ATD Blog

Are You Driving Your Government Career?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Imagine for moment that navigating your career in the government is like travelling through Central Park in a horse and buggy. There are two ways to move in this buggy. The first is to sit back comfortably and enjoy the ride; the second way is to jump up on the horse, take the reins, and drive.

Take a moment to think about your career, how have you travelled so far? Are you riding, driving, or both? I’m not suggesting that one way is right and the other is wrong. Both ways are available, and there are pros and cons to both modes.

There will be times in your career when riding is the best option and other times when grabbing those reins and driving is a necessity. The key to successfully navigating your career is to first be aware of how you travel, and then you must be intentional yet flexible about your journey.

Let’s review some riding and driving strategies to use in navigating your career.

When to Ride

Riding can be a great strategy for new employees and young professionals who haven’t had a lot of government work experience. The government culture is different from the private sector or educational environments. As a result, it can take some time to become accustomed.

Riding offers these government employees many opportunities to experience and learn without the pressure of being the driver. However, productive riding comes in choosing wisely—knowing when to say yes, and when to say no and stay in the buggy.


There are also a few cons to riding. Sometimes the driver can take you on a ride that is not a good fit. Other times the road is bumpy and the ride can be painful. A bad ride can result in feeling stuck, unhappy, or unfulfilled at work.

When to Drive

Driving is an excellent strategy for the government employee who has a specific goal. When you are the driver, you have the ability to review the map and find the best route to your destination. You have a better vantage point and can see farther down the road. You get to choose where you want to go, and you can steer around potential barriers, pot holes, or low-hanging branches that deter your journey. In other words, driving puts you in more control.

However, there are also disadvantages to driving. Always being in control can limit your options. Once you reach your destination, if you continue to hang on to the reins, you may miss enjoying the benefits of your success. Also, when you are always in the driver’s seat, you can run into more obstacles with your work/life balance. In the end, too much driving can be exhausting and cause burnout. Indeed, sometimes you will need to be in the passenger seat and simply ride. 


So, as you think of your own career in the government, how have you been travelling? When have you been enjoying the ride? How has riding served you in your career? When have you been up on the horse driving and taking charge of your career? How has driving served you?

What’s more, what will you do now? Drop the reins and ride, or grab the reins and drive?

ATD Members can participate in a special Ask-a-Coach Webcast on October 27, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. with career coach Michelle Carroll. She will answer common questions that she hears from government employees, as well as queries posed by attendees during this interactive webcast. Submit your questions when you register and come prepared with additional issues on the day of the session. 

About the Author

CEO, Carroll Career Consultants, LLC Michelle M. Carroll is an expert career coach, as well as a speaker, facilitator, and trainer. She is the founder and CEO of Carroll Career Consultants, a career management company providing services to federal, corporate, and academic organizations. For the past three years, Michelle has been contracted with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to lead their career coaching program. She has worked on additional contracts with the Government Accounting Office, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Deposit Insurance Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to employee coaching, Michelle has facilitated numerous workshops and supported midlevel leadership, emerging leader, and emerging professional programs. Michelle received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland College Park and a master of arts in career development from John F. Kennedy University in California. She is committed to learning and holds many certifications, including Master Career Specialist, Certified Career Management Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator-Instructor, Online Professional Networking Strategist-LinkedIn, Micro-Blogging Career Strategist-Twitter, Certified Tough Transitions Career Coach, and Certified Brain Based Success Coach. Her most recent publication is the 2014 TD at Work issue “Marketing Your Career Brand,” co-authored with Alan DeBack. Contact Michelle at 443-396-3602, [email protected], or

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.