EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY: Go-getters, please apply

Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

Today, we celebrated a transfer of power in Massachusetts with outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker making the traditional long walk down the front steps of the State House and newly elected Gov. Maura Healey taking the oath of office and making her inaugural address in the House Chamber.

Once upon a time, I helped orchestrate both of those important ceremonies for outgoing and incoming governors. And I had the great fun for this latest transition of providing color commentary on WCVB-TV about what some of the behind-the-scenes planning of the governor’s new team likely entailed. Yet, after appearing in that soundbite-limited forum, there was something more I wanted to say to the many wide-eyed 20-somethings starting their careers in the Healey-Driscoll Administration.

A very long time ago, I was a 20-something wide-eyed young staffer going into the State House with a new governor and lieutenant governor. In those days, there was no internet, no email, no Slack, cell phones, WhatsApp or social media. Thus, some of what I might advise in this technology-enabled workplace era may seem obsolete. But other thoughts may resonate for those newly entering the workforce, even outside of the political and government fields.

Ginny Buckingham

A recent feature in the Wall Street Journal started with this question: “Where have all the go-getters gone?” The point made by the writer is that employers are adjusting to a shift in passion of their colleagues, many young — a reluctance to work through weekends, to go for the promotion or pull an all-nighter (more on that later). The trend even has a proud label, “Act My Wage.”

There is, of course, an important role for work-life balance, but let me paint an image of balance as I see it for those starting their careers. Picture “work” on one side of a seesaw, its “feet” dangling high off the ground. On the other side of the seesaw is “life” with its “butt” in the dirt. Remember, I’m not referring to mid-career, family-raising or later-in-life workers, and I’m happy to get pushback on my lopsided seesaw point of view. (See the Current’s Letters to the Editor section!)

With that bias in mind, here’s some additional unsolicited advice to Gov. Healey and Lt. Gov. Driscoll’s young administration staff.

One, pinch yourself! Wow! You’re walking up those State House marble steps from Nurses’ Hall, perhaps on the way to watch the Legislature debate a line item, scurrying past portraits of proud former Massachusetts leaders while carrying stacks of policy memos.

Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’re rushing to a meeting requiring you to pass through the regal foyer of the governor’s executive office suite. For the rest of your life, you may never work again in such a majestic place. Don’t, for even one second, take it for granted. Treat the opportunity with the reverence and gratitude it deserves.

Two, remote-shremote. If you are offered the opportunity to work at home on Friday, go into the office. If there’s a snow day and it’s safe to travel, go into the office or volunteer to help at the emergency management bunker in Framingham. It’s a (cold winter) blast! If there are optional in-office Wednesdays, go into the office. A project that could use more hands on the weekend? Go.

There is no substitute for being in person when you are first starting out, learning and showing your value. Be the one sitting at your desk when an unexpected opportunity comes up. Who knows, you may be asked to take notes at a high-level meeting, to staff a cabinet secretary event or bring the briefing book (heretofore known as THE BOOK) out to the governor in her car.

Also, get to the office early. Be the one turning on the lights. Pro tip: The coffee and egg sandwiches from Capitol Coffee House at the corner of Bowdoin Street and Ashburton Place beat Starbucks by a mile.

Three, be willing to do anything and help anyone. There is no such thing when starting out as scut work. OK, that’s not true, but he who does the scut work with enthusiasm wins the hard-worker reputation.

My first job in the governor’s office in 1991 was to arrive at the State House at 5 o’clock in the morning to cut and paste newspaper clips (as in with scissors and tape) and copy and collate them into packets that were then hand-delivered to the offices of the senior staff, governor and lieutenant governor. Today, compiling clips is done digitally. But the point is the same. Say “yes” to every task offered. Better yet, see a task undone and jump in and offer to do it.

Four, about those all-nighters. One of my favorite memories is pulling an all-nighter when we were putting out our first budget. Because I was willing to stay and help, I got to see some of the “sausage” of governing being made (ahem, such as plugging that unexpected few-hundred-million-dollar hole with some fancy math at 3 o’clock in the morning). 

Finally, do not cheapen your public service by waving it around in Boston bars like a Celtics pennant. I have stories. I won’t tell them. Just. Don’t. Do. It.  You are being trusted with an important job. Deserve and respect that trust.

You will never replicate the experience of working for a newly elected and already nationally regarded governor. How you comport yourself now will have implications for the rest of your career. Treasure this time. Have fun. Make friends and contacts for life. Lucky you! Now go get ‘em!

Virginia Buckingham, who served as chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, is a member of the Marblehead Current’s board of directors. Her column appears weekly in the Current.

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