Friday, December 21, 2012

Scared of Sequestration? Get to Work.

If you're a federal employee and worried about the possibility of losing your job due to spending cuts, you have one of two choices:

  • Continue to worry.
  • Do something about it.
The advantage of continuing to worry is that you don't really have to do anything, and yet the action of worrying makes you feel like something has been accomplished. Of course the downside is that your situation stays the same.

Going for the "do something" category has more upside in my view. For one thing, it might distract you from being scared. For another you may be better situated to get another job or start a business if you have to. A third is that you're mentally prepared in case things turn bad. Finally and perhaps most important, assuming that your job stays the same, you will probably be a more motivated and skill-enhanced employee because of any preparation you've undertaken.

Of course on the downside you may invest time and effort in helping yourself, all to no avail - get fired and there is no job waiting for you anyway. But if you think about it - if you really lay that fear out there - doesn't it seem a bit exaggerated, at least for most?

In any case if you do want to try and help yourself out of a sequestration situation, here's what I would recommend:

  1. Look at your job from the perspective of your boss. If asked would they say that they need you? Don't think about whether your job is objectively necessary, or whether you think you're doing a good job, or even the best you can. Are you what Seth Godin calls a "linchpin" - indispensable? Start asking for feedback and improving your job performance based on what they want, not on what you think they need. 
  2. Look at your skills from the perspective of the private sector. Imagine you had to look for a job. What skills and certifications are required now of someone in your field? Do you have them? If not, are there ways you can obtain them? I remember in the "olden days" (that would be the '80s) when the world was not obsessed with a series of often meaningless trophies like this. Well guess what times have changed folks. Study up. 
  3. Look at your clothes. I will repeat this until I am blue in the face. You must give a damn about your clothes. You do not have to be thin and pretty. You do not have to spend lots of money. Dress to fit in and stand out. In DC the basic color palette is neutrals. Accessories matter: scarf (for women), shoes, bag, belt and coat. Don't like makeup? I don't care. Put some on. Yes, men can wear makeup too, a little concealer under the eyes to look less tired.
  4. Look at your words. Are you a "Negative Nellie?" Start talking positive. Nothing is ever so bad unless you're dying, and even then there are cancer patients who get better because they refuse to fall down. Are you respectful and kind to everyone you meet? Can you talk about work issues, issues affecting the Agency and the government intelligently? Do you speak in a refined way? Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Look at your network. Keep your ear to the ground. What's going on at work? In your field? Network, join a professional group. Do not be isolated. Ask how people are doing, even when you don't want something from them. Read the information products others produce. It's about being part of the conversation, and giving to others when you can, because in the future you may need to get a job and you will want to be a known quantity before anyone ever sees your resume. 
If you believe your livelihood is in danger, don't sit around scared of "Donald Trump" and the like. Instead do something to help yourself, and stop being a victim of your own fear.