Five after five
Since I have now passed the halfway mark in my summer internship, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on some of what I have learned so far. Thus, in no particular order, here’s my list of five reflections for my five weeks of experience:
- Elected officials are not evil. I know this may surprise some people. Unfortunately, I think within the realm of public administration, there is often an underlying assumption that we are somehow superior to our elected officials. We’re often told that we are here to administer the policy set by the elected officials, regardless of how crazy it may be. Somewhere in those thoughts though, there is a feeling that elected officials must not know what they’re doing, and the professionals are available to clean up the mess. However, in the past five weeks, I have had the opportunity to interact with a number of elected officials, and my understanding is that these are often highly motivated and dedicated individuals that care just as much about public service as professional employees. While we (as administrators) may take a more non-partisan approach to our actions, this shouldn’t diminish the work that elected officials put forth. In order for managers and administrators to create lasting, workable relationships, there needs to be an appreciation and respect for the role that elected officials play within government. It may not be our cup of tea to live the life of a politician, but someone has to be willing to do that in order for this system to work. So- let’s take some time to stop thinking we’re better, and start realizing that both groups are needed for effective administration and governance.
- Education never ends. I spoke to this in my last post, but there are always opportunities to enhance our own educations. We simply need to be open to change and input from others. It seems the older we get (and often, the more degrees we earn), the more we get locked into our ways of thinking and doing. This is a dangerous way to live though, as it prevents us from learning from the people and situations that we find ourselves in. If, as MPA students, we still don’t quite understand the differences between counties and municipalities, it’s quite ok. We just need to make sure to ask someone who does. But we should be certain not to limit our opportunities because of a gap in our own knowledge.
- All policy is not bad policy. This one was a bit painful to come to terms with for me. I have spent much time being turned away from policy (and politics) because it almost seemed like futile attempts at “saving the world” influenced by selfish motives. Optimistic, right? Well, I’m beginning to come around. The truth is we need policy decisions in order to make changes and improvements within government (as well as other sectors, but let’s focus on government for now). There will be times when the decision isn’t quite what we wanted or hoped for, but we need to learn to work across our own biases to understand what can work best for our community. This often takes a nice large slice of humble pie (pardon my cliché), but once achieved, can help us to move forward much more efficiently.
- There is a method to the madness. There have been times in my experience where I think “what in the world are these people doing?” but I am beginning to appreciate the ability of my co-workers to adapt on the fly and be able to have a flexible outlook on goals and priorities. Just within the work at the General Assembly, it is practically impossible to predict what any day will bring, and we must be able to understand what our core values and needs are without tying ourselves to the specific details of every policy item. Things change quickly, and we need to learn to adapt.
- Work can’t be all work and no fun. I have been incredibly fortunate thus far at my time at NCACC in that I am immersed in an organization whose culture is exciting and fun. There’s seldom a dull moment, and I think a lot can be said about maintaining a level of normalcy within professional relationships. It is important and necessary for an intern to feel comfortable speaking to an Executive Director (or any leader within an organization), but I’m certain there are many organizations where that open a culture does not exist. We should make sure to keep those opportunities for feedback and questions open because it enhances everyone’s learning experiences. Plus, work would be boring if we were all stiff and incapable of having normal conversation and jokes. And really awkward.
Hopefully the second half of this experience will prove to be equally rewarding. (and entertaining)