This evening on my way to pick up my son from his after school program, I walked past a woman who I assume was on her way home from work. I noted her government ID badge swinging casually from her belt loop. There was a time not too long ago that the government ID was my permanent accessory as well.
I remember the first day of government work, over ten years ago now. At the time, it was undeniable proof that I was a proper member of the workforce. I had a real job, all my own.
Not like the school jobs I had had before I moved to Ireland, and not like the jobs in Ireland that were a means to the end of staying in that country.
No, this was a job for the sake of the job. I had come back to Canada and had decided specifically that I would find a job in the government so that I could write. I’m not sure now which was wiser – a job so I could have the life I wanted or a job that was the end in and of itself.
I also remember how proud I was at the time to be working for my country’s government. I was finally home and feeling national pride. I was especially proud to be working directly for the country itself. I used to take the bus past the government buildings, topped with the flag, on my way to work and feel that I was really doing something worthwhile.
But I must also admit that I felt an uneasiness. I had never expected to work in a 9-5 office job. I had always thought my career would take me down more creative paths, paths of my own making and my own choosing. I recall going through a bit of culture shock, with all the rules and politically correct attitudes.
Now, 10 years later, I am even more disillusioned. Jaded. I see that all bureaucracies are self-serving to some degree. None, not even the hallowed UN, seems to be completely out for the good of the people, or effective for that matter.
Yes, I am even jaded about the UN, something I never thought I would say. But I have seen enough of it now to have lost my naive hopefulness that being part of the machinery of government truly helps people. Politics is politics.
I’m sure there are areas of the government that do have a beneficial effect in some way. I just haven’t worked there. And those areas of the UN, UNHCR for example, that really do good are so encumbered by politics and red tape that they are drastically less effective than they could, or should, be.
But this is not a post about the government, as I’m sure much of my negativity stems not from the beast itself but from my sense of incompatibility with the job.
As I watched this woman walking home after her day’s work today, I was hard pressed to imagine myself once again donning the badge and heading off to the office.
I have time, for now, and maybe it will seem less dire, less hard to imagine when the time comes for me to return to work. There are, it is true, mornings that I can almost imagine myself jumping back into the routine, putting on that ID and returning to my desk and my work. On those days, it seems almost as though this is just a weekend, that I have not really been away at all.
But most of the time, I find it hard to imagine ever going back. And most of the time I wonder what it is exactly I will (or should) do for work when my stress leave ends and I have to go back…to something.