"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..." -John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1962
I've been thinking about this quote a lot lately, but never more often or more intently than tonight. I met the deputy administrator of FEMA for the third time tonight, this time at an all-Corps community meeting in which he gave a short speech and then listened to our questions. And for what seemed like the thousandth time, the air was filled with complaints about the work (or lack of work) we're doing, the way we're treated by the FEMA general staff, et cetera ad nauseum. I've done my share of bitching, ask anyone, but I was quite surprised to hear variations on the same old stories coming up again. My team has been blessed with a command staff that, for the last few days, has pointed us at a target and said "Go" and left us to figure out the hows and whys for ourselves. And it's been grand. You know things are good when your team isn't talking about how bad or good they're doing, but when everyone is focused on the work because going out and doing your job is just what you're doing nowadays.
Suffice to say, I've been happy with what I've been up to, and it's odd to hear that others aren't in the place we're in. Trouble is, I guess I forgot that not all teams are in our situation, and Corps civilization does have its perennial discontents. Richard Serino already put what I'm feeling very well in one of his responses, and I'm not sure I can do it any better, but here it goes.
"Not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
We chose this program knowing that we were the first. We chose this program knowing, or finding out along the way, that our presence signaled a major change within FEMA and that we would be the new, perhaps mistrusted, kids in an agency full of seasoned veterans. And we've been told time and time again that we are smart, that we're capable, that we're amazing and trustworthy and full of hope for the future. We think we can change the world. We're full of dreams and aspirations and, apparently for some, frustration that we're not being used as well as we think we can be.
To that I have one thing to say.
There will always be people who see us and think we're too young, too naive, too inexperienced to be proper FEMA employees or to represent the agency properly. Sometimes they will be our bosses, sometimes they will be from outside the organization. And we can't expect them to see into our inmost hearts; we can't expect them to look at us and see what we see in the mirror. We have to show them that.
My team has twice now had to carve out its own work and prove what we were capable of, after periods of inactivity because the higher-ups didn't yet trust us. We did. Today, we're working a Nassau County village house by house and door by door, winning over the outside world and impressing our superiors as we go along. And more importantly than either of those, we're doing our jobs well and helping disaster survivors as we go along. That, as Mr. Serino reminded everyone tonight, is by far the priority for everyone.
Other teams can carve out that space as well. Conditions are different for everyone and I know that, but your own initiative is your most powerful weapon for expanding your role. Push for more work. Show what you can do with the assignments you get. If you're not worthy of doing more important things, you won't get to. But if you show your bosses what you can do, and show them you are capable of helping survivors in an efficient and effective manner, they will listen. I have yet to meet a person we couldn't persuade by our actions, not by asking them to watch us, but by being impossible to overlook.
You have to prove it, and I applauded after Mr. Serino said it. We all have to. That's our responsibility as part of FEMA Corps's First Class. "That challenge is one that we are willing to accept, that we are unwilling to postpone, and that we intend to win," Kennedy said. Keep those words close, because that is what we have to--nope, that is what we are going to do. That is what we are already doing. And we'll keep on helping survivors as best we can, because it all comes back to them, the reason why we're here and the heart of everything. That is our challenge and we will meet it.