By Patrick J. Ruffino
I remember as a young boy being asked the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? The answer varied from year to year. After being in the workforce for nearly four decades I find myself asking the same question. I spent a good deal of that time working with children both on the job and as a volunteer.
Working in the city, county and state levels of government enabled me to learn the inner workings of the political arena. I had to learn how to navigate the system, be able to produce a product and at the same time be fiscally responsible to the taxpayer.
As the years went by it became a constant challenge to keep up with the rapid changes. The changes not only in our society as a whole, but also what was socially and politically accepted on how things were done on a daily basis. I found as human resources management became more sophisticated throughout government it brought about a more restricted sense of operating. This formed a change of behavior of many of the players involved.
I found the only way to survive and be successful was to keep the focus on producing a good product while always keeping in mind the cost to taxpayers. I couldn’t let the bureaucracies, civil service policies, internal union issues, incompetent and obstructionist workers, sometimes-ancient policies and procedures, politics, egos, community activists, antagonists or anyone else get in the way.
Believe it or not, there are individuals and groups in the workforce that will spend more time and effort on sabotaging progress than actually doing the job they are paid to do. You learn to live with it, but you never accept it.
There are no instructions or formula you follow when it is time to move on. It’s different for everyone and you’ll know when it is right for you. As Marv Levy said, “Once you start thinking about retirement, you already have.”
You make your decision to finally reach the goal you started out to do many years before. There’s no more pressure, meetings, deadlines, budgets, grievances or complaints. You put your time in, paid your dues and it’s time to move on.
As time goes on you find that not being in the saddle every day is not as rewarding as it is made out to be. I started to feel that I’m not ready to go to the pasture just yet. It brings me back to that question: What do I want to do when I grow up?
After exploring a few different avenues I realized what I miss most was working with kids. What better place is there to work with kids than in the classroom? The game is different but the rules are the same. The politics of the different school districts, individual schools, separate administrations, diverse faculty and staffs are the same as governments, only on a smaller scale.
Here, too, in order to be successful you must look beyond all the drama, put all the treachery aside. You must focus on one thing: the child.
Whether it’s the kindergarteners who can’t tie their shoes, or the third-grader who can speak three languages but not English, the middle schooler who is an expert on everything, to the most talented musician, the best speaker on the debate team, the most popular athlete or the prettiest cheerleader in high school. You must rise above everything and focus on the student. That’s what makes the effort worthwhile and that’s where you see results.
It took awhile but I think I finally found out what I want to do when I grow up.