I Am a Public Servant

It’s good sometimes to pause from our work. Take a breath. Really consider our work.


Sometimes the truth is that we are thrilled. We are delighted by our work and grateful for the privilege of contributing. We can’t wait to get to work each day. We love the challenges we face, the service we offer, the skills we learn, the way we express ourselves to the world in our work.

When work is good like this, it’s important to pause and notice: What is the alchemy that creates this workplace gold for me? What makes it good? What am I doing that I love? How are others enhancing this experience? What is the value we are bringing together?

But let’s face it. Other times the truth is that work is heavy, overwhelming, and frustrating. Other times we are hurting and discouraged with our work. We can’t wait for work to be over. The challenges are too great. The demands are too much. The last time we learned anything was … a long time ago. Our true self may have little connection with how we spend our time all day every day.

When work is hard like this, it’s also important to pause and notice: What is the chemistry that makes this workplace toxic for me? What makes it bad? What am I doing that I dislike? What are others contributing? What can shift to restore value and meaning?

And sometimes, perhaps most times, our work is somewhere in between these two extremes, with periods of deeply satisfying service using our best skills sandwiched between tedium and pressures. We take the good with the bad.

In all cases, we can benefit from stopping to look at what we are doing, why and how we are doing it, and what the impact is. It’s good to do that on our own, and it’s also helpful to do that in the company of trusted colleagues when possible.

Recently a group of state employees gathered for A Human Workplace Olympia and reflected on their public service through the helpful lens of poetry.

We used a fun and insightful mad-libs poem-building exercise to get to know each other. Next we quietly read and then chose from more than 150 poems that spoke to us about some aspect of our public service. We shared these poems with small groups and used our poem to describe what our public service is like right now.

This time of honesty supported by poetry moved people past the surface and opened up truth telling. It encouraged the weary, connected the lonely, prodded the hesitant, surprised the skeptical, and touched those needing compassion.

And we wrote a poem together.

Each person completed the statement, “My public service is…” These statements were assembled by Denise Matayoshi Mino into this simple free verse poem below during the workshop. (Thank you Denise!) The repetition reflects what they actually shared. Public service is clearly meaningful to this group!

This poem has joy and soft edges. And it has sorrow and rough places. That’s honest because sometimes public service is delightful and satisfying. And sometimes it is really, really difficult.

Telling the truth about the positive and the challenging on this day helped these public servants support each other and then return to their jobs serving Washingtonians.

My Public Service

I am a public servant.

My work is meaningful.

It is purposeful, satisfying, and needed.

My work is meaningful.

It is challenging and complex, but cathartic and completely rewarding.   

My work is meaningful.

It is important for the safety of all people in Washington State.

My work serves others, and helps me learn about myself, too.

I am a public servant.

My work is transparent and meaningful.         

Although my work is important,

Although meaningful to the public,

My work can be difficult and unfulfilling.

My work is not validated by management in my office and is largely unrecognized.

My work should be better publicized so the community knows our services are available.

I serve Washingtonians.

My work is for the greater good of Washington State’s public safety.

My work radiates empathy and shows people they matter.

My work helps families save for college.

My work brings ideas into form that support the common good.

My work is vital to the health of babies and young children.

My work creates capacity and opportunities to transform lives through housing.

My work is to be a fair and just leader.

My work assists in liberating the humanity of everyone.

My work is gratifying.                    

Like a Rishi Mushroom growing in the dark with the potential to cure cancer,

My work helps civilization move forward because…

I am a public servant.