In my last entry I asked the question. “What is the headline of my life? I’ve been allowing my day-to-day experiences to help figure that out. Throughout my journey, I’ve deliberately wandered into unfamiliar territory hoping that what awaited me would be a means to keeping mouths fed in my household. I didn’t resort to prostitution, though my husband suggested otherwise. At least he thought enough of my skills to suggest I try it out, LOL! No, I took another, more unsettling profession. I became (dare I say?) a Fed!
DRAGNET-LIKE MUSIC UP AND UNDER
January 5, 2009, at 0800 hours, I was summoned to report for training at the Census Bureau, downtown Chicago. A little early for me but, hey, I was getting paid. I hadn’t felt the crispness of a paycheck since my unemployment ran out. I completed two weeks of training and then The-Powers-That-Be threw me into the thicket. I was hired to do an 18-month tour of duty as a Partnership Specialist with the federal government, a temporary stint promoting the 2010 Census. For a year and a half, I could hold off the banks from closing in on my home. I did a little of everything, from visiting mayors and elected officials in our region (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) to developing newsletters, collateral and PSAs, to coordinating media briefings and press conferences; not to mention conducting media training. I was the creative media relations all purpose person. I went in totally ignorant and apathetic about the census and came out an expert and lifelong advocate.
My desk was positioned among a sea of desks, people, phones and traffic. Oh, the commotion in and out, back and forth, made it hard to concentrate. There was talking, phones ringing, papers shuffling; a far cry from my private cushy agency office with a door, leather couch, mini fridge, small conference table and sunny window. I was inundated with work, as was everybody else. Tempers flared, attitudes erupted, toes got stepped on, stuff hit several fans, work got done, redone, overdone or not done at all. There was so much to do and so little time. After all, we were helping count every single resident in the USA! Ultimately, our efforts paid off. The Chicago Region placed number one in mail-back responses.
“Stay in your lane” was the mantra. Many collisions occurred. But at 5 p.m. daily, something miraculous happened. Everybody dropped what they were doing and booked! No apologies. No hesitation. No guilt. At the ad agencies, staying after hours was expected. Here, staying even 10 minutes late certified you were crazy. Needless to say, I had my cuckoo papers.
Unlike ad agencies, where supplies were plentiful and accessible, supplies at the Census Bureau were minimal and severely rationed. Don’t even think about taking a pen without a signed authorization form. You may not get that notepad for weeks. I had seen certain staff members shower the supply folks with donuts and sweet talk to help step up delivery.
Contrary to the lazy lunch hour you get at the agencies, lunches at the Bureau were a half hour sharp. Unknown eyes were watching your comings and goings. You also had to fill out forms seemingly for everything and wait for approval – even to attend a census event. At the ad agency, you just let folks know you’re “outta there”. Time was watched and rationed at the Census Bureau. This was all to save taxpayers’ money. Seriously. The Chicago Region monitored employees’ every move to make sure there was no waste. All that bureaucracy was for a reason. But it got nuts sometimes.
I had to look professional every day. Good Lord! I never wore so many suits and dresses in my life. I wore heels and a bonafide federal badge around my neck. I even wore a little makeup. It was like going to a client presentation every day. I admit, after a while I started liking it. My respect quotient from total strangers increased. I even got ten percent off my Wendy’s meal at the airport.
One major thing that struck me: Employees who worked at the Chicago Region truly reflected the melting pot of America. I have never ever worked in an establishment, especially an ad agency, that embraced diversity in full throttle. I worked with Whites, Latinos, Blacks, Indians, Asians, Native Americans, blind people, burn victims, old people, young people, punk rocker types, gays, geeks, nerds – you name it. I had the privilege of working alongside folks who, like me, held different positions in another life, MBAs, PhD’s, professors, videographers, artists, IT folks, entrepreneurs, writers, pastors, lawyers, mathematicians, geographers, and professional football players! It was a pleasure working with the 1985 Super Bowl Bears, Keith Van Horne, Calvin Thomas, Otis Wilson, Emery Moorehead – just to name a few. As part of the Sports Collaborative, they promoted the census message in schools, at corporations and events.
Working as a Partnership Specialist for the Census Bureau was a tour de force and an enlightening one. I had the rare opportunity to bring out my inner ambidexterity. My experience as an ad professional served me well in the practice of media writing, training, story pitching, on-air interviewing and project management. As a multicultural marketer, I easily connected to other cultures and lifestyles. It solidified my desire to use my myriad talents to inspire, motivate and educate others.
Has it brought me to my “aha” moment? Well, I’m getting there. I now have my sights set on exploring the digital frontier. I think that path just may lead me to what I’m looking waiting for.
MUSIC FADES, THEN OUT