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  • Writer's pictureSharon

Wilderness Wanderings

I have reached another milestone. I have now been in the workforce for 40 years. That is 40 years of the dreaded alarm clock buzzing at 5:00 (or earlier!); more than 5800 mornings of showers, hair fixin’, doin’ makeup, and standin’ in the closet trying to decide what to wear; and an estimated 257K miles on the road commuting.

I started my career with the federal government in Washington, DC; moved to private industry for a couple years; and then moved to Pensacola, where I went back to work with the government. I have now supported the government, both as a federal employee and now as a federal contractor, for almost 38 years. I’ve held 11 different positions, progressing from file review clerk to operations administrator, and supported the Departments of Justice, Defense, Navy, and Homeland Security. I have worked on three naval bases and in the same building for 29.5 years.

Even now, when I think about my first day of work, my hands get sweaty and my heart rate shoots up! Fresh out of high school, I was terrified and intimidated as I walked down the massive halls of the big FBI headquarters. Additionally, when I realized the significance of my job responsibilities, I was overwhelmed and tried to figure a way to opt out of adulting. But obviously, I survived and kept trudging on through the years.

My coworkers do not understand what it was like to work before technology; they give my coworker and me odd looks when we talk about the old days. Like back when I was a clerk typist, duplicate copies meant using carbon paper on the electric typewriter. Before PCs, the IBM DisplayWriter word-processor radically simplified preparing correspondence; it made a crunching sound as the document was saved to the 8-inch diskette. When I was promoted to secretary and given my very own Webster’s hardcover desk reference library, I thought I had arrived! Before Excel, I used a 12-column ledger, adding machine and fine-leaded pencils to record contract maintenance costs. My admin stash included grease pencils and transparencies for overhead presentations; rub-on letters and correction tape to correct typos; and an index card tickler file to track deadlines. Dress codes were strict. Business casual meant wearing flat dress shoes. And I always had a mirror and lipstick in my top desk drawer to freshen-up.

As I reflect on my career, I ponder the hundreds of people I’ve worked with and their significant influence in helping shape me into who I am today. I was blessed to have mentors who shared corporate knowledge and spoke wisdom into my life. Now, it is my turn. I have both the opportunity and responsibility to share my lessons learned with the “kids” in the workplace. While the work culture of today continues to evolve, some things do not change. Time, experience and observation have taught me:

1. A strong work ethic and positive attitude will bring amazing opportunities.

2. Favoritism exists in the workplace. Sometimes you will be the favored one, sometimes not. In either situation, behave yourself.

3. Some coworkers will blow out your candle to try to make theirs shine brighter. When that happens, relight your candle and keep shining.

4. You teach people how to treat you.

5. Stay in your own swim lane. Know what is, and isn’t, your responsibility.

6. Don’t be ugly.

7. Know your workplace chain of command and follow it.

8. The best managers lead by example; the other ones are just bosses.

9. Sometimes you won’t get selected for the position you really wanted. Don’t pout. Your opportunity will come at the appointed time.

10. Before you point out the speck in a coworker’s eye, first deal with the plank in your own.

11. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, especially when no one is watching.

12. If the food in the refrigerator isn’t yours, don’t eat it. The same goes for coffee creamer!

13. Clean up after yourself, even if there is custodial service.

14. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is keep your mouth shut.

15. If you see something, say something, especially if it is unethical or a threat to physical security.

16. Own your mistakes, quickly.

17. Change will happen. You will have to choose how you respond to it: bitter or better.

18. Use your inside voice.

19. If you continually find something to complain about, perhaps you’re the common denominator.

20. If the low toner light is flashing, change it. If the shredder bag is full, empty it. No task is too menial for you.

21. There will be times when you just have to put on your big girl panties and deal with it.

22. Do your job without expecting praise or applause.

23. Smile. Sprinkle joy. Fling happy.

24. Don’t be a donkey.

25. Find a mentor. Learn from them. Then become a mentor.

26. Do a shoe-check before you hurry out the house in the morning; it makes for a long day when you realize you are wearing a mismatched pair.

27. Peacock today; feather duster tomorrow.

28. Profanity doesn’t sound cool; it sounds ignorant. If you don’t know cool words, you can borrow my thesaurus.

29. Auto-populating email names can be troublesome. Doublecheck before you hit send.

30. Work hard. Laugh often.

31. Be on time for meetings. If you’re late, don’t whisper to another coworker to find out what you missed; figure it out for yourself or at least wait until after the meeting to ask.

32. Cubicles aren’t as soundproof as you think.

33. Cheerful ≠ clueless.

34. There is a direct correlation between attitude and altitude.

35. You can be replaced.

36. Loose lips sink ships. Safeguard what has been entrusted to you.

37. Your body language speaks volumes.

38. Follow through on your commitments.

39. Promote a team spirit. It is all about the mission, not you.

40. Blink, and four decades will have gone by.

In the Bible, the number 40 is said to represent a time of testing, trial or probation. I can relate to the Israelites and their 40-year wilderness journey. For my entire career, I’ve felt I was wandering in the wilderness, mostly because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do. I continually wrestled with the Lord, trying to convince Him my plan was a good one. As a result, I circled the same mountain, again and again.

Deuteronomy 2:7 says: “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years, the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.”

Y’all, after 40 years…I need to testify!! The Lord has blessed me in my workplace wilderness, abundantly more than I deserve. While I wasn’t thrilled with having a career outside the home, I worked hard and faithfully and amazing doors opened. I did endure some extremely difficult, long seasons, but looking back, I can see how, that even in the valley of muck and mire, the Lord was preparing me for the next opportunity. I have not lacked for one single thing that I needed. And I know with absolute certainty, if I had gotten my way, I would have missed out on so very, very much.

Looking forward, I sense that I am done circling the mountain and wandering in the wilderness. It is time to turn north. While I’m not sure what turning north means or looks like, I am willingly surrendered and know that a glorious plan will unfold!

Here I am Lord, send me!

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