The Kitchen Cabinet is Temporarily Empty – or – It’s Getting Lonely Around Here

In the spring of 2014, I helped a group of eight “seasoned” local government managers join together in an effort to develop the skills necessary for maintaining our personal and professional resiliency.  I was inspired by retired City Manager and ICMA President Dave Limardi, who graciously shared his experience in Illinois with a similar group.

In putting the group together, I chose colleagues who worked within a reasonable driving distance, with whom I had a strong and enduring personal connection, and who were likely to be needing the same type of inspiration, camaraderie, and support that I was. To a person, they were eager to join.  One colleague actually stopped me mid-pitch and said “I’m in.”

We called our group C-8, and then promptly forgot why.  I think it was a mash up of Crazy-8’s – a card game probably only known to baby boomers, and the Group of 8 – an informal gathering of world leaders committed to the same ideals and values.  (Soon after we created the C-8, the G-8 became the G-7 with the suspension of Russia after Crimea, but no similar coup occurred here in metro west Boston.)  C-8 met roughly four to six times per year for both informal conversation and formal training programs. 

Many of my closest colleagues are several years older than I am, and have begun to retire and move on to other pursuits.  Only two of our C-8 members are still working in the profession – others are working on their passion projects, spending quality time with grandchildren, or working part-time in the area of local government.  I have been to three retirement parties in the last six months for close colleagues with whom I have worked for nearly 30 years, and there are more parties on the calendar. 

The C-8 experience was an invaluable way to make deeper professional connections, and I really miss it.  Recently, I was commiserating (perhaps whining) to a colleague about feeling lonely and left behind.  She told me to get some younger friends.  Then we laughed and I decided I had better work out a plan to maintain the personal and professional resiliency needed for this job. 

This is what is working for me:

Join.  For me, this meant volunteering for several committees on the local and national level.  Locally, I am co-chairing our State Association’s program committee, working with others to increase exposure to the Association and its value. I also helped establish and continue to support our local Women Leading Government chapter. This group was formed to encourage women to work and grow in local government at all levels, and especially to prepare them for the top jobs.  Nationally, I volunteered for several International City/County Management Association boards and committees, and very recently was honored to be invited to join the board of the League of Women in Government.  Working on these groups has helped me make new connections and friendships, and reminds me why I love local government and want to keep helping to make it stronger and better, 

Reach Out.  I took my friend’s advice and started reaching out to colleagues I wouldn’t naturally work with to schedule lunches or coffees.  At this stage of my career and with no kids left at home, I can take on the role of organizer and have made fantastic new connections.  By taking the time to meet with newer managers, I have learned a number of clever ideas to implement in my community. It’s also fun just to hear their stories.

Expand.    I decided that I need to identify passion projects at work and attack them like a side hustle.  The one I am working on now is to increase our social media presence for routine matters and to identify and implement innovative ways to communicate with residents who are not likely to attend public hearings or watch them on cable television.

Share.  I started this bog, and have accepted speaking engagements to share my love for the profession and lessons I have learned in this relentless practice.  

Accept.  When you have become part of the “Old Guard,” take advantage!  Nothing substitutes for experience, and people really do tend to ask me for advice and recommendations.  I find I can help shape the future of the profession just by offering suggestions in an appropriate way. 

Reconnect.  I am actively working on setting up a C-8 reunion!

How about you?  Have you experienced significant shifts in the composition of your work “friend circle?”  What have you done to adapt to the changing environment?  Are you interested in creating your own kitchen cabinet? Would you have had to look up the spelling of “camaraderie” like I did? 

Let’s Practice.

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