What were you doing 2,922 days ago? Just to give you a hint…that was 8 (yes, EIGHT) full years ago.
For me, I remember waking up so early on that particular day. I was a young teenager, who woke up nice and early, eager to head to his first big-boy job…
It was the first day of my internship with the Department of Homeland Security. I was a GS-01 … definitely started from the bottom. I don’t even remember what my actual job title was. I was, honestly, just eager for that paycheck. I wanted a summer job and I definitely wasn’t planning on flipping burgers or working at Blockbuster (yes, that was still a thing back in 2007. No Netflix, yet). But I was open to “making some copies and some coffees,” as I like to describe it.
Long story short, that first year was way more than copies and coffees, and my overall experience in the federal government ended up being way more than that. It ended up defining the beginning of my career.
I don’t talk about my actual day-job very much here on HESONWHEELS, because of the sensitive nature of much of what I do. Working for the government has its pros and cons (I’d say, mostly pros) but some of the cons include having to particulalry critical about whom you share information with.
However, given today’s 8-year anniversary, I wanted to be sure to give credit where credit is due. That little boy internship in 1 office turned into 7 years of interning across numerous government offices, and landing a job in one that has turned out amazingly.
Those feelings of being motivated by the paycheck quickly evaporated. A big part of the reason for that is I was hired under one of the greatest mentors and supervisors I’ve ever had, a man named Ben. For the past 8 years, Ben has always looked out for me, lobbied for me, encouraged me, called me out where necessary (probably more often than you all would think)), and mentored me in a way that is incredibly service-minded. Ben truly believes in the utility of having a great mentor, and I lucked out HARD when I was able to score him as one of mine. Also very importantly, he has instilled in me the importance of paying it forward in terms of also being a giving mentor, as well. One of the mantras I live my life by is “Giving mentors are the currency of success.”
All of those qualities in a supervisor are a large part of what led me to come back to DHS just about every single summer and winter throughout high school, my undergraduate schooling, AND graduate school. Not only did I have a mentor who would accept me back with wide open arms, but I would routinely swap around to different programs and offices, to truly get a well-rounded view of what our offices did, how we worked together, and what really made our portion of DHS “work.” Those perspectives, relationships, and insights gave me limitless professional and personal advice on both what to do and what not to do in the work place – having both sides of the same coin were and are exceptional experiences.
At the beginning, I worked mostly in administrative work. Then I was brought on to focus on IT projects. Then I worked with the Help Desk and troubleshooting. Then I felt like I was in business school, creating pivot charts in Microsoft Excel for million (probably billion) dollar budgets. The responsibility I had escalated with each year, and that kind of development I am so grateful for.
Fast forward 7 years after that first day of work – June 25th, 2007 – and I was searching for full-time employment. I intentionally took the summer off post-graduate school to give myself a break. I had been going non-stop as a student at Virginia Tech for 6 full years, alternating that with working in D.C., or a summer or 2 in Blacksburg. I. was. pooped. To be rent free, I moved back in with mom and dad. I escaped to Delaware the weekend right after I moved back, with a Master’s degree but jobless. I disconnected myself for 3 days, and came back renewed. I was initially 100% determined to work on a college campus, so that I could use my Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (focused in Higher Ed) in a traditional way like everyone expected me to. But I realized that wasn’t necessarily the best position for me.
While I was away, I fully realized that my passion was in service and for helping other people. Well, I guess I didn’t REALIZE that then, but I definitely recommitted myself to it. And as I interviewed and was offered jobs where I would be working at that job 50+ hours each week, I kept asking myself one question. Even if I were passionate about the position, would I be passionate enough to give my quality of life in order to be successful at it? And I was GOING to be successful at it – no matter what. No matter how many hours it took. That’s just who I am.
It was practically the very next day when I got a phone call from my DHS mentor, Ben. He relayed that not only did they have a full-time position available for me, but the tasks that I would be doing, the office I would be working in would be 100% completely up my alley. I accepted. And since, through this position, I’ve been able to interface with absolutely brilliant people, including folks from the Department of Education, the Americans with Disabilities Association, Year Up NCR, NASA, the CSC, … and those are just groups within this month of June! I’ve been able to practically pick and choose the projects that I find interesting, while also realizing that the office needs me where they need me. From that perspective, I’ve been fortunate to continue learning more and more about how our office works by contributing to the overall team mission. Having perks like annual leave, sick leave, retirement, telework, etc…and the stability of working in the government…all of those don’t hurt either. :) They motivate me to be sure that I am doing my job at 110% on a daily basis.
Being so familiar with some of my job functions – skills that I learned through both gaining my master’s at Tech and through the professional development of having worked at DHS – make my job challenging, but not life-consuming. It allows me the time, most of the time, to continue to focus on other things I am passionate about – like HESONWHEELS, volunteering with students, and being an advocate for people with disabilities. It’s wonderful that my boss understands that when I take leave on a Friday, it’s because I’m driving down to Richmond to meet with my fellow State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind and Vision Impaired committee members, not just to enjoy longer weekend. Having people who understand you, how you work, and how your passions must be aligned with your work is absolutely, absolutely awe-inspiring.
If you would have asked me 8 years ago if this is where I would be – sitting in Starbucks on my lunch break, writing an ode to my little baby internship employer? ha…don’t think my answer would have been yes.