In his Tuesday post Chris Bellavita introduced us to Jeffrey M. Cottam a twenty-something homeland security professional who is not contributing as much as he perceives he could contribute. Jeff told Chris that after earning good grades at respected undergraduate and graduate programs, “(I did) expect that after 18 months or so I’d be an agent somewhere.”
Mr. Cottam’s circumstance seems to crystalize many recurring hopes, doubts, and dreams of homeland security. Here’s my unsolicited advice.
You have earned helpful educational credentials. (May your student loans be modest.) You are in your late twenties. You have a job. You are dissatisfied.
Count yourself lucky.
Bureaucracies are bad places for entry level people; even — perhaps especially — bureaucracies that call their employees “agents.”
Compliance is typically the easy and rewarded path in most bureaucracies. Compliance is the enemy of creativity. Creativity is the most valuable long-term skill.
Avoid bureaucracies until you have creative skills sufficiently strong to resist the soul-devouring maw of bureaucracies. With that strength secured bureaucracies can be conducive to soul-growing, but mostly as a source of resistance training.
Claim and craft opportunities to be creative. Fail more than a few times and learn from your failures. Succeed and give particular attention to the most ephemeral elements essential to your success.
Any time before you die is a great time to be dissatisfied. Be especially suspicious of self-satisfaction.
Responding to your letter sent to Homeland Security Today the editor David Silverberg advised, “Network like crazy.”
Attend the meeting no one else wants to attend. Volunteer. Take a title and role for a dollar-a-day (in addition to your current employment). Put yourself in the most difficult circumstances possible. Contact the Red Cross — or a dozen other agencies — and get yourself the training and launch-pad to be deployed for the next Katrina, Haiti, Tohoku…
Network for others. It will benefit you too.
Network to recognize and engage reality. What’s really going on? Network to recognize needs. Network to recognize solutions to needs. Network to apply solutions to needs (that’s the toughest networking). What kind of networking works? What kind of networking fails? When? Where? With who? Why?
What skills do you have in networking? What deficiencies do you have in networking? With whom can you network that will balance your deficiencies? Who needs you? Who do you need?
The social network has been the principal human experience for several millenia. Our networks are increasingly dense, complicated, complex and evolving with increasing speed. Never before has malevolent networking been more a threat. Never before has gratuitous self-involved networking been such a waste of time. Never before has wise and effective networking been more valuable.
Especially in homeland security.
In my judgment the traditional public safety professions — firefighting, law enforcement, emergency management, public health, and others — are and will be fundamental to the homeland security mission. The same is true of related private and civic functions.
If homeland security has any comparative advantage it is networking proactive prevention, mitigation, and preparedness across public, private, civic, jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries. Homeland security is about the big picture or it is redundant… or even worse.
This is much more than a job. It is a calling to be creative when most others are satisfied to comply.
May you be in a constant state of creative dissatisfaction. May you always be weaving webs of relationships. May you walk, even dance the cusp of chaos.