When I was hired seven years ago, my new government job came with a $20,000 per year pay increase and retirement at age 55, with a lifetime pension benefit. Not to mention the union representation, exorbatent amout of paid holidays and insane amout of paid time off. I remember feeling almost guilty to be stepping into a job with such amazing benefits. But, the extra money helped, the benefits were a perk and the position would give me an opportunity to see more, experience more, do more and be more. I was eager to meet challenges, excited for new experiences and hungry to learn.
I worked with men who had just been released from state prison and were trying to make their way back into society after being incarcerated for decades. I stood beside men as they signed away the rights to their children because they weren’t ready to stop committing crimes and going to jail. I advocated for the one’s who couldn’t advocate for themselves due to mental illness, intellectual disabilities or addiction. I confronted men on their reckless, impulsive decision making and challenged them to seek better alternatives. I offered tissues and a listening ear to men as they realized that they were giving their children the same broken childhood that their father gave to them. I interjected in disagreements and screaming matches fueled by the lack of means to appropriately express emotion to offer rationality, reason and understanding. I accompanied men to appointments to receive terminal medical prognoses and confirmed the identities of men that had passed away just hours after I had seen them. The work was demanding and sometimes downright heartbreaking.
But, every day I showed up, determined to plant at least a few more seeds of patience, honesty, hope, integrity, strength and perseverence. And to keep watering the seeds I had planted all the days before. I cared very much about the work that I was doing; I worked as hard as I possibly could (and then some); I showed up early and stayed late. I went to work everyday with the intent of earning my paycheck, not just collecting it. Throughout my seven years in my cushy government job, I was asked to take on a number of additional responsbilities and work roles in exchange for additional pay. The answer was always yes. Not because I was interested in padding my paycheck, but because I wanted to learn as much as I could about “the system.” I wanted to understand everyone’s role, everyone’s piece and every department’s agenda. I was working out of boxes from my car because I was traveling so much that having an actual physical office was a completely ridiculous idea.
After a few years into my cushy government job, I had hit my stride and was confident in my knowledge of “the system” and my abilities within it. But, as I started pulling my head out of tunnel-vision of my day to day responsibilities, I began to notice things that I had been oblivious to before. And some of those things just didn’t sit well with me, professionally or ethically. Despite a number of pep talks, investigations and management changes, my concerns continued to grow and began to effect my personal life, too. High levels of stress and anxiety contributed to headaches, weight loss and sleepless nights becoming the norm. Being short staffed and unsafely overworked for years at a time led to burnout, frustration and isolation. Deception, withholding information and consistently broken promises led to distrust, paranoia and exceptionally low morale. My path was clearly revealed to me the day that my new supervisor informed my team that we would be considered insubordinate if we failed to blindly follow instructions without asking any questions to clarify the expectation and be successful at meeting it. And, she reminded, being insubordinate is grounds for immediate termination, so, each one of us had a decision to make about our employment. Thankfully, it was a very easy decision for me to make. There was no doubt in my mind that it was time to move on.
Despite loving the actual work that I did, there was no amount of money or benefits in the world that would enable me to be deceitful, dishonest or otherwise untruthful. No promise of retirement at age 55 with a lifetime pension would put an end to my sleepless nights, anxiety and distrust. No job was worth compromising the value I put on integrity and honesty. When I turned in my two week resignation notice after seven years of overachieving service, my supervisor said nothing except, “I’ll do what I need to do about this.” And, in that moment, I knew I absolutely made the right decision. To quit my cushy government job and get back to doing work that makes my heart happy.