Lessons Learned by an XFN Graduate
By: Chelsea Brescacin
As part of the first cohort to graduate from the XFN Program, I can’t help but look back on my time and reflect on the lessons I have learned (and wish I learned earlier). I’ve provided my own personal insights which I hope might be useful for following cohorts, and that might inspire others to add to the list!
1.Figure out what is a “must have” versus “a nice to have” for your placement- Is it an amazing manager with great people skills? Working on a top-priority file? Interesting subject matter? The opportunity to work in a central agency? No assignment is perfect. However, if you take the time to really think about what elements need to exist for you to enjoy your experience and learn from it, you will be able to choose something that will be the best fit for you. I regret not sitting down and making a list of these things as I progressed throughout my XFN journey.
2. You will become very adaptable- As someone that is generally shy and quiet until I feel comfortable, I had to become an employee that could suddenly appear in a completely unknown work environment (not once, but three times!) and immediately begin integrating into a team by means of a friendly disposition, hard work, and a willingness to tackle varied tasks. Each new assignment means being a part of a new way of doing, a new way of thinking, new priorities, new subject matter….But it becomes easier each time as you become more adaptable. I truly believe this is a skill set that will serve me well throughout my career, and, well, life in general!
3. Leverage your status as an XFN participant- By this, I mean you’ve been afforded the wonderful and uniquely freeing opportunity to say “I don’t know” (but I want to learn!) It’s ok that you haven’t done that specific task before. It’s ok that you’re not familiar with the department’s culture, stakeholders or acronyms. The whole point of the XFN Program is to work in functions where you don’t have previous experience, and sometimes you may need to remind yourself and your team of this fact. You will feel pressure to immediately know all the answers and be a high performer, because deadlines and workloads demand it. But don’t sacrifice the opportunity to asks questions and truly learn. I regret not being easier on myself, allowing myself to be more vulnerable, spending more time being curious and experimenting with new ways of doing.
4. It’s a great way to network for people that hate networking- I don’t know about everyone else, but the word “networking” always made me cringe. I shied away from it at every opportunity because I imagined it to be insincere interactions where people try to leverage one another to advance their careers. Through the XFN Program, I met senior management and talent managers at CSPS, a totally fantastic group of people in my cohort, and colleagues, managers, and directors at three different departments. That also meant lots of talks in kitchens with people on the floor (remember pre-COVID)? My hosts always seemed to magically know almost everyone in the building, and would happily introduce me as their XFN participant. Suddenly I had organically developed this network by being friendly, doing my job, and being myself! I came to enjoy meeting new people and learned that many senior analysts, managers and directors are genuinely willing to help, as they too likely received help from others earlier in their careers.
5. Never let yourself be stuck again- Why did you join the XFN Program? Were you unhappy? Frustrated by a lack of progress? A poor fit? Or just looking for a change? After jumping into three new teams, change and “the unknown” began to seem a lot less daunting. Near the end of the program, I began to feel like an adaptable public servant that had valued skills sets and people that believed in me. I realized that joining a new department and getting up to speed on a file that at first is completely alien to me is not as scary as the possibility of feeling stuck or unhappy in a job. If you aren’t learning in an assignment, pull the ripcord. Following graduation, I’ve told myself that if I ever feel stuck again, I won’t hesitate to use my network and make a move.
6. Life happens- Of all the lessons that can be learned, I think this is by far the most important. It’s also truer than ever during the pandemic, as we onboard virtually and try to maintain focus while working from home with pets, children, partners, construction…. There will never be “a perfect time” for anything- not to start or finish an assignment, not to take leave when needed. While in the program, there will still be major life events (like Jon’s beautiful baby Alice!) There will also be less positive events in your personal life that may cause you to press pause on your job. I myself had to take quite a few weeks off for radiation treatment while in the program. In my second assignment, I again had to take two weeks of sick leave after only my first day! So save yourself the hassle of feeling guilty and let yourself be human. I’m constantly surprised by the level of understanding I’ve received. Life happens. So be kind to yourself and others.
7. It’s worth it- I’ll leave off by saying I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about joining the XFN Program. I can honestly say I got a lot out of it including new friends in my cohort and a broader network, the opportunity to develop professionally and at a faster pace, change and variety in my day to day, a sense of achievement about what I can accomplish when I persevere, and more confidence in myself and my abilities. It was a privilege to be a pioneer in this program, and to receive all kinds of amazing support and to feel so valued. I hope that I was able to give back a small percent of what was given to me, and will remain an advocate for the XFN Program.