eye-opening educational experiences I have lead.
  • Applying my own personal skills and love for technology through collaborating on a Digital Leader's grant together with my office colleague to purchase several e-readers/tablets to loan to local librarians who are on the front lines of the digital "tsunami" (err, stream) and providing them with support and developing a website to teach them how to use mobile devices so they can assist others. 
  • Strategic planning and professional development for public sector and non-profit agencies providing services to families and community members. Currently the largest project I have underway is working with the Tri-County Human Service Center (which provides programs and support to those living with developmental disabilities, mental health or behavioral health, alcohol and other drug abuse challenges in a three-county area) on several levels, including organizational strategic planning, professional leadership development for administrative staff, and advisory support on innovative programming development and implementation. It is an honor to be guiding those surfing on the tidal wave of changes overtaking the Center, and it is both nerve-wracking and thrilling to see what new things each year brings.
  • And, just because I swore I'd never do anything related to Home Ec (er, Family and Consumer Sciences) in my life, I am now teaching safe food preservation workshops. Can you believe it - I now can my own food, including pressure canning meat and spaghetti sauce, and dehydrate food, and I teach other people how to do it. That is something I would have never guessed I would ever do, much less enjoy so much!
There are tons of reasons to love the job I do and working where I do. Sure, a steady income of a decent sort and good benefits are also big factors, but I would leave any job that provided those things but wasn't worth the time I invested in it. I only hope I can increase my focus on the rewarding aspects of my job.