Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Decision To Change

It's been twelve months since I made my decision to quit the Australian Public Service. One of the promises I'd made to myself was to write about my journey: my first year and beyond. This blog is about that journey.

A year ago I hadn't labelled what I was doing; but reflecting on the year that has been, I realise now that my goal has been, and is, to shift the balance from work to life.

I'd had a great career in the public sector spanning twenty-four years, plus a few years in the private sector before that. Work and life had both been very good to me. I’d seen and experienced remarkable things.

As a twenty-year old I travelled to India. I was an assistant news cameraman working for a national network and in 1984 I was sent to cover the story of the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

I later became a cop working for the Australian Federal Police.

My wife (Sue) and I saw an opportunity and took it: teaching English in Japan in Junior High School. For twelve-months we immersed ourselves in Japanese culture as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

I joined the Australian Public Service in the early ‘90s, starting at the Australian Taxation Office before moving to the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). In AusAID I spent three-years as a Diplomat in Bangkok where I travelled extensively. I visited the opium fields in Burma, the Killing Fields in Cambodia and spent time with the hill tribes across the region. I met remarkable people too and was privileged to have had a private lunch with Aung San Suu Kyi, the long imprisoned Burmese Opposition Leader.

Late in 2004 I briefly returned to Thailand following the Indian Ocean Tsunami to undertake disaster assessment and coordinate Australian aid efforts.

Raising two young boys on an Embassy compound was challenging at times and on return to Australia we began to see our Australian lifestyle with new eyes. A backyard, trees to climb and blue sky.

On return from our Thailand posting, I moved into Human Resources (HR). This was an initial shock for me after the sort of work I’d been doing overseas. But in a short while I realised how I not only enjoyed the role, but I could make a real difference.

So, in Human Resources I stayed. Before long I was head of HR in AusAID and began looking for bigger HR challenges. I spent time in the Australian Public Service Commission and took a promotion to head HR in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).

I began to develop a reputation for finding solutions and delivering results. I was enjoying life: but wanted more, so started positioning myself for my next promotion.

A chance came for me to return to the Australian Federal Police. Whilst I was a little wary, I was encouraged by the fact that I would be working for someone I greatly admired. So I went.

In time the promotion came and I was appointed as head of HR. I had a Division of more 400 HR professionals delivering services to 6700 staff across Australia and overseas.

I’d never wanted a job as much as this one. No other application process had so much at stake for me as this one. When I was told I had won the job, I recall telling my family that I even felt taller. There were several times in that role that I remarked that I needed to pinch myself, just to make sure it was real. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that twenty-years earlier I had been in the same organisation as a very junior police constable; and now I was only two short rungs from the top. As a constable I’d never even met anyone at my current level.

The journey had been amazing. My span of responsibly was now huge. I had a top-floor office, executive assistant, executive office and “company” car. In my first job I made $11K per year. I was now earning over $200K. People were even calling me “Sir” these days.

Could it get any better?

My days at work were getting later and later. I’d been hospitalised once with pneumonia that came as a result of successive days of working in the office until after midnight (one day until 5am). I suffered insomnia: badly. Despite being in charge of all the gymnasiums and fitness staff in the Australian Federal Police, I could never find the time to go to the gym (which was in the building). I grew over weight. My cholesterol was on the rise. For the first time in my life, my blood pressure was up. My workday was made up continual meetings on issues of budgets, briefings and risk: I lost the day-to-day connection with staff. At home my fuse grew short and I grew snappy. I was drinking six or more large cups of coffee per day (I had a coffee machine at home and another on my desk at work). Take away food became easier for lunch. I had a headache most days.

Could it get any worse?

And that is what took me to March 2011 and the decision to change. Change was not new to me. But that change had always been about work change. This time I needed something new; something more. This change needed to be about life.

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