Did you ever wake up one morning saying to yourself:
Fortunately, all of these questions have intelligent answers, except for maybe the alien boss. We'll leave that one to the interpretive types!
If you are asking yourself any of these questions, it might be time to step out of the warm and fuzzy comfort zone you're in and take on a developmental assignment. I know what you're thinking: Where do I start? Who do I talk to? What else can I do besides being the best ranger east and west of the Mississippi?
The answers may surprise you. Start by thinking outside the box. Look at your own strengths and weaknesses and decide what you would like to capitalize on. Maybe you like to write or you're good with computers and databases. Perhaps you've had years of personal experience working with wildlife or with children that you want to expand into a more professional arena.
Start by talking to your network of friends and co-workers. Let your boss know you are interested in taking on some new challenges. Talk about work schedules and possible family conflicts. All of these factors play an important part in pursuing a developmental assignment. You'll be surprised where you end up. I know I was.
I've been on three short-term assignments in my 22-year career with the Corps. Each brought its own revelations and new perspectives. Each recharged me and gave me a renewed appreciation for the job I already have.
My first developmental assignment came about as a result of experience and location. I spent 2 months at nearby Headquarters in Washington, DC reconciling the NRMS database. Now one might think that isn't too exciting, but you can't work in HQ without getting involved in other things. Congressional inquiries were never so close! My small insular network of co-workers suddenly bloomed into a coast-to-coast migration as I fielded data calls and inquiries about anything and everything. What a great example of exponential perspective or to put it more simply, getting a much bigger picture of life in the Corps!
The second developmental assignment was by far the most challenging. After years of comfortably nesting in my little cubicle in the District Office, I finally took up the call of the wild again, the wild being our largest recreation project in the District. Nothing could prepare me for the full assault of the demanding public in my role as acting chief ranger. I had forgotten the one-on-one, in-your-face meetings with the public. After an absence of over 20 years from the field, I had a baptism by fire the first day as a visitor sank his boat at one of our launches.
It didn't take me long to learn that decisions were made intelligently but quickly. No room for cement shoes around here! Somberly, I also realized that our rangers face more life-threatening situations than they ever did 20 years ago. My appreciation for their ability to work with the public and juggle many pressures grew substantially in the short 2 months I was there.
Just recently I completed another temporary assignment in our Public Affairs Office. Again it was just a 2 month assignment, but if circumstances had allowed, I would have stayed on longer. While I was there, I learned that I didn't know as much about writing as I thought I did. I took on a whole different style of writing, using professional Associated Press (AP) and military protocols. It was a totally different world. My net expanded once again as I dabbled in projects totally unrelated to recreation and natural resources. It was a refreshing change that brought with it a whole new set of perspectives and range of knowledge I didn't have before.
Therein lies the beauty of it all. We are constantly remaking, retooling, readapting ourselves, much as the natural world does every day. It is that ability to adapt, to take on new perspectives, to take in new knowledge, as well as share it that makes us better employees.
I'm already thinking about my next developmental assignment. I would like to leave the Corps completely for a while and work at least 6 months for another natural resources agency. I would also like to consider the private sector, more so for their work processes than anything else. How do they resolve crisis situations? How do they work with limited resources? How effective is their chain of command? What does customer service mean to them? Look out Disney World. Here I come!