With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

033E1292-6168-43D8-BF94-DD27DFD6D95A

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

It’s the Season for Reflection

You don’t know who I am, you don’t know what I do. You keep staring at me as if I should know you. Are you judging me? Or do you just care? What does it mean, this cold meaning stare? Does your stare mean there is something I must do? Or are you the person that hasn’t a clue. Before you see me, gaze upon you, cause the anger that’s felt a mirror reveals true.

A younger Chris Wilson, wrote this many years ago as a result of the frustration of judgment from others. Tired of the judgment of our socioeconomic status, family make-up and even for non-conformity.

In this season of reflection, I am going to ask you to consider a resolution that can assist with the most basic of human gestures, yet is often almost impossible to achieve. Don’t be quick to judge others. Seems simple right? We know it’s not though. Do you judge the person who just asked you for change? How about the person who waved hello that you don’t even know? The person with a parrot on their shoulder or the person who talked about Marvel Comics for twenty minutes? We are often quick to judge. Sometimes we do it in our thoughts, sometimes with our friends, or sometimes directly. This one simple thought often seems harmless. It isn’t. These judgments are often the beginning of something much larger for you, those around you and the person you judge.

What if we didn’t have this immediate reaction of judgment? What if we could give it just a minute longer to get an impression? Aren’t most good decisions given some time and thought? It has often occurred to me that although we possess five senses, we rarely use them in combination. Using our sight or hearing alone can often lead to misrepresentation. The clothes I have on, the hairstyle I possess, or even the way I walk, says something to many upon first encounter. Yet, almost assuredly, we would not want anyone to do that to us.

Our world is struggling as a result of unfair judgment. Judgment of others often leads to bias, fear, and misunderstanding and ultimately, hate. Now more than ever we need love above hate. This year, in 2019, I am resolving again to stand against hate, to not unjustly judge others and continue to work toward celebrating our differences. To do this, we have to know where hate begins. Let one’s whole character speak to who they are. The spread of hate can not be easily spread if unfair judgment is not part of the equation. To fight hate and unfair judgment we must let love for one another be the driver of impressions.

Before you see me, gaze upon you, cause the anger that’s felt a mirror reveals true.

af030275-98cc-4dc9-89aa-64b41a4b9d80

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many other social media platforms have changed our public service world. Is it for the better? Are we more informed? Are we more transparent? Are we more connected? Does it help our self-esteem to measure popularity in likes, retweets and shares? Many would answer, yes.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many other social media platforms have changed our public service world. Is it for the worse? Are we misinformed by inaccuracy? Are people hiding behind ghost accounts to antagonize others? Are we avoiding real conversations in exchange for distant, electronic, emotional commentary, laced with false bravado? Have we become overly self-important as a result of false popularity? Many would answer, yes.

I would say, perhaps the case is a little of both perspectives. Maybe it is a lot of both. My opinion is irrelevant though. Whether I like it or not, social media is here. It’s all around us, and as long as there are users, there will be platforms. I can complain about it, but that won’t stop someone from incessantly taking selfie photos on Snapchat like a documentary of facial expressions. 

Let’s face it, social media is now the most common and popular form of communication. It’s how you keep up with Aunt Susie. It’s how you idolize your favorite celebrity. It’s how you get your news for goodness sake! Remember the newspaper? Everyone can be a self-designated journalist now if they post the gospel according their own flock of followers. There are whole segments of broadcast media productions that discuss postings of the Great Dane doing yoga stretches. You address your political figures and political figures address you in the virtual congress of social media. 

For those of us that communicate and serve others for a living, this platform can’t be ignored. I have literally gone from years worth of standing in front of groups and discussing their challenges to now posting information and interacting through live feeds and virtual exchanges (both can be the proverbial shark tank situation). 

For many of us, this has been a challenging shift, and at times a frustrating one. Why? Here’s just a few reasons. The response is not always pretty through social media. As a matter of fact it can be down right hateful. If you interact regularly, you are likely to have your very own “troll” who’s total mission in life is to make you miserable. In addition to that, much can get lost in interpretation of electronic exchange. The less factual informers can often win the popular opinion poll as a result of being quicker to post or more dynamic in their presentation. Misinformation can be so detrimental. It can be a threat to public safety. A threat we can’t always predict or stay in front of. This often leaves you with a feeling that you must obsess on social media so that you don’t miss that one critical clue leading you to the next big damaging viral post.

I never have claimed to have a monopoly on wisdom. I will not start with this topic. I do however have an earned perspective which is just this. The social media train is not coming, it is here. You can not stop it. You can not stop it. You can not stop it (cognition through repetition). You can however, manage it. There are some simple steps to managing this labyrinth of social media. Step one, accept it as a platform for communicating your services and connecting with your customer. This platform can connect you in a more powerful way than television or radio. You want to reach your audience. Don’t let the platform dissuade you. Step two, pace yourself. Schedule what you do. Over-sharing becomes part of the constant chatter and gets ignored, so consider your frequency. Don’t be like the person that posts every meal and every trip to the mirror. Give your audience enough to be connected but leave them wanting more. Step three, connect with your audience by providing honest, dependable, consistent, short messaging, that can be fun, but doesn’t have to be over-sensationalized.  Short attention spans demand brief communications. Novels are downloaded, not posted.  In a feed of thousands of messages, you need to stand out visually, so stick a picture or video in there. Messaging that provides accuracy will overshadow false posting in the long run. Step four, accept the negativity and don’t give it traction. Those who troll get more traction when you engage. Serve your audience, not the singular voice that seeks to distract. Ever wonder why they have so much time on their hands? Wait……there it is. Yeah, exactly what you are thinking. Finally, step five. This one is a biggie. Accept that you do not control everything, you deserve a life, and this is one facet of what you do, so keep it in perspective. You will make mistakes. We all do. Correct it, own it, and move on. 

I am fortunate to have many wonderful communications experts in my life who provide great insights. Their success with social media platforms aided in connecting with others and getting information out that provides public safety and quality of life. Everyone can fall prey to some of the pitfalls of social media on occasion though. Stick to the steps folks. We can do this. Frankly, we don’t have a choice.

0261C41B-5F6D-48A4-A6BE-4162FA954DB8

Leave a Legacy, Be an Exclamation Point!

The reward of public service is intrinsic for many of us. Not in a selfish way, but in a way that fills a space inside your soul. Sounds deep, because it is. The passion has to be one that drives you beyond what most consider reasonable at times. I have been spit at, cussed out, threatened, followed, and targeted. Yet, I get up each day hoping to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

When attempting to serve the public, you have to understand the issues. Housing, employment, public safety and many topics arise daily as challenges, or as we refer to it in public service, opportunities. Connecting with your community on various levels allows you to hear what it is like to walk in others’ shoes. This understanding prompts efforts. We hear, we see, we feel and then we respond.

The metrics for success in public service are often measured outwardly. How many jobs are filled, how many people attended or took advantage of a service, how much money was saved or how much economic impact was generated.

At this point, it should be apparent that I have a flare for the obvious. What isn’t so apparent though, is why so many of us, knowing all the previously stated things, continue to use the same approaches when we don’t get a better result. Same approach, same results, right? Why not try to approach things like you may not get another chance? Don’t cringe, I am not getting ready to overuse the expression, “out of the box.” The theory behind it is worth consideration though. Different approach, may get different results.

Let me pause here and say I am not insulting you by insinuating you may be using a similar approach to someone else or continue to do something that “has always been done that way.” Often we feel that our approach is up to a higher authority. Sometimes we feel so restricted in our guidelines that is seems impossible to do anything different. Sometimes we lose our passion and getting an average result becomes acceptable.

Have you ever thought about the legacy of what we can do though? I do. The older I get, the more I realize, public service is an extreme responsibility, which allows me to do things that impact lives and leave a legacy that surpasses my life. Sounds exciting? Adding the term legacy to any effort, always draws a higher level of attention. The best of the best begin to perk their ears up, and race to the sound when that word is used. A chance to do something so meaningful that it will last for generations to come.

If I accept that what we do, can create a legacy, then the idea of average results becomes nauseating. To create a legacy, I have to be an exclamation point. Push the boundaries, break the barriers of traditional thought and give the community what they deserve. If you understand the challenges, your solution must match the needs. From where I sit, we have a lot of needs and a lot of opportunities. I hear 100 good ideas a day on how to move forward, but I see 1000’s sitting on the shelf collecting dust because we are afraid to try. Leave a lasting impression, go for broke and create a legacy. Go be an exclamation point!

FC25121C-5565-4E94-825C-D9C1A96C083F

Photo Credit: Chamreece Diggs

 

 

The Parks and Recreation Professional

In honor of Parks and Recreation Month, I would like to highlight something most of us may not think about. Quality of life is a driver in our community. Perhaps if we label parks and recreation as quality of life, we may better understand their value. Public safety, economy, health, and the environment are all impacted by the parks and recreation profession.

So why is it that so many of the people parks and recreation professionals serve have no real sense of what it is they do? Simple. If they do their jobs well, it appears as if things just happen. Parks and Recreation professionals aren’t narcissistic and aren’t necessarily pursuing individualized, ambitious desires. They make things happen for the right reasons and very little self-gain outside of the intrinsic pleasure for serving others.

They just do. They provide quality of life, they spur the economy, they protect the environment, they support, they teach, they promote wellness, they…..well you get the point. I cannot identify many other professions that impact others in so many different ways.

I have heard that sometimes people just don’t see what they do. I have also heard that perhaps they just aren’t as topical as other priorities like public safety or development. I don’t believe any of that. I actually believe it is the opposite. They are perhaps, a little too good at what they do and maybe they are a little too selfless at announcing their value.

Let me explain. When you attend an event that draws 100,000 people, you are there to have fun. Your focus is on the experience, as it should be. When you learn about the indigenous wildlife around you for the first time, in a class, your focus is on the excitement of the live animal in front of you. When you ask that special someone to spend the rest of their life with you as you stand in a beautiful garden or park, your thoughts are on the moment in all its perfect surroundings.

The impacts and details are their job. It is visible, but sometimes you just don’t see it. The millions of dollars parks and recreation professionals bring in through those who traveled to that event and decided to shop, rent a hotel room, and eat at restaurants are the things that occur around your experience. The passion they ignite for environmental stewardship, with one simple environmental class, turns into a flame for those who will carry the torch of preservation tomorrow. One small instance can create a whole movement, but rarely does anyone reflect on the influence that started it. When you step into a garden or park that is maintained through countless hours of meticulous work that often includes blood, sweat and yes, some tears, you see the backdrop for a great experience. How it got that way becomes irrelevant to your cause.

In my career, I have managed construction, finances, human resources, and natural resources. I have repaired, taught, provided lifesaving support, rescued, inspired, sparked initiatives, and enjoyed countless other opportunities to serve. At heart, I was and still am a parks and recreation professional. I am today, by title, an Assistant City Manager. I still employ all the great things I learned as a parks and recreation professional. My passion has not changed, my motivation remains the same. No other career would have allowed me to be ready for the challenges and opportunities I have faced in this role. The City Manager of my community has a parks and recreation background. Many of the community leaders around me tell stories of their love for parks or the job they once had at an amusement park or community center. The influence is everywhere. Like so many things though, the experience doesn’t always translate into the overall impact.

The irony is parks and recreation professionals wear the lack of recognition like a badge of honor. Our impact is the long game. We seek to provide equality in quality of life. We wish to serve and support. Being under the radar allows us to do that free of pitfalls that become those constantly seeking recognition. Our schedule is to work when others do not. Our pride is to elevate others ahead of ourselves. Our joy is your smile. Our reward is your success.

When we do the job well, you get to enjoy without worrying about the details and that is the ultimate thank you. July is Parks and Recreation month. If you want to thank your parks and recreation professionals, go out and enjoy what they produce. After all, that’s why they do it.

6686C273-DF23-409F-9893-38C19B1F1DD1