Even Clark Kent and Diana Prince couldn’t be Superman and Wonder Woman, all the time. As a public servant though, is this really okay? Are you expected to be super all the time? If I am being honest, I am, by many who simply expect me to have all answers, have total recall, and be all knowing in many respects. The older I get, the more distant I seem to be from meeting that mark, especially when it comes to the recall, but I really don’t mind the image of being considered “super.”
Why is it that so many expect so much from their public servants? My two cents: we are to blame. We have created a culture of great expectations. Public servants are quite special. We strive to make the imagery of “super” true. We will work all hours, miss personal milestones, and essentially push ourselves to the brink of insanity to make sure others are supported.
What makes a person go to such lengths to please others? There are a host of reasons. I will focus on the most prominent one. Throughout my time in public service, I have had the fortunate opportunity to forge relationships with many colleagues. Whether it be at the coffee maker or providing greetings at the first day of employee orientation, I find myself thirsting for the answer to one question. Usually accompanied by a welcoming smile, I ask, “What on earth made you decide to sign up for public service?!?” The response is often the same, whether offered quickly or from relenting to my tireless digging for the answer.
First, remember your favorite super hero has to have an origin! All of the good ones do. Origin stories help us understand the very drive of our super hero. Ironically, that origin is often the same humanizing quality a hero possesses as well. The struggle with ones’ “super self” is often all about the very thing that spurred them to dawn the cape. Before I get way too nerdy for my readers, let me offer what this one, common response to my question is and give the true origin for public servants.
It’s empathy! Where many may be born with an understanding, most of us gain it through experience. Allow me to offer that those who have struggles can often be understood better by those who have also struggled. I have heard origin stories that range from abuse to limited access. My own story begins with a feeling of shame and limitation. Of all the super public servants I meet, each has some pivotal moment that spawned a burning desire to support others. It is often in an effort to prevent these enlightening, but oh so humbling experiences from happening to others.
What’s amazing about this empathy is that through public service, we gain the super power, that allows us to create paths, support others and generate circumstance to pave a better offering. We help with employment, transportation, quality of life and safety! At the risk of letting my super status sound a bit narcissistic, we change lives and impact society daily. It’s an intoxicating notion, but a true one. To have such an ability is fairly addictive and not a feeling you wish to relinquish. It drives us to forgo many of our own personal wants to afford opportunities for others.
I am not suggesting we mirror the perception to the point of burnout, but I will say, who can blame us for the never ending pursuit to serve others? We have the gained experience, the ultimate motivation, and a tremendous incentive. Those who are served don’t always show the appreciation we would wish, but even one thanks a month provides the justification that our pursuit is just. In lieu of constant praise we often seek affirmation through expectation. In other words, we love the image of a super hero and even if the constant expectation wasn’t there, we would desire it regardless. The more you want us to be super, the more we want to be.
For those who count on us, remember our origins, and even when we fall short, the desire is there and for good reason. For those of us who serve, remember your origins, and accept that it drives you, but even Clark Kent and Diana Prince couldn’t be Superman and Wonder Woman all the time.
Author: Christian Wilson
Editor: Joshua Wilson
Contributor: Tracy Pegram