Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Embracing Serendipity

I came to work for the Government by accident, or so it would seem.

Failure to earn a livable wage as a social worker with a growing family was what drove me from full-time employment and part-time Master's courses (whenever I could balance them), and into full-time education and voluntary unemployment.  Leaving employment had obvious repercussions, but the coursework was not as hard as I feared; a decade of experience in the field gave me a wealth of perspective which was not too difficult to reconcile with academic theory.  And in the instances where theory did conflict with real-world practice, my academic papers were even more interesting.

As with my BSW, a field placement was just part of the requirement; practical experience to balance academic learning.  While I acknowledge the value and necessity of this component, for me it was an afterthought.  I knew I could easily slip into a counselling role at some social services agency and pass the course, but that seemed ... well, almost like cheating.  Certainly much too easy.  What was the point in using the placement to demonstrate skills I already had? But then, doing so would certainly free up my mind to concentrate on other pressing things...

I considered my options; for too long, as it turned out.  By the time I approached the administration, only one placement was left.  By some coincidence, they were an option that no other student had been given the chance to even consider, because they also had missed the deadline for student co-op placements.

It was a paid placement in an emerging field, and I was the only student who would be interviewed for the spot.  I had some previous experience working for municipal and provincial government, though it was tiny in proportion to my experience in the private sector.  I interviewed, everything clicked, and when my student placement ended, my employment didn't.

It was what I needed, exactly when I needed it, in a place I never would have considered.  I wasn't looking; I was found.  It doesn't happen often, and it makes me wonder...

Is serendipity a reward reaped from the culmination of hard work — dividends paid for your investment into life and the people in it — or is it good fortune by random chance?

Is serendipity the occasional failure to miss opportunities that are normally present in everyday life? — opportunities that we could embrace openly and actively were we not distracted by life's regular crowd of bidders, each simultaneously clamouring for the largest piece of mental real estate?

Looking at your own life, do you fully perceive what is happening all around you most of the time, or do personal and professional commitments paired with ongoing unexpected developments leave you in a state of functional tunnel vision?  To what do you attribute small strings of good luck, or large gifts from life that you can't clearly congratulate yourself for?

What's stirring me to ruminate about how I got here, how fortunate I've been, and where life might direct me next? — A blog post by one of my (virtual) colleagues.

I completely empathize with his state of mind, although as one of the recent employees to extend into the participation and promotion of Web 2.0 within the Government of Canada, I'm not fatigued, nor am I concerned about the future.

I love what I do: often, it's my immediate job, but increasingly it's the work I'm able to do as a result of these social media tools emerging within the Government of Canada.  I'm talking to anyone who'll listen, and teaching anyone that wants to learn.  I'm editing content that I had no input into, and providing tech support to communities that I'm not a member of.  I'm tweeting and I'm blogging.  I'm thoroughly excited and completely energized by what I'm doing, and what I might be able to do in a month or two.  And I'm very moved by what other public servants are doing and feeling... which brings me back to my colleague.  As it turns out, one of the casualties that he may have been anticipating was himself, and this is a crossroads that I have also found myself at.  I took a leave of absence from the Government myself and experienced a rebirth of sorts upon returning.  I'm confident that my colleague will return refreshed and renewed, should he decide to take a year for other projects and personal reflection.

I'm not sure I have any answers to the questions I posed above, but I do know that the risks I've taken and the choices I've made when things got tough have nearly always led to me finding myself in a better place.  I wish the same for everyone.  Should I someday find myself fatigued from my efforts of putting social media to work in government, I'm confident that there will be others ready to continue the work in my absence.  I just hope that the work I am able to do in the meantime will be inspiring to others, in repayment of the inspiration I've received by the energy and output of those that were here first.