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  • Something I learned about myself when I went through the Federal Executive Institute five years ago was, I work best within a structure. I'd never really understood this about myself before that, but as soon as I landed on that insight, it resonated as true about me. I never would have guessed it, if the evidence wasn't staring me in the face. It might have something to do with the fact that I was raised in a large family and educated in the Catholic School system, with a fairly rigid structure. Granted, I didn't exactly thrive within that structure. I hated school most of the eleven years that I was in that system, and didn't find my first truly inspiring teacher until two-thirds of the way through my senior year of high school, my first year free of the Catholic system. But, I must have gotten used to working within a more structured environment. As far as the family, it was never all that structured, but there was a clear chain of command between me, my five older siblings, and my parents. I respected that chain, and became very adept at working it.

    I had trouble in college, mainly because it was so unstructured, I couldn't handle that amount of freedom at the time, and it was never clear who was in charge. I joined the Navy, and thrived in the structure of Boot Camp - I was a natural leader there, chosen to lead the Color Guard and was my company's Education Petty Officer. In many ways, I was my own boss there, and knew what the bosses above me expected of me.

    Then on my first ship, I floundered in a very unstructured environment. My boss, the chief of my engine room, was a raging alcoholic, and so was I. I got into a lot of trouble on that ship, and was fearful that I would not be able to go through Nuclear Power School because of it. I managed to get in, and there again, I really thrived in the structure of that school, and did well despite having the worst score on the Physics entry exam, going in. I managed to ace the Physics portion of the curriculum, through sheer will and hard work, and was at the top of the class ranking for the first half of that school. My next ship was much more structured, being a brand new nuclear-powered vessel, so I really thrived on it and quickly became a leader in my Engine Room. Granted, later on, I ran into trouble when Captain Bligh came onboard and he and I did not see eye-to-eye, right when my addiction was ballooning out of control, but that's another story.

    During our first week at the institute, we had to work on a story about our leadership journey. It was in the writing of this story that I became aware of this pattern of mine, this tendency to do well within structures, and flounder when there is no structure. Part of the pattern included, when there have been opportunites to build a structure, I did a good job doing that. I'd build the structure, then thrive within it, until I became bored and needed new challenges. I got pretty good at building them.

    This insight occurred to me as I've struggled to find some sense of balance and to understand this wierd, empty feeling I've experienced since I've been on furlough. It's almost like I have entirely too much freedom on my hands. Where's the structure? Cowbird has been a real comfort to me, as it is a part of my life, the structure within which I live and thrive, that is still in place. Granted, it just went through some major changes to its structure recently, but unlike the last time it did that, this time I felt like I was quickly able to figure out and navigate around within the new structure. It's still a big change, and there is that part of me that still hasn't gotten completely comfortable with it.

    As for the rest of my life - I really miss the structure that I operated within in my job. I probably interacted with hundreds of people each day within that structured environment, not necessarily in a structured way - in my job, in my role there, I acted like a free agent in many ways, I was kind of a trouble shooter, looking for places where there were gaps, misfires, problems in communication, and trying to plug those holes, fill those gaps, bridge those communications. I mentored a lot of people, informally and formally. I was sought out for advice and perspective by many, both below me and above me, within that structure. For the past 5 1/2 days, that is suddenly all gone. None of that is there, now. It's a big change, a big loss of the daily dose of give and take that I'm used to.

    So, there's only one thing for me to do. Build a new structure. Something that I can work within. Something that I can curse at, when it feels "too confining". Something that will give me deadlines that I resist, then push through at the last minute to meet. Structure.

    That's all I have on it, so far. I'm working on something with my wife and our church and the social services networks of our county, figuring out a way to match up furloughed Feds' talents and skills with volunteer opportunity needs of the social services in the county. Chances are, other furloughed Feds are going through similar issues as I, needing a way to fill that service and people interaction void that being furloughed creates in their lives. Surely I'm not the only freak going through something like this. The needs of the community are great, and maybe we can, as my wife says, "make lemonade out of lemons."

    Why not? It's not like I have anything better to do with my furloughed ass. Sitting around here trying to keep myself busy gets real old, real fast. Let me get out there where I might be able to make a difference. I'm tired of sitting on my unstructured ass, waiting for Congress to get up off of theirs.
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